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?