Not in my backyard, either (National Post July 04, 2007)

Not in my backyard, either

Barbara Kay, National Post
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2007

MONTREAL -If you live in Montreal, and an acquaintance tells you she lives in Outremont, you may ask her with a wink -- the question is not perceived as anti-Semitic--if she lives in Outremont ma chere or Outremont kaschere. In Outremont, Montreal's most beautiful neighbourhood, one enclave, the aforementioned Outremont kaschere, is home to thousands of Hasidic Jews, who live peacefully but separately, very separately, from their neighbours. As in any Hasidic quarter, you can walk about there in assured physical security, although you may leave it wondering if you have become invisible.

Since the Hasidic way of life demands a separate school system, separate butchers and other foodstuff provision (often purchased outside the communities they inhabit), and synagogues close enough to walk to (no cars permitted on Sabbath or holidays); and since Hasidic families are as large as nature allows, inevitably their presence makes a huge impact on whatever urban environment they settle in.

Herein lies the "problem." Hasidim have zero interest in any social interaction with the outside world. By outside world I don't mean only Gentiles, but any non-Hasidic Jew. Mainstream Jews are not only invisible to Hasidim, they are also seen as apostates, and therefore worthy of contempt, as opposed to the indifference shown to Gentiles.

Reading the front-page story in Monday's National Post, "Town Uneasy about Jews' Resort Purchase," I knew the story would be about putative anti-Semitism in the charming Laurentian town of Saint-Adolphe-d'Howard, Que., where a Montreal Hasidic group has bought and is now renovating an old resort hotel for use as a self-contained community. The town manager told a reporter that people are anxious about a group "that might not integrate into the Saint-Adolphe community with the result that the property would be ghettoized." Was this anti-Semitic code for "we don't want Jews here"?

The fact that three Hasidic buildings in nearby Val-Morin have recently been subject to arson attacks naturally added to the tension. One Montreal Hasidic leader, recalling an era when Jews were not allowed in any Laurentian hotels, calls the Saint-Adolphe reaction anti-Semitic: "They don't want them there, plain and simple?The message is these guys bring trouble wherever they go. If you can get more anti-Semitic than that, I want to know how."

Whoa. Yes, there was a time in Quebec when all Jews were explicitly rejected from Laurentian hotels, and those famous signs, "Pas de chiens et Juifs" -- no dogs and Jews -- lurk in Quebec Jews' collective memory. And sure, many individual Quebecois are still anti-Semitic, a few hatefully so. But the era of official, institutionalized anti-Semitism is not only over, it is over in a big way. Traverse the Laurentians today, and you would be hard-pressed to find a community or town or resort that is not in large part supported economically and culturally by Jewish vacation-home owners, Jewish camps, Jewish skiers, and that includes many Orthodox Jews who often are, but should not be, confused with Hasidim.

ndeed, Jews are arguably the single most integrated anglophone group in the most tourist-friendly towns of Saint-Sauveur, Sainte-Adele and Sainte-Agathe. In the town near our country home, Saint-Sauveur, cultural life is disproportionately funded by Jewish home owners in the area. I once joked to my husband that on opening night at the August Arts festival, the patrons' section makes me feel like I'm in synagogue on Rosh Hashana.

So let's have no clucking of tongues about the anti-Semitism of Laurentian towns. The words Hasidim and Jews are not sociologically interchangeable. Mainstream Jews give value added to their communities, and as a result, Laurentian Quebecers demonstrate in any number of ways that they are very pleased and grateful for the prosperity, diversity and liveliness that Montreal Jews have brought to the area.

Tiny Saint-Adolphe-d'Howard, several miles from tourism's beaten paths, nestles on a gorgeous lake happily populated by many Jewish homeowners amongst others (Jacques Parizeau!), who presumably do not think there is anti-Semitism rampant in the town. No, what worries the townspeople is exactly what would worry you if a critical demographic mass of self-segregating people settled in your small, and therefore sociologically fragile, neighbourhood.

Neighbourhoods are about friendliness, trust and social interaction, as well as mutual economic support. What neighbourhoods get with Hasidim are voluntary ghettos in their midst, from which they derive modest economic benefit, and absolutely no social interaction. Hasidim may live as they choose, but they must understand that their cult-like presence is not, sociologically speaking, value added to a small and struggling community.

It is hypocritical to label St. Adolphans anti-Semitic. If Hasidim moved en bloc to my neighbourhood, I would worry "that [they] might not integrate into the [Barbara Kay] community with the result that the property would be ghettoized." Does that make me, a mainstream Jew, anti-Semitic?

© National Post 2007