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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Anti-Semitic graffiti in Mile End

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Every so often there is a reminder that Montreal, for all its history as a capital of Jewish culture in North America, still has a problem with anti-Semitism. In the past year alone, a molotov cocktail was thrown at a Jewish school on Van Horne and a bomb exploded outside of a Jewish community centre on Victoria Avenue. It wasn’t so long ago that a Jewish school’s library was destroyed in a vicious firebombing.

Just the other day, a friend told me about this piece of graffiti on Clark Street, between St. Viateur and Fairmount. Someone has scribbled the likeness of a Hasidic Jew with the inscription “Parásit.” It might seem harmless in and of itself, but these thoughtless displays of racism are usually symptoms of a much larger and more insidious problem. If we accept the legitimacy of messages such as this, aren’t we tacitly accepting their message?

Montreal is home to one of the world’s largest communities of Hasidic Jews. Numbering about 15,000, they live mostly within one kilometre of Van Horne Street between Mile End in the east and Côte St. Luc in the west. Historically, since the Hasidic population started growing in the 1980s, there have been some tense moments in the relationship between Outremont’s Hasidim and their mostly French-Canadian neighbours. Some Outremonters have fought against every one of the Hasidic community’s attempts to make a home for themselves by building new schools, synagogues and businesses.

For the most part, though, day-to-day relations between the Hasidim and non-Hasidim are civil. That’s what makes it so disheartening to see this kind of graffiti. It makes me wonder: is that civility just a mask?



  1. (Sighs.) I hope not, although reports like this one don’t make me feel especially optimistic. Neither does the lack of a strong community response to the incidents you mentioned. In fact, it seemed that there was more of an outcry about the YMCA frosting its windows than about the school attack, which I find troubling. In any case, I’ll be curious to hear what Taylor et al. have to say about all of this when their report is finished.

  2. From the Gazette article:

    And Lise Provencher, of St. Jérôme, said immigrants are “buying their way in” to Quebec and that Jews are the worst because they’re “the most powerful. … It’s always been said that the Jews are the trampoline of money in the world.” After she spoke, the crowd applauded.

    Holy shit.

  3. Holy Anachronistic Shit indeed. I’ve never understood antisemitism because it’s always so….old fashioned. Like weird old Rothschild conspiracy theories, that seem to have Biblical depth. It’s not dumbass anti immigrants-of-colour racism, that kind that you can take some solace in that the source is likely plain stupid — it’s like racism that has some logical construction behind it.

    Lise Provencher will end up in the dustbin of history, if it’s any consolation.

  4. It’s not old-fashioned in Quebec, Shawn.

    It’s funny. I moved from Montreal to Toronto, finally, a couple of months ago, and I am amazed to read that the kosher food thing is still making headlines. That particular media bubble was, what, last winter?

    (For those who don’t consume French-language populist media, it’s basically a spin on this, except applied particularly to the Loblaws/Provigo chain which controls, like, lots of grocery stores in Quebec.)

    Sometimes, I think anglophones outside Quebec — or, for that matter, the enthusiastic newcomers who make their way in — really haven’t the faintest idea about the Quebec world outside Anglo Montreal. CHOI-FM country and beyond, sort of. Maybe a good way to cement Canadian federalism is to start randomly distributing Journal de Montreals in downtown Toronto…

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