Brownstein: Book on Canadian Jews reveals the sharpness of Quebec mobsters


Allan Levine is the author Finding the City of the Future, focusing on Canadian Jewish spending.

Mia Shaffer / Flyer

It was almost an equivalent of Montreal to The French Connection: The year was 1934. The Mobsters Harry Ship (né Chaskel Lazarovitch), "Pinky" Brecher and "Fat" Charlie Feigenbaum were ready to smuggle a drug cache from Paris to the Port of Montreal. . But the RCMP was wise to the operation and managed to persuade Fat Charlie to sing like a canary in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Unfortunately, Fat Charlie paid the price that the stoolies usually pay, and met his creator after being shot six times in the head and chest of Esplanade. Of course, that would have given Fat Charlie some consolation that his funeral, drawing thousands, was one of the greatest ever performed in the Jewish community of the city.

Yes, as has been the case with the political, entrepreneurial and literary elite of Montreal, its Jewish bandits, from this and other eras, have also stood out from their coreligionists in the rest of Canada. It turns out that all these Quebecers were – and still are – as distinct as the province in which they worked and flourished frequently.

In his fascinating new fascinating work, Looking for the False City (McClelland & Stewart), Winnipeg author Allan Levine recounts the Canadian Jewish experience – dating back 250 years to the Hart family of Trois-Rivières and who should qualify its members as Québécois vielles souches.

The Jewish population of Canada, according to the 2011 census, totals about 400,000, making it the fourth largest behind Israel, the US and France. Toronto has almost half that number of Jews, with the population of Montreal around 90,000. It was not always like this. Montreal was an important port of entry in the late 19th and early 20th century for the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Montreal was also the epicenter of the country for much of the 20th century. That would change dramatically in the 1970s when the specter of separatism resulted in headquarters and a section of the Anglo population here – including about 13,000 Jews – fleeing to Toronto.

Still, while Toronto would become the economically most vibrant and populous city of Canada, Montreal had and continues to have a prestige for its Jewish population. It is and always will be home to countless reasons, probably more than simply for religious reasons.

Writers Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton and A.M. Klein – from whose poem Autobiographical, the title of "legendary city" of Levine – sang the praises of the city, satirizing its weaknesses and plunging into its dark sides.

Yes, anti-Semitism raised the head of almost the beginnings of the Jewish community here.

As early as 1806 and 1808, Ezekiel Hart was twice elected to the National Assembly for the Trois-Rivières horse, but prevented him from taking his place because he was not a Christian. With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, anti-Semitism was particularly pronounced in the 1930s.

But Levine is quick to note in his book that anti-Semitism in Canada is hardly confined to Quebec. Moreover, the Anglo-Christians here played a role in that front. Many of a certain age may remind McGill University of imposing restrictions on Jewish students.

"I tried to be inclusive in covering Jewish communities across Canada, but I probably did not get as much success as I wanted because Montreal, along with Toronto, really dominate the conversation," says Levine, author of 13 books including Toronto. : Biography of a city (2014) and king: William Lyon Mackenzie King (2011).

Seeking the town Fabled is a warts account and all. The inclusion of the Montreal Mafia Jews is not necessarily something that the community would like to highlight, but its presence can not be ignored.

"Certainly, the largest Jewish community was so ashamed of the notoriety of these guys and of those who attended their funerals," Levine says.

Not that he has had a criminal past, but Levine points out how Richler came into conflict with many in the Jewish community for supposedly painting an unflattering look. And, of course, Richler would later run counter to the Quebec nationalists for his critical essays on them in the New Yorker.

"I think it was unfair, but people do not like to criticize their own communities." And he found it unfair that he was being identified as a Jewish writer when someone like Michel Tremblay was not being identified as a Catholic writer.

"My book identifies a little more clearly how Canada was not multicultural and intolerant. OK, it was not the South American of the past, but anti-Semitism was so ingrained all over the country. It's still a little scary, because Trump brought back America of the 1920s into its anti-immigration stance. Could it spread here? I'd like to think not.

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