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  1. Montreal's Jews aren't going anywhere By Yoni Goldstein The history of Russian Jews in Montreal, Canada, began more than a century ago, when a coalition of Jews and Christians in the city raised funds to help Jews escape from the Russian empire in the wake of an onslaught of pogroms triggered by the assassination of czar Alexander II, in March 1881. There are widely varying estimates on the current size of the Russian Jewish community in Montreal: The local Jewish federation believes there are fewer than 10,000 Russian-speaking Jews in the city, while Russian community officials claim the actual number is more than double that figure. In either case, a community center and a Russian-language biweekly newspaper attest to the fact that Russian Jews have established a vibrant community in the city (whose total Jewish population is about 100,000). Of course, as in virtually every city outside Israel where there is a Jewish presence, life for the Jews of Montreal is not without challenges. The city has been home to some minor-league anti-Semitism in the past, and the province of Quebec is proving to be mildly hostile to anyone who can't speak in French and isn't willing to learn how. But the biggest threat to Montreal Jews, the Quebec sovereignty movement of the 1970s and then later, in the early-1990s, has more recently lost favor in the eyes of more Quebecois than ever before. Now is a good time to be a Jew in Montreal. Apparently, Nativ, the formerly clandestine organization that since the 1950s has shared responsibility for bringing Jews from what is now the Former Soviet Union to Israel, and Israel's minister of strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, don't agree. According to recent stories in Haaretz and the European Jewish Press service, having apparently run out of Jews still living in the FSU to bring to Israel, Nativ is planning to make a new push in North America to recruit Russian Jews there to make aliyah. Target No. 1: Montreal. It's a peculiar strategy: aiming to do business in a country that has two significant, settled communities of Russian Jews (the other being Toronto, where some 90,000 live); a country that is safe for Jews and where Jewish communities have long prospered; and a country, moreover, to which disadvantaged immigrants flock and where they are welcomed in droves, where they can experience multiculturalism and inclusiveness. When you're trying to convince people to leave peaceful, thriving Canada for a better life in the Middle East, you know you're in trouble of some kind. The only ones that look bad in this story are Nativ and Lieberman. The decision to recruit in Montreal is, at best, misguided. Worse, it demonstrates that the brand of covert immigration missions that were Nativ's bread and butter between the 1950s and 1990s is no longer needed. For 30 years, the organization was solely responsible for assisting countless Jewish escapees from the Soviet scourge, but that very important work is now finished. Jews who, under the hammer and sickle, were unable either to express themselves Jewishly, or to leave for someplace else where they would be free to do just that, are now at liberty to choose where they want to live, including Israel. In fact, Nativ's decision to choose Montreal's as its first stop in North America proves just how out of touch the organization is. (Already in Germany, Nativ has provoked a protest from Jewish communal leaders because of similar efforts there to lobby Russian-immigrant Jews to depart for Israel.) According to estimates from the city's Jewish federation, 80-85 percent of Russian Jews living in Montreal actually moved there from Israel. These people have already been the beneficiaries of Nativ once, and yet, at some later point, they decided that Israel wasn't the right place for them after all. There's no reason to think that they would consider moving back now, no matter how hard aliyah-liaison officers try to convince them. Nativ's venture into Montreal is doomed to fail because the organization's brand of cloak-and-dagger aliyah recruitment simply isn't suited to today's Jewish global village. Its employment of old-style Zionist tactics, which depict the State of Israel as representing the final stronghold against a world of Jew-haters doesn't connect with people anymore. There are, after all, other perfectly suitable homes for Jews. Montreal is one of those places. Perhaps the time has come for Israel in general to reevaluate its relationship with Diaspora Jewry and acknowledge that there are other places in the world perfectly suited to Jewish living. Once it takes that first step, the next job would be to recognize that the overall relationship between Israel and the Diaspora must change. Instead of looking at the Diaspora as a temporary home for those Jews who can't or aren't ready yet to make aliyah, Israel should invest in forming bonds with Jewish communities around the globe. Nativ, which has been reorganized and reportedly has a fat new budget, might even consider investing some of its cash in making those communities healthier, much in the same way those communities have long invested in the welfare of Israel. Montreal's Russian Jews aren't going anywhere and neither are the vast majority of Jews - Russian-speaking or otherwise - in North and South America and Europe. The sooner the Israeli government realizes that fact, the sooner it can begin to forge a new, symbiotic relationship with all the Jews outside Israel who are quite content to stay right where they are. Yoni Goldstein is an editorial writer at Canada's National Post, and a columnist at the Canadian Jewish News.
  2. Wanted: Trademark Toronto deli Anna MOrgan My family spends August rediscovering Toronto and, like most things we do, everything tends to revolve around food. This year, it occurred to me that in many ways the history of our city can be written in its deli. Top-quality Montreal smoked meat with a New York sour dill is easy to find around town. It's possible to find Polish potato latkes or stuff yourself with a Russian kishke. But where can you get Toronto-style anything? It's not that Toronto doesn't have great Jewish delis. We've got the best New York pastrami money can buy, and you don't have to go far to get lox and cream cheese on an oven-baked Montreal bagel. Indeed, anyone looking for a good deli can find restaurants up and down Bathurst St. For the strictly kosher set, there's Dairy Treats and Marky's Deli, to name but two, and for bagel aficionados there is United Bakers and Bagel Plus, amongst others. And for those willing to venture slightly off Bathurst, the downtown crowd has an excellent Bay St. lunch spot actually called the New Yorker Deli, and Thornhill's popular Centre Street Deli imports the best of Montreal's Snowdon Deli cuisine. All great restaurants – I recommend each of them – but none features anything that Torontonians can distinctively call their own. Deli, of course, didn't begin in Toronto. European Jews, with their taste for pickled meats and cabbage, came to New York, mingled with the Irish and their taste for boiled meat and cabbage, and New York's corned beef and coleslaw sandwich was born. The same thing happened in the bakeries, where the European oddity of boiled buns met the American ingenuity for mass production, creating the now ubiquitous bagel. A similar phenomenon happened in Quebec, where Jews and their bagels encountered the pizzeria, giving birth to the oven-baked delicacy now known as the Montreal bagel. Likewise, corned beef met the northern and rural penchant for curing in a smokehouse, eventually adding Montreal's distinctive smoked meat to the deli mix. Now back to my original question: Given our "world class city" aspirations, where's the uniquely Toronto deli food? Everyone loves a Shopsy's or Kwinter's hot dog. But similar tube steaks are found in ballparks from Boston to Miami. Likewise, while there is nothing better than a crisp Strub's pickle, delicious gherkins can be fished out of brine in barrels and jars all over America. Here's my theory. When Jews came to English Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century, they settled with their taste for deli and created bustling centres like Toronto's Kensington Market. But back then, before massive immigration from across the globe, the best fare the locals had to offer – peameal bacon – was hardly something that melded with the Jewish palate. It may have been tasty, but it just didn't fit the bill. So even though there might be nothing more Canadian than the image of Doug and Bob McKenzie sipping on suds and frying up some savoury back bacon, there is also nothing less kosher. You can't even dress it up as kosher-style. Try as the early deli pioneers might, the culinary graft just didn't take. And now with multiculturalism firmly in place, we may be stuck with having the best of everyone else's deli but nothing distinctively our own. In the meantime, as summer ends, I'm planning to shed my Toronto-style vanity, swallow my pride and order up a Montreal smoked meat sandwich (medium, not lean). That is unless someone comes up with Toronto's very own kosher Canadian bacon-style deli meat. Sounds delish, eh?
  3. Have Some Champagne With That Brisket? Montreal is just bubbling with Jewish culture November 08, 2007 Kathy Shorr Jewish Exponent Feature Ever since the Parti Quebeçois came to power three decades ago, bringing with it greater nationalism and stricter language laws favoring French, it's been easy to feel uneasy about Jewish life in Montreal. The Jewish community has shrunk from a high of about 120,000 before that 1976 election, to just under 100,000 now. Many who left were the younger, well-educated postwar generation of Ashkenazi descent, who had been educated primarily in English. (Barred from attending the Catholic, French-speaking schools, they'd attended the English-speaking Protestant ones.) But come to Montreal today, and you'll find a Jewish world that feels more vital than many American communities with comparably-sized communities. You can see live Yiddish theater, visit a new world-class Holocaust center and sample kosher restaurants serving everything from Chinese food to Moroccan chicken tagine. The Jewish community in Montreal is one of the most traditional in North America. According to a report by B'nai B'rith Canada's Institute for International Affairs, the community has a remarkably low intermarriage rate (less than 7 percent) and a remarkably high rate of religious observance (50 percent keep kosher). At roughly the same time that wave of Ashkenazi Jews left, about 20,000 Sephardic, French-speaking Jews arrived -- most of them coming from North Africa, especially Morocco. And with a continuing influx of Jewish immigrants, including as many as 10,000 Russian Jews in recent years, the city has maintained a vibrant Jewish culture that is now about 25 percent Sephardic. In Search of 'Duddy' Visitors looking for signs of Jewish life have several sections of the city to explore. Anyone interested in history will want to go to the Mile End neighborhood, the setting for Mordecai Richler's famous novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Just east of Mount Royal Park is a five-street-wide area between the Avenue du Parc and the Boulevard Saint-Laurent -- the Jewish neighborhood for much of the first half of the 20th century. The old neighborhood was increasingly abandoned after the war, as Jews started to make their way out to the suburbs. But Mile End is still home to a large Chasidic community. And it still looks a lot like it did when Richler wrote about going to Tansky's store for a package of Sen-Sen. The rowhouses remain, with their outside staircases and little balconies. And some of the old haunts, like Moishe's Steakhouse and Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, are open for business as usual. The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre People come to Moishe's for the best steaks in town, while Schwartz's long, narrow dining room teems with crowded tables of patrons ordering sandwiches piled with smoked beef. Several blocks north is the St. Viateur Bagel Shop, celebrating its 50th anniversary. It is open day and night, 24/7, and regularly wins the prize for best bagels in Montreal -- as much for the atmosphere as for the bagels themselves. You can see the flames coming out of the wood-burning brick oven, and watch the bagels being pulled out on a long-handled tray and then dumped into a long, sloping bin. They still use the same recipe from 100 years ago -- hand-rolling the bagels and dropping them into boiling water for five minutes before baking. And forget about cinnamon-raisin or chocolate-chip bagels: It's sesame or poppyseed, and that's it! For a completely different scene, head west out Côte St. Catherine Road to Snowdon, a neighborhood of duplex and split-level homes, where many Jews moved after the war. There, you'll find a small campus of Jewish community and religious organizations and cultural groups. The Segal Centre for Performing Arts at the Saidye Bronfman Centre mounts plays of both general and Jewish interest, including an annual play in Yiddish. Montreal has the largest Holocaust-survivor population in Canada; across the street from the Saidye Bronfman are the Jewish Public Library and the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, with 5,000 square feet of exhibit space. The library sponsors all kinds of lectures, readings, films, and live-music and other events for both residents and visitors. A few blocks south of Côte St. Catherine Road is the commercial Queen Mary Road, which feels something like the way Mile End must have felt a few generations ago. There are charcuteries (delis that specialize in meats) where everything is labeled only in Russian, with vats of sweet-and-sour cabbage and trays of whole smoked fish and caviar. There's Israeli fast-food at Chez Benny and kosher pizza by the Snowdon metro station. Cell phones ring, voices chatting in French and Arabic more often than in Yiddish. Yes, indeed, Jewish life in Montreal has changed, but remains alive and well. For more information, go to: www. tourisme-montreal.org.
  4. via the New Yorker : FEBRUARY 28, 2015 Leonard Cohen’s Montreal BY BERNARD AVISHAI PHOTOGRAPH BY ROB VERHORST/REDFERNS VIA GETTY Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—a hymn to souls too carnal to grow old, too secular to give praise, and too baffled to mock faith—recently turned thirty. Cohen himself, now eighty, came of age in Jewish Montreal during the twenty years after the Second World War, and those of us who followed him, a half-generation later, can’t hear the song without also thinking about that time and place, which qualifies as an era. The devotional—and deftly sacrilegious—quality of “Hallelujah” and other songs and poems by Cohen reflects a city of clashing and bonding religious communities, especially first-generation Jews and French Catholics. Montreal’s politics in the early sixties were energized by what came to be called Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, which emancipated the city’s bicultural intelligentsia from Church and Anglostocracy. The pace of transformation could make the place half crazy; that’s why you wanted to be there. Religious thoughts seemed to be the gravest ones in Montreal then, insinuated, even inculcated, by its architecture, seasonal festivals, and colloquialisms. Cohen grew up in affluent Westmount, the best part of Mount Royal, about a mile from my family home in Snowdon—a neighborhood on a lower Western slope, where “the English” (as my mother called them) had no choice but to make room for Jewish factory owners, lawyers, and doctors. Towering over both our neighborhoods, impressing itself on our senses, was the dome of St. Joseph’s Oratory, Quebec’s great basilica, the dream palace of (the now canonized) Brother André Bessette, who healed the body and spirit of pilgrims—the place we simply called the Shrine. A. M. Klein, the first of the Montreal Jewish poets, wrote, “How rich, how plumped with blessing is that dome! / The gourd of Brother André! His sweet days / rounded! Fulfilled! Honeyed to honeycomb!” Its neon-illuminated cross was visible from my bedroom window, an imposing rival for the whispered Shma Yisroel of bedtime. The city’s ironwork staircases, its streets tangled around Mount Royal, carried the names of uncountable saints (St. Denis, St. Eustache, St. Laurent); the fall air was scented by rotting leaves and, on Rosh Hashana, polished synagogues. Fresh snow sharpened Christmas lights. Our curses, borrowed from Québécois proles, were affectionately sacrilegious mocks of the Mass: “calice,” “tabarnak,” “osti”—chalice, tabernacle, host. For Jews, a sense of rivalry was palpable, triangular, and almost Old Country in character. French public schools were run by the Catholic Church, English schools by the Protestant School Board, and some fifty per cent of Jewish students went to Anglo-Jewish day schools that embraced (and effaced) Old World movements: Orthodox, Zionist, folkish Yiddishist. Montreal’s Jews numbered well over a hundred and twenty thousand in those years. A great many men and women behind the counters of our bakeries, delis, and bookstores spoke (as did my father) the Yiddish-inflected English of immigrants who had come in the twenties. The Soviet revolution had changed the boundaries of Russia’s borderlands, closing Russian markets that had previously been open to Jewish merchants and textile manufacturers in Lithuania and White Russia (now Eastern Belarus), forcing them West—just when the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 closed America to more Jewish immigration. My father and his widowed mother and siblings were trying, in 1928, to get from Bialystok to Chicago, where an uncle lived. The port of Montreal was supposed to be their starting point, before heading down to the Great Lakes. It was where they stayed. (If the accents were heavier, you knew the new arrivals had come mainly from Romania or Hungary after the Nazi defeat, and had witnessed horrors that we did not speak about.) Jewish community life after the war was imbued with a sense of intensely felt tragedy, but so was traditional Judaism as a culture. The world of Yiddishkeit, three generations back for New York intellectuals, was just one generation back for us. Compared with “Dick and Jane” in our English readers, the characters of the Hebrew bible—their violence, jealousies, and treacheries—seemed like family. On a streetcar ride up Queen Mary Road, where the Shrine stood, a nun once told me that I had “the look of Abraham” on my face. Another, apparently reading my mind, asked me if I knew what it meant to have sinful thoughts. (She also kindly shared an amusing word game, so her Inquisition ended with grace.) The largest English talk-radio station had a call-in show on Sunday evenings on which the vexingly courteous Pentecostal Pastor Johnson explained why Jews, in rejecting Jesus, were sadly damned. Most of his callers were Jews who debated and denounced him. Unlike in the United States, Jews in Quebec did not have a neutral civil space to melt into. We had nothing as stipulated as the American Constitution; our liberties derived organically, within the tradition of British Common Law. Canada’s money had a Queen on it, not the founding fathers. The institutions of Jewish Montreal created places in which we fell back on ourselves. The heads of our welfare services and of the Y.M.H.A., the public library, the free-loan society, and political congresses were local celebrities. The family of the liquor baron Sam Bronfman, who supported these institutions, were our nobility. The progressives among us didn’t go to Reform synagogues; we just went to Orthodox and Conservative synagogues, and irregularly. If we got sick, we went to the Jewish General Hospital. My father, a Zionist leader who travelled to Israel in 1954 as if on the hajj, often admonished me with the famous aphorism of Moses Mendelssohn, the eighteenth-century liberal philosopher, that I should be a Jew at home and a human in the street. I understood Mendelssohn more readily than, say, Leonard Bernstein, who, teaching us sonata form on television, seemed human pretty much everywhere. Tolerance meant dialogue and reciprocal recognition, not assimilation. A few years ago, I walked through Bialystok with a historical map of the now destroyed Jewish city—before the First World War, Jews comprised about half the population—and found my father’s house. I was struck by how familiar Montreal’s large immigrant Jewish neighborhoods might have seemed, at least on the surface, to my father in 1928, when he arrived at the age of fourteen: the same hard winter and the same thick-walled constructions, the same forested hills, the same churches, the same easy insular Yiddish dominating commerce in textiles and clothing—the shmate (“rag”) business. The same farmers who had, a couple of generations back, been peasants, speaking a strange national language, working in our factories, speaking against us from hearths and pulpits yet greeting us warmly and with a practiced humility. The same sense that, by contrast, the propertied classes, our local nobility, would tolerate Jews so long as we helped them get richer but did not cross some invisible boundary—the presumably unavailable daughters. In his iconic Canadian novel, “Two Solitudes,” Hugh MacLennan describes Quebec as being defined by two competing cultures, nested in two little nations that were also classes, French and English. The gruff, brilliant, promiscuous Irving Layton—who had been an acolyte of Klein, and who became Cohen’s mentor and advocate—observed many years later that Montreal actually had three solitudes—a Jewish one, too, sitting somewhere between the others. Commercial life was English, so Jews as a community were drawn to the Anglophone world, narrow only in Quebec. Yet immigrant Jews engaged more poignantly, pushing and pulling, with French religious culture, which was locally engulfing. Catholic priests and nuns were ubiquitous public servants, tending to the French population, largely subsidized by provincial taxes and dominating Quebec’s French universities, hospitals, and social agencies, as well as the public schools. Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, installed in 1953, was a kindly man, concerned for the poor, who ended his days as an African missionary (“a mensch,” my father called him), and the equal of any mayor; he kept anyone under sixteen from entering a movie theatre, except when Walt Disney films made the rounds. In the thirties and forties, the Church in Quebec had been ultramontane, and the not silent partner of the reactionary National Union Party of Premier Maurice Duplessis, who ruled, with a five year interruption, from 1936 until his death, in 1959. He had been xenophobic, populist, ambivalent about the war against Hitler, and classically (if discreetly) anti-Semitic. Behind the scenes, this political establishment instructed French voters, many of whom lived in far-flung farming villages where parish schooling was limited. They were barely literate and easily swayed. Duplessis presided over an apparently impregnable majority, rallied against sinful Montreal—Cardinal Léger sought to ban bingo—and used the provincial police thuggishly, turning it into a personal force. But the war and its aftermath gradually put the Catholic Church on the defensive. The exposure of Québécois soldiers to the triumph over Fascism, the penetration into the countryside of radio and television, the inescapable guilt that Catholic intellectuals felt about the death camps, the Second Vatican Council in 1962—all of these unleashed dissent. The Church’s chief critics were dazzling, cosmopolitan French Canadian intellectuals: Jean Marchand, the charismatic, leftist union leader; Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the editors of Cité Libre magazine (Trudeau would eventually lead the federal Liberals to victory in 1968); and René Lévesque, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s most famous French-language host. When, in the 1960* election, the Liberal Party came to power (Lévesque joined the Liberal’s cabinet as the resources minister), the priests and nuns began losing their grip on the city’s schools and social services, and Quebec entered the humanist insurgency of the Quiet Revolution. The arts began to flourish: the Comédie-Canadienne blossomed, and the filmmaker Denys Arcand joined the National Film Board, producing award-winning French-language documentaries. The University of Montreal and community colleges were infused with provincial funds, and their graduates took social-service jobs in a new, fiercely secular Quebec bureaucracy. Public schools, still divided by language, were taken over more firmly, and funded more lavishly, by the regional government (though the formally “confessional” nomenclature—Catholic and Protestant—was not finally abandoned until 1998). By the spring of 1963, the Quebec government had nationalized old English-owned power companies, disturbing the peace of the residual Anglostocracy. In this loosened political atmosphere, Jews—who voted “Liberal” as faithfully as we conducted Seders—emerged into the culture. We grew infatuated with Trudeau’s federalist idealism. He was elected from a largely Jewish Montreal constituency and remained there throughout his years as Prime Minister. The Quiet Revolution transformed Montreal, at least for a while, into a kind of Andalusia: contesting religious-linguistic cultures rubbing each other the right way. Jews shared professional and literary ties with les Anglais, but we shared an affinity with French Catholics, for religious traditions that were thickly esthetic and that we, each in our own way, both loved and loved to distance ourselves from. We also intuitively understood congregational routine, authoritative interpretation of sacred literature, the prestige of historical continuity—we understood that messiahs matter in this world, that the divine emerged within the precincts of a discipline, commandments, and the mass, all of which produced decorum before they produced grace. As Cohen writes in “Hallelujah,” you cannot feel so you learn to touch: works, not just faith alone. Our rivalry with Catholics at times seemed fuelled by an unacknowledged tenderness, theirs for our historical struggles, professional erudition, and exegetical trenchancy, ours for their majestic spaces, genuflecting hockey champions, and forgiving, suffering servant—a Jew, after all. “I love Jesus,” Cohen told his biographer, Sylvie Simmons. “Always did.” But, he said, “I didn’t stand up in shul and say, ‘I love Jesus.’ ” My mother—the amiably innocent scion of another Bialystoker family—took me, overdressed (oisgeputzt), to Eaton’s department store to see the Christmas pageantry; and then, more reverentially (and to my father’s dismay), she took me to the Shrine’s wax museum, to see depictions of the passions of the saints. When I first heard a recording of Judy Collins’s iconic rendition of Cohen’s “Suzanne,” at McGill in the fall of 1967, a year after my mother’s sudden death—heard about the lonely wooden tower and its occupant searching out the drowning—it occurred to me that I had never expected much empathy from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It also occurred to me that Cohen, whose father had died when he was nine, knew loss, and that the distance from mama’s boy to ladies’ man could be short. Which brings me, finally, to McGill. If our emancipation was not in civil society, it was on that campus. The university had been chartered in 1821 to provide English and Scottish Protestants a colonial piece of the Enlightenment, above the atavism of habitant manors and parishes; the student population at the Arts and Sciences Faculty, in the mid-sixties, was something like forty-per-cent Jewish. Cohen was a legend by the time I got there. He had graduated in 1955, and had published three books of poetry and two novels; the National Film Board had made a fawning documentary about him. It was at McGill that Cohen found Irving Layton (he said of Layton, “I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever”). Klein, Layton’s teacher, had been there in the thirties, studied law, and went on to simultaneously write “The Rocking Chair,” a poetic tribute to French Canada, and edit The Canadian Jewish Chronicle. (Secretly, he also wrote speeches for Sam Bronfman). By the time Cohen got to McGill, Klein had fallen silent, spiralling into, among other sources of melancholy, a never-completed exegesis of Joyce’s “Ulysses.” For our part, we found at McGill a kind of finishing school to make ourselves more sovereign, like Cohen was. There was no need for young Jews to offer Quebec some new model of political insurrection—no American-style howl. The restrained, verbose liberalism of John Stuart Mill seemed insurgent enough, even for Trudeau and Levesque. So was the tolerance—the scientific doubt—of the Scottish enlightenment and the lyricism of English and Irish poets, from Wordsworth to Yeats. Hemmed in by Jewish and Catholic sexual norms—and also by Victorian prissiness—the first right that we thought to exercise was the right to Eros. Cohen told Sylvie Simmons that he was first inspired to write poetry when, in his teens, he read, in English translation, the work of the Spaniard Federico García Lorca. But, like many other Jewish youths at McGill, he shuttled between the debating union and the traditions of the English, immersing himself in the study of liberty and literature as in a yeshiva. This open-spirited time of cross-fertilization did not last. The Quiet Revolution, which prompted Trudeau’s federalism, in time gave rise to a more stridently nationalist idea, encouraged by Charles de Gaulle on his trip to the 1967 World’s Fair, and soon championed by Lévesque, too: that Quebec would be better off as an independent country, maîtres chez nous (masters of our own). Spooked by the vitality of English culture in Montreal, and by the fact that many more French were learning English than the other way around, separatists began agitating for an end to English-language education for new immigrants and English signs in the city. Socialists among the separatists, recalling Lévesque’s nationalization of the power companies, began calling for the nationalization of banks and large businesses. At the beginning of the sixties, radical separatists—impatient with the Liberals’ nonviolent democratic methods—had formed the Front de Libération du Québec, or F.L.Q., and gone underground. By the end of the sixties, they had placed bombs in the stock exchange and in mailboxes in English neighborhoods. In 1970, after a spate of F.L.Q. kidnappings (a Quebec minister, Pierre Laporte, was murdered), Trudeau imposed martial law. The city was roiled by arrests; a friend at McGill known for his New Left sympathies saw his flat raided; the police confiscated books, including, he laughed nervously, one entitled “Cubism”. Lévesque despised the violence of the underground, but was undeterred in his commitment to pursue national sovereignty democratically, ultimately through a referendum. In 1968, he had founded Le Parti Québécois. Jews, like most English-speaking residents of Quebec, were shocked when Lévesque was unexpectedly elected Premier in 1976. This proved the cue. Tens of thousands moved to Toronto. Some Jewish intellectuals, professionals, and artists stayed, but most left, and the amity of the sixties dimmed. Cohen kept a house in Montreal, but as his fame as a songwriter grew he spent little time there. Nevertheless, something of his native Montreal could not be shaken off—the short, sweet tradition of which Cohen was, in a sense, the end. In his 1978 poem “The Death of a Ladies’ Man,” Cohen writes of a lover’s “high religious mood” brought low by the dangers of desire: “She beckoned to the sentry / of his high religious mood. / She said, ‘I’ll make a space between my legs, / I’ll teach you solitude.’ ” You hear the resonances of Cohen’s own religious mood, and Montreal’s, in the lyrics of many songs—“Sisters of Mercy,” “Story of Isaac,” “Who by Fire,” “If It Be Your Will”—culminating, perhaps, with “Hallelujah.” The resonances and the losses are even clearer, I think, when you go to the start of the tradition—roughly, Klein to Layton to Cohen—rather than hear only its end. Klein’s 1947 poem “The Cripples,” about French Catholic worshippers at St. Joseph’s Oratory, which I quoted from earlier, reaches this climax: They know, they know, that suddenly their cares and orthopedics will fall from them, and they stand whole again. Roll empty away, wheelchairs, and crutches, without armpits, hop away! And I who in my own faith once had faith like this, but have not now, am crippled more than they. There you have it: a freethinking Montreal Jew, in whose bones the Torah was bred, inventing precise English lines to express envy for French Catholic piety. “Anything beautiful is not your own,” Cohen told a Jewish student newspaper in 1966. “When I write, I place myself in contact with something much more glorious than anything I can pull up from within myself.” Poetry was unlocked by reverence. But reverence might, ironically, embolden the poet to cross boundaries, to perhaps court one of those beautiful Westmount girls. And if you did, if you touched the dew on her hem, you could throw your crutches away. *Correction: A previous version of this post misidentified the election year that the Liberal Party came to power.