Double standard democracy

Lire cet article en français "Démocratie à deux vitesses"

I wrote this as an open-letter to the editor for the Outremont Express (April 4, 2012).

I and many of my Hassidic family members and friends were disturbed and saddened by the uncivil behaviour a very few individuals displayed during an incident with Borough Councillor Celine Forget on our Purim holiday last March 8.  No one should be subject to such behaviour and people who truly know Hassidim know that such conduct is not representative of our values or our community.

At the same time, I am equally disturbed at the “spin” this incident has received where this brief video is being branded to lynch an entire community for the actions of but a few, through guilt by association, simply because it is easier to do so. Can you imagine what backlash would have followed if local media had summarily generalized such actions to be those of an entire ethnic community other than Hassidim?  Any intellectually honest person knows that any such generalization would have been condemned. Somehow for Hassidim in Outremont it is acceptable to do so.

I also find it unfair and ironic that Mme Forget has since portrayed  herself as the innocent “victim” in the unfortunate incident, when it is impossible for her to deny her incendiary role in creating the tension that led to the unfortunate conduct.  Again, let me be clear – she should not have been subject to such behaviour – but looking at this situation as a whole, how can she have the chutzpah to claim that she bears no responsibility in this situation. She claims that she was unobtrusively documenting compliance with the law. But eyewitnesses have attested to the fact that she violated the space of a private car, sticking a camera through its window.  When the driver exited his vehicle and decided to make a photographic record himself of what she was doing, she slapped him, initiating the fracas. That is why Mme Forget was taken away by police for questioning, and why the individual attacked by Mme Forget has in fact pressed charges against her.  For some strange reason this has not been reported with the same vigour the video has.

Some of our neighbours have written to the Outremont Express to express their conclusion from a short video posted on YouTube that our community receives special treatment by the police and law enforcement officials; others cynically accuse us of “driving intoxicated” and “oppressing women”.

All open-minded residents of Montreal would do well to ponder the fact that the Hassidic Jewish  community has been peacefully living in Outremont for over 60 years, long before Mme Forget and most of her colleagues where even born, and there has never been such a public demonstration of disrespect.  Why? This question has yet to have been asked.

The big picture being ignored

Anyone who reads her blog (and that of her associate Mr. Pierre Lacerte) or attends monthly Borough Council meetings can attest that she has made it her mission to target Hassidim in Outremont. For over a decade, Mme Forget and Pierre Lacerte have dedicated their lives to cultivating an atmosphere of animosity and intolerance towards our community. Through the spread of half truths and the dissemination of disinformation, they have, unfortunately, made great strides.

First, by contemporary “witch-hunting” – showing up and snapping away with cameras at our family gatherings, community events and schools (yes, even our children’s privacy is invaded by these “public servants”), they claim to be preserving the public welfare, when in fact they are seeking only to implicate us in technical violations of every minor misdemeanour possible.

Then, by constantly pushing for, and enacting by-laws, and drafting zoning laws, they reveal their intention of stifling and repressing our community’s way of life.  Lawfulness is not on their minds.  She may try and couch her words as “upholding the law” and “enforcing regulations” but the naked truth is that she is applying a double standard by using her zeal and time to focus exclusively on the Hassidic community in Outremont. Her politics of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ will only cause an exacerbation of tensions.

Can you imagine an elected official of any other Borough in the City of Montreal spending their time taking pictures of individuals’ homes, businesses, and community organizations and reporting them to the Police and municipals services?  Is Celine Forget the kind of politician that Outremont residents believe will be able to work to resolve differences and foster a constructive dialogue?

Where is the democracy?

How can it be that in a major North American city, laws of a sort that are not considered by other cities are brazenly enacted to disrupt a peaceful minority’s way of life?

It is not a question of special “accommodation” of the Hassidic community. We Orthodox Jews make up a 5th of Outremont’s population.  Do we remain outsiders who need to be tolerated and accommodated?  Does democracy govern us, or prejudice? We are a part of Outremont and Outremont is a part of us!

Yes there are valid issues, as there are in many cities, concerning traffic, noise and celebrations.  That though is a challenge to be met with good will and by working together. If all of us can approach such issues with open minds and in and honest dialogue with one another, they can be worked out. But letting a few bitter individuals parley issues into ill will is destroying our beautiful city.

Setting the record straight

And just to set the record straight, let me address some allegations levered against our community.

Hassidim oppress women

I invite anyone to come into our homes, synagogues and schools to see how indeed our community honours its girls and women.  Separation of the sexes, which is routine in Hassidic communities, may seem backward to some, but it does not bespeak any lack of respect for either men or women. and see for yourself how our women and girls are cherished honoured and respected sometimes even more than males.

And so, the sneerings of people like Pierre Deslandes (who, in his letter “Democracy in Hostage”, Outremont Express, Mar 21, and tried to portray the recent incident as an attack on “women’s rights”) are fuelled only by misinformation and  hatred. He seems to have missed the Hassidic woman in the video alongside the men, registering her own chagrin to Mme Forget.

What’s next?

I and others in the community have decided that we are not willing to let the current situation continue. In order to cultivate a more respectful and open understanding of one another, we are starting a website where we can have an open dialogue with others and, hopefully, dispel some myths discuss some issues that have been causing friction. (We will try to be as much bi-lingual as possible).

I would like to invite our neighbours of Outremont to put aside all differences and join us at

Thank you,

Cheskie Weiss

An Outremont Hassid

19 comments (17 comments in English, 2 comments in French)

Pour lire ou poster un commentaires en français allez à "Démocratie à deux vitesses"

Please Note: Comments on each post match the posts language so that the conversation flows smoothly.

  1. David
    April 6, 2012

    Clearly Celine Forget is an Obsessive Compulsive who needs psychiatric care.

    Communities do all kinds of things publicly from Carnaval to the Gay Pride Parade. Nobody suggests shutting down the St Partrick’s Parade in Boston or New York because a few people get drunk or there are a few traffic jams.

    This whole thing is just sad.

    Hamilton, Ontario

  2. Duke Ben Bloom
    April 6, 2012

    I think your complaint(s) should be directed towards the “individual” whom you believe are harassing you and disrespecting your rights rather than blaming, as you are, the Québeçois as a whole. Because when you do this, you are inadvertently doing exactly what you are protesting. Really think about this.

  3. Duke Ben Bloom
    April 6, 2012

    One last thing: I commend you on your efforts to open dialogue with people (Anglophone, Francophone, Haïtian, Asian, etc). Your non-violent approach can do nothing but wonders.

    I also invite you to try to understand the viewpoints of your opposition. Understanding and healing is attained when both sides walk in the shoes of the other.

    Happy Passover.

  4. Cameron Skene
    April 6, 2012

    You’re absolutely correct in your assessment. It’s bigotry. I’ve been living in the neighborhood since 1990 – 22 years. This is an relatively new development by relative newcomers to the area. I’ve lived with the Hasidic community all this time. It’s tiresome to have to keep apologizing for people that can’t mind their own business. I think the most revealing thing is: who has the time or energy to keep up itemizing infractions, posting blogs and images, making videos and attending meetings. Yeats once said in his poem The Second Coming: “the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”
    They evidently are full of time as well.
    A pathetic waste of human energy, and quite obviously unhelpful to the community. Perhaps they should sell their inflated houses for the profit they were looking for, move on and leave us – and you – alone to raise our families in the community WE built.

  5. Wendy Perzow
    April 6, 2012

    I wish you a hearty Chag Sameach, and much good luck in dealing with this ruthlessly biased woman. Her actions and her intentions are deplorable. Ignorance has always been dangerous throughout history. I hope your energy and your indignation will prevail.

  6. Mark Johnson
    April 6, 2012

    Why do complain about the chadsidim, they do you hear any chasddim committing any murders any armed robbery or any drugs, dont they pay the taxes? are they on welfare? how about the hockey riots every year or the student rioting and breaking winds blocking traffic? were is md forget? the only reason is that they cant stand them for no reason that’s the fact

  7. Rev. Ron Grossman
    April 6, 2012

    Shalom and Pesach sameach.
    On reading the article in today’s Gazette and having grown up in Montreal, sadly I ‘re-recognize’ what this article portrays. My parents told me of the attitude toward Jewish people in Quebec prior to, during and after WW 2. The use of Le Devoir newspaper to espouse all and any kind of narrow minded attitude toward anyone who as the 1990′s dragged onward not ‘pur laine.’ Then of course reasonable accommodation of this decade. It is nothing more than a subtle bigotry played out by those who ‘like to take pictures.’ However there is a flip side. I have walked what I call the’Durocher/Bernard corridor’ and when a Chassid gentleman passes me have merely said ‘shalom.’ More often than not I am ignored.
    Living in peace as your blog describes goes both ways. Do you not think saying shalom is a different indicator from a stranger? Yet I am ignored mostly because I do not dress or live S you do is what is evident. Do not say I this comment is wrong. I grew up at Chevra Mishnas Y’acov Yoseph in Chomedey for part of the 60′s. When we no longer attended we were shunned in public.
    As I stated the Chassidic community needs to examine all sides. It is noble to desire to live in peace. Beyond that I fear for those who take pictures as Genesis 12:1-3 plays out in real life today as well.
    You may respond if you like
    Shalom/ Ron

  8. Stan
    April 6, 2012

    I was born in Outremont 70 years ago and my father was born here 105 years ago. Outremont was a beautiful city. Community relations were informed by mutual respect. I remember as a child going to watch the Corpus Chrisi parade on Outremont avenue. I also remember the parades that took place when a new Torah was dedicated at one of the synagogues. Respect was the key and probably still is. The various ethnic communities in our home town need to remember this.
    Recently a member of the Hassidic community of Ste Agathe invited the whole town to her wedding. Many townsfolk participated. It went a long way toward breaking the ice between the two solitudes. Gestures like this on both sides can open the lines of communication and understanding. Mutual respect is the only way.

  9. Shelagh
    April 6, 2012

    I think building bridges is always a positive thing and you’re doing that with this blog. Photographing people as a way of harassment seems to be a favourite pastime of a certain type of angry, obsessed Québeçoise women. I was subjected to one of these campaigns because I sometimes let my dog off his leash in the woods behind my home when my arthritic knee can’t keep up with him. This sad, unhappy control-freak decided that I was a bad “Anglais” element in her neighbourhood. She followed me around for several weeks, yelling at me and snapping photos. Eventually her craziness became apparent and people lost interest in her campaign. I went back to walking my dogs quietly and speaking Franglish with my more reasonable neighbours. Continue opening the lines of communication and letting us share common ground with you. Good luck with your neighbourhood crack-pot! Let’s hope she finds a more positive distraction in her sad, lonely life. Happy Passover.

  10. Michel
    April 7, 2012

    It is unfortunate that people are afraid of what they don’t understand. As a young man I came to work in Montreal. I don’t believe I had ever met a jewish person before. When I was a boy my mother would sometimes say “mon petit juif” which usually meant I had done something wrong. Imagine my surprise when I started working in an environment where 99% of the people were jewish. I cherish those 3 years of my life where I met such wonderful people. I do not go to Outremont very often but I can see it is a vibrant community.
    We must all learn to live together and accept our differences.
    Happy Passover to all.

  11. Rachel
    April 7, 2012

    Very interesting blog, I hope it will reach the community and help people to see both sides and not only the biased stories portrayed by the media. Good luck.

  12. Cameron Skene
    April 8, 2012

    You do not have to build bridges with the majority in this area. All this trouble is from a minority of bigots, and pathetic news coverage that portrays this BS as something that has to dialogued about. It suggests that blame is shared equally.
    I suggest that we have a good look at Lacerte and Forget’s houses – if they indeed live in the neighborhood – and see how many municipal infractions they contravene.

  13. Max
    April 13, 2012

    It is very disheartening that the Skver community has been denied a permit by the Outremont borough council to hold a peaceful candlelight procession to welcome their Rebbe visiting from New York. Almost every day, students are holding demonstrations against the hike in college tuition; sometimes these protests resulting in violence and vandalism.

    But for these City councilors, the Charter protected rights of free speech and free assembly of its Jewish citizens are to be suppressed. What a terrible example they are setting.

    But what is probably even more disheartening is that “the organized Jewish community” has remained silent in the face of this denial of fundamental rights.

    When the Skver boys school was firebombed by two young men in September 2006, they were quick to convene a press conference.

    Here, a government to whom its Jewish citizens are dutifully paying their taxes, humiliates them. It responds to their request for a permit by imposing a moratorium which conveniently ends before St. Jean Baptiste Day. And what is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs response? Silence.

    But why should we be surprised? After all, not too long ago, its spokesman, David Ouellette, declared on his blog that “tragically, Yiddish culture disappeared with the Holocaust.”

    I don’t think so.

    • Cameron Skene
      April 16, 2012

      If you guys demonstrate, I guarantee that many neighbors will join you. More than you think. That bylaw about processions hits others as well, and while they may not voice it, people around you are disturbed by it.

  14. IA
    April 18, 2012

    Just like the Mayor of Mascouche has shamed that Municipality to the general public so has Celine Forget given Outremont a dirty name. It is time to ask Mme. Forget to resign her seat on Council and keep her prejudiced opinions private behind closed doors. Shame on the electors of Outremont who voted for such an individual to be elected. Let’s start a CFO “Celine FOrget Out!” campaign, hopefully she will get the message and resign.

  15. Tanya
    April 30, 2012

    I wholeheartedly applaud this website and also have the wish to know my Hassidic neighbours much better.

    Keep up the great work on this blog and in the community!

  16. Margaux
    June 3, 2012

    About hassidim and women… My boss just had a baby girl. She has a lot of hassidic neighbours. Not only did one woman bring her a gift, after her baby’s birth, but one of the men stopped my boss’s husband on the street to congratulate him and to tell him that “daughters are the sweetness of life” or something to that effect. No man who denigrates women would congratulate a neighbour with such beautiful words at the birth of a daughter! Just because the way a community honours women is not the same as the way our western society does doesn’t mean that they are not honoured. My mother’s father was a (non-hassidic) jew and she remembers how the women of that community ruled the roost!