Kol Isha: Malka Zipora's Lekhaim as the voice of the Hasidic woman in Quebec.
Over the last quarter century, tensions in Quebec have run high between Hasids and their francophone Quebecois neighbors over the question of "reasonable accommodation" of the nonmainstream ethnic group. There is much ignorance about the insular Hasidic communities, and fear by the modern, egalitarian province that Hasidic women are being oppressed. Several francophone writers have exploited this ignorance and fear for their fiction, and their stories of Hasidic often appeal through sensationalism (e.g., tales of forbidden love). Malka Zipora, however, entered the fray in 2007 through the mundane: writing as a "Hasidic mom," she suggests, in her short story collection, Lekhaim!: Chroniques de la vie hassidique a Montreal, that her life, and the lives of her peers, are little different from those of other women, moms, Canadians struggling with brutal winters. Through her universalizing literary bridge, Zipora persuades her readers to rethink positions on fraught issues like the legality of succahs, while also giving voice and agency to Hasidic women, altering their popular perception.
Et toi, madame, tu connais Israel? (And you, madame, you know Israel?) Madame, madame, toi tu ... toi tu paries Yiddish et tu connais Shabbes? (Madame, Madame, you ... you speak Yiddish and you know Shabbos?) Madame! ... Tu connais ga? ... Le vrai nom c'est draidle. C'est pour Hanoukka. Toi, tu fetes Hanoukka? (Madame! You know this? The real name it is dreidel. It's for Hannukah. You, you celebrate Hanukkah?) --Myriam Beaudoin, Hadassa
If the Hasidic characters in francophone Quebecois writer Myriam Beaudoin's 2006 novel, Hadassa, are curious about what a non-Jewish person in Quebec does, thinks, and knows, the same sentiment could be said to exist tenfold in reverse, both within the book and outside of it. Beaudoin's French-language book about, according to the back cover, "un monde a part, enveloppe de mystere et d'interdits, mais seduisant et rassurant" (a world apart, shrouded in mystery and taboos, but seductive and reassuring) (1) was nominated, in 2007, for the Prix des libraires du Quebec, and won, the same year, both the Prix litteraire des collegiens (2) and the Prix litteraire France-Quebec. In 2011, another francophone writer in Quebec named Abla Farhoud also took on the subject of local Hasids with her book entitled LeSourire de la Petite Juive (The Jewish Girl's Smile). (3) And in 2014, the Quebecois filmmaker Maxime Giroux directed Felix et Meira, a film about a married Hasidic mother and poor Quebecois man, star-crossed lovers of Montreal's Mile End, that won "Best Canadian Film" at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. By virtue of their chosen subject, these books and film appear to follow in the success of the story collection Lekhaim!: Chroniques de la vie hassidique a Montreal (later published in English as Rather Laugh than Cry), which was written by a Hasidic woman in Quebec and preceded Hadassa by a few months. Yet in many ways, Beaudoin, Farhoud, and Giroux's tales more closely resemble the often-sensationalistic narratives of "Off the Derech" writers. Beaudoin's story includes a romance between a gentile and a Hasidic woman, Farhoud's highlights the growing internal struggle of a Hasidic girl who feels confined by her religious identity, and Giroux mixes the two scandalizing ingredients to produce his stirring drama.
The author of Lekhaim, on the other hand, writes her stories about and within the Hasidic community. The stories of the Hasids she presents are the stuff of everyday, made interesting not through sensationalism but through humor and pathos. Despite the quotidian subject matter, the book was met with much success in francophone Quebec. "Dans son livre Lekhaim! Malka Zipora dresse le portrait de la communaute juive hassidique ultra-orthodoxe de Montreal et fait tomber les barrieres culturelles (In the book Lekhaim! Malka Zipora portrays the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Montreal and breaks down cultural barriers)," exalted one French review (Yarmush). There is little doubt that Lekhaim's success stemmed, in part, from the audience's desire for an "authentic" Hasidic voice--in particular that of a woman, as a fear of secular Quebec, which was highlighted during the province's "Reasonable Accommodation" debates, was that women in minority groups such as the Hasids were being oppressed and silenced. (5) Through the book, francophone Quebecois could find a way to connect to the "bizarre" neighbors described in the media as "like 'bogeymen,'" with a "mentality that's separate" (Cote, Al; Heinrich, "Laurentians"). Indeed, the stories in Lekhaim read as "relatable ones," as though to say: "you wonder who we are, and I will tell you. In many ways, we are like you. If we knew each other, we would probably get along."
The writer, whose real name is known to many residents in Outremont, the Montreal borough in which she resides, calls herself Malka Zipora for her book, though she refers to herself throughout the book, more significantly, only as "a Hasidic mom," making herself a representative of her community. In writing her stories for a general audience, Zipora "gingerly" draws "aside the shades to the window in [her] home" to provide "glimpses of many universal emotions and stories," glimpses that are essential to the Hasidic residents' communication and coexistence with their neighbors (Zipora, 12). The language suggests hesitation: if Hasidic communities are known for their insularity and difference, Zipora is undermining both by drawing aside her metaphorical shades. But she is also doing something else surprising, which she does not name. She is giving voice to a group that has been spoken for (in the media and in literature, by non-Jewish Quebecois, and by secular Jews), but has rarely spoken: Hasidic women. This speaking is a speaking back, for when they are spoken for, Hasidic women are doubly rendered silent: through erasure of their own voices and through erasure of the voices of those purporting to represent them. Nora Rubel writes in Doubting the Devout, her study of popular representations of Haredi culture, that in Boaz Yakin's 1998 film, A Price Above Rubies, the Hasidic heroine is "silenced and exiled" (93). (6) Amongst the "Off the derech" writers, ex-Ger (7) novelist Judy Brown calls her book about the sexual molestation of a young Hasidic girl Hush and describes the cries of the abused girl as desperately silent--as silent as her first-person Hasidic girl-narrator finds she must be: "She did not cry out loud. Her mouth opened and closed and opened and closed as if it did not dare make a sound, and I heard the long, silent screams of agony again and again" (Chayil, 127). Ex-Satmar memoirist Deborah Feldman writes in Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, of a common adage about women in her community: "An empty vessel clangs the loudest" (21). This expression is understood to mean that the "louder the woman, the more likely she is to be spiritually bereft, like the empty bowl that vibrates with a resonant echo" (Feldman, 21).
The Talmudic prohibition against hoi isha (literally "voice of a woman") comes from two Talmudic sources: Berachos 24A and Kiddushin 70A, both of which describe a woman's voice as "nakedness" (kol b'isha erva) and argue that a woman's singing voice could sexually arouse men and distract them from their holy work and prayer. By describing Hasidic women as silenced--unable to speak aloud, tell their tales, define their own existence through their words--writers like Feldman suggest the idea that the prohibition against a woman's voice is extended, in the Hasidic communities, well beyond her singing voice. Yet, Hasidic women in Quebec are taking charge of their own voices, and in so doing, their images. (8) Kol isha, for Zipora, might mean a voice of peace diffusing a hostile encounter between communities; it might mean a political voice arguing for change; or it might just be the voice of a "Hasidic mom," gently explaining the customs of the unknown neighbor and inspiring sympathy and camaraderie through a language that carefully wends its way between universalism and difference. Each voice, as it diffuses, argues, explains, or inspires, also narrates a self--the Hasidic woman--in her community.
THE BACKGROUND: OUT OF EDEN
You may give to John Morrissey supper and wine And Madame N. N. to your care I resign, You will see that those Jenkins from Missouri Flat Are properly cared for but recollect that Never a Jew Who's not a 'Ebrew Shall take up his lodgings Here at Grand U. --Bret Harte, "That Ebrew Jew" (9)
Quebec has a Jewish problem. But the problem is not the antisemitism of the 1930s and '40s, when Le Devoir, the leading Francophone newspaper, advocated a denial of civil rights for Jews, or French Canadians supported Nazi ideology, (10) or Abbe Lionel Groulx, known as the "patron saint of independists," called for a boycott of all Jewish shops. (11) The Jews have long been called the "third solitude" in Quebec--a play on Hugh MacLennan's 1945 classic Canadian novel, Two Solitudes, the story of the divide between the English and French--and the Quebecois have a rich antisemitic history, one of the central concerns of Montreal's most controversial native son, Mordecai Richler, in and beyond his 1992 book, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! (an outgrowth of his September 1991 New Yorker article, and a book that was heavily condemned by the French press of Canada and compared to Mein Kampf (12)). But, as elsewhere, the history of and-Jewish policy and propaganda in Quebec mostly lies in the past. Admittedly, as late as 1995, Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau blamed the failure of the referendum on Quebec's sovereignty on "money and the ethnics," read almost universally as Jews (as well as Greeks and Italians), and even in the twenty-first century, there have been a few isolated incidents, such as a firebombing of a Jewish school in Montreal in April 2004. Still, for the most part, Jews and Jewish culture thrive in Quebec. Montreal is home to a large Jewish community; the hip magazine, Shtetl: Your Alternative Jewish Magazine; and the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, which runs Yiddish theatre. Even the small mountain town, Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, hosts a major Yiddish Jewish cultural program, KlezKanada, that draws participants from around the world and is the largest of its kind. Jews and Quebecois seem to have made their sometimes uneasy peace. In fact, with the "brain drain" since the 1970s of Anglophone Jews and the influx of francophone Jews from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, Jews and Quebecois have found a common ground on the basis of language--the key instrument in the Quebecois cultural reformations--and as a sign of recognition of this cultural bridge, Universite de Montreal introduced, in 2013, a course entitled "Culture et experience juives au Quebec," the first course about Jews in a francophone university in Quebec (Arnold, "New U de M Course").
And yet, Quebec has a Jewish problem, though today's Jewish problem is mostly specific to the Hasidic communities. (13) Populating Montreal's borough of Outremont, the idyllic mountain towns of the Laurentians, and the Montreal suburb Boisbriand (home to Kiryas Tosh, a self-regulating community not unlike New York State's Kiryas Joel), the Hasids, living in the province since the aftermath of the Holocaust, have, for the last quarter century, found themselves at odds with the Quebecois communities they border. Tensions between the Hasids and Quebecois have been palpable since "l'affaire Outremont" of 1988, when the Vishnitzer Hasids petitioned the Quebec Superior Court to rezone an empty lot on a residential section of Saint-Viateur Street for the building of their new synagogue while maintaining another building as the current synagogue. (14) Their opponent was Gerard Pelletier, leader of Le Parti du Renouveau d'Outremont, who declared, "We do not want Outremont to become a Hasidic town" (Herman, 155). The requests of the Vishnitzer Hasids were denied, but the incident did not end there. It spurred French newspapers, Le Journal d'Outremont and La Presse to publish anti-Hasidic sentiment, notably La Presse's "Outremont se decouvre un 'probleme juif'" (Outremont discovers its Jewish problem) that described Hasids as "cette minorite bizarre" (this bizarre minority) in which the men were "'a couettes,' tout en noir comme des 'bonshommes sept heures,' ces femmes et ces enfants habilies comme des oignons" (in "pigtails," all in black, like "bogeymen," the women and children "dressed like onions") (Cote, Al). "L'affaire Outremont" is much discussed in academic literature because it anticipated a generation of problems between Hasids and their neighbors; from this first affair, we see the focus on disputed property, the questions of accommodating difference, the language of exoticization and alienation, and the slippage between "Hasids" and 'Jews," all present in a number of affairs, such as the 2011 hostilities over the Bobover synagogue's request to add a bathroom to their facility.
By the middle of the first decade of this century, the conflicts between Hasids and their neighbors in Quebec seemed near constant. In 2005, Val Morin, a town in the Laurendans north of Montreal, spent $100,000 in court against a Belz sect of Hasidic Jews that converted two residences into a religious school and a synagogue; the court ruled in favor of the municipality. In 2006, a number of Hasids with summer homes in the area reported that in their absence, their homes had been raided and kitchen knives stabbed through their walls. In 2007 in Val Morin, returning Hasidic vacationers similarly found themselves without their air conditioners, bicycles, and scooters, and, two months later, a series of suspicious fires were started in Hasidic homes in nearby Val David. Also that summer, a group of Hasidic Jews bought Miramont-Sur-Le-Lac, an estate in the town of Saint-Adolphe-d'Howard; the resort had been listed for sale for two years before the Hasids put in their $3.5 million offer, but no one else had shown interest. Yet when the Hasids made their bid, the townspeople panicked.
The rhetoric of the media coverage, even in Anglophone papers, is rarely favorable toward the Hasids and their requests. In Montreal, in 2006, the Yetev Lev Satmar synagogue and school in the Mile End district asked the YMCA next door to put frosted glass on their windows so that their yeshiva pupils would not be exposed to the (scantily dressed) women exercising there. The YMCA consulted with members and chose to comply, and the Hasids paid for the renovation. Despite the easy resolution, there was a media outcry. Although one article noted that "only four people ha[ve] ... complained" in the nine months after the windows were replaced, the media as a whole created precisely what it claimed the initial request did: a "tempest in a teapot" ("Faith, Fitness"). The flurry surrounding this (in truth, quite benign) incident is often cited as one of the reasons for the Reasonable Accommodation Commission.
Furthermore, media coverage in Quebec--and beyond--often suggests that the fear that Richler's French Canadian characters have in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959)--that Jews are going to invade the Edenic lands and destroy them--is all too real and contemporary. (15) So begins an article on the purchase of Miramont-Sur-Le-Lac, which appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press and Edmonton Journal:
St. Adolphe d'Howard is not accustomed to the spotlight. Under cover of Quebec's Laurentian hills and nestled among more than 80 lakes, the town 100 kilometres north of Montreal tends to be overshadowed by more popular areas nearby. Lately, they include the towns of Val David and Val Morin, which over the last few years have been making headlines for controversies surrounding Hasidic Jewish families who have summer homes there. Slowly but surely, the controversies have made their way over the green hills to small, sleepy St. Adolphe. (Blain, "Controversy")
The pastoral language of the article (the "green hills," the "sleepy" town) stands in juxtaposition to the words of the general manager of Miramont-Sur-Le-Lac, who predicts that the estate will now become "ghettoized" in the hands of the Hasids (Hamilton, "Town Uneasy").
In a similar vein, of nearby St. Jerome, the Montreal Gazette reported that the Laurentians town had a "new thorn in their side: Jews. Ultra-orthodox Jews, more precisely--the Hasidim." A town meeting aired the following complaints about the "unreasonable" demands of the "ever-growing" number of Hasidic Jews:
"The last shot they directed at us, was they set themselves up next to the baseball field and asked us to shut off the lights when they pray on Saturday evenings," reported one resident. "It's really a mentality that's separate," St. Hippolyte resident Lise Casavant said of the Hasidism, adding that immigrants should sign a new Quebec citizenship charter "or choose another province," a sentiment several other speakers also evoked.... And Lise Provencher, of St. Jerome, 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. (Heinrich, "Laurentians")
The comments move from a criticism of Hasidic isolation to a classic stereotype about Jewish money, an unfortunately unsurprising leap from Hasid to Jew. (16) And even more problematically, the article reinforces the charges against the community by concluding that "Hasidic Jews stand out by their separateness--even last night. There were none in the crowd to defend the community" (Heinrich, "Laurentians"). This apparent silence, read as a refusal to engage in the discussion, is one Zipora recognizes in her book of stories. "I was reminded that many of the misconceptions and misunderstandings about Hasidic life exist precisely because there has been very little explanation from source," she writes (Zipora, 11-12). Yet, the article's final statement, condemning the Hasids to discrimination of their own making, blatantly neglects to note that the Hasids, for the most part, do not reside in St. Jerome after the summer, and, based on the timing of the meeting (which fell two days after the holy day of Yom Kippur and a day and a half before Sukkot), were likely consumed with holiday preparation, such as building their sukkahs (Heinrich). (17) Although Zipora makes the move to show that Hasids, too, can be involved in neighborhood discussions, such discussions have and are too often arranged in a way that effects the exclusion of the Hasids. In yet another example, in June 2013, Quebec set its first fixed-date election, which will take place in 2016; it will be held on Rosh Hashanah.
Although not present to speak on behalf of their community during the town meeting, Hasidic women did speak up in response to the media depictions of Hasidic insularity and their property purchase when given a chance. One Hasidic woman, interviewed by sociologist William Shaffir, asked, "If Meharesh Yogi [a local yogi with a thriving studio in town] would have bought this place, what would anyone have said? They don't interact either, they're busy meditating. So who brought all this attention to the media?" (Shaffir 45). Did the Hasids not care how they were being represented? Or were their responses being silenced?
RATHER ENGAGE THAN ISOLATE, RATHER, SPEAK THAN BE SILENCED, RATHER, ACT THAN BE PASSIVE
I originally wrote these stories for small magazines sold or distributed for my community. They covered issues that I discussed, laughed over or complained about with my friends as we sat on park benches nursing our babies, cleaning their faces of the sand they ate and threw at one another. In moments of inspiration, I would jot down my ideas on tissue boxes or make notes on junk mail while I stirred the soup. (Zipora, 9)
This book is in memory of my dear mother, who was my biggest motivator. She lived with incredible wisdom, creativity and purity of soul, dedicating her life and energies to my father and to the children at the expense of denying herself the things her heart might have liked to pursue. Through my book, I feel that in some way I am fulfilling her aspirations and talent. (Zipora, 5)
In Lekhaim, originally published in French (though written in English), Zipora shares intimate stories from her home--the carnivalesque nature of the "bedtime routine" with twelve children; the overwhelming expense of orthodontics, complicated by retainers that get tangled in peyos; her desperate attempts to control a bad temper through emulations of rabbis of old. Zipora writes the book as a play on almost every magazine, book, and blog addressing parenting issues, offering a humorous and Hasidic-specific spin on her tales. She writes, in part, for her peers--the other Hasidic women who also, daily, have twelve piles of homework to oversee, twelve lunches to pack, twelve burgeoning individuals to foster. And, in addition to their material similarities, these other women follow the same rules, religious and cultural. And one of these cultural (unwritten) rules is to observe tznius (modesty) in one's career ambition. It is crucial, as we see from the opening lines of her book, that Zipora foregrounds her commitment to motherhood, to activities like nursing and cooking, while leaving writing--her paid work--to the "back burner" of her life's stove. Her tzniustic attitude toward her career is imperative: she writes, "I believe that the details surrounding the publication of the book, leading up to it, the characters involved in its conception and its publication were orchestrated by a Higher Hand. There were a series of events that just so happened to lead to a French publication of these stories" (9-10). She concludes that it was "bashert" (destiny) that landed her the publication of a book, and she "took it as a message that it was G-d's will that this book be published" (10). The language here echoes her religious commitment, of course, but also her unwillingness to assume credit for her work--to suggest she is an ambitious or successful career-woman, when who she is, of course, is a wife and mother who does a little dabbling in writing while stirring the all-important soup. This is a language her Hasidic women readers understand and appreciate, would even perhaps recognize as a coded message. It is within the norms of Haredi society for women to work outside the home (or in this case, for a venue outside the home), but dedication to the household is supposed to be given top priority. (18)
Even as Zipora reaffirms the Hasidic woman's traditional primary obligation, she also shows Hasidic women that they can do more, be more, act more. A Hasidic woman does not have to act immodestly to fulfill her ambition; neither does she have to dedicate her life and energies to a husband and children "at the expense of denying herself the things her heart might have liked to pursue." Scholars who attempt to reconcile the "oxymoron" of feminism and Orthodox Judaism have long excluded Haredi women from their field of study, suggesting no reconciliation could be had. In 1976, Paula Hyman wrote in the landmark text, Jewish Women: New Perspectives, referring to Haredi norms, "While men are allowed to define themselves through a wide spectrum of activity in the world, women are defined in sociobiological terms as wife and mother and relegated almost exclusively to the home and family life" (106). Yael Israel-Cohen notes in her 2012 book, Between Feminism and Orthodox Judaism, that Orthodox women receive praise for their duties in the song Eshes Hayil, which is sung to the woman of the house each Erev Shabbat. Yet, she writes, these duties are domestic duties and "the fact that women are given praise for their duties does not change their status in the literature from being limited and inferior" (18). In fact, in a number of works of fiction that redefine women's roles within the laws of Orthodoxy, the Eshes Hayil is referenced specifically to exalt the woman's non-household duties. In Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls (1998), the Haredi woman's husband muses: "Is it really such a question whether a woman can start a business? This is the work of the virtuous wife, the 'Ashes Chayil' in the ancient song: 'She considers a field and buys it; / With her earnings she plants a vineyard.' And ... She finds that her trade is profitable; / Her lamp is not snuffed at night" (Goodman, 158-59). (19) In Zipora's book, every page attests to her role as an Eshes Hayil in her home; but the publication of the book, and its dedication to a mother who did not see such endeavors as possible, attest to her role as an Eshes Hayil in the paid workplace. Just as the Eshes Hayil in the song can be both woman of the home and woman of a trade, so too can a modern Hasidic woman.
Yet Zipora, in this book, is not only writing for Hasidic or Haredi women; she is also writing for her non-Hasidic peers. Her imagined audience is not an unsympathetic francophone Quebecois audience, an audience that thinks the Hasids of Quebec should "choose another province," or that 'Jews are the trampoline of money in the world" (Heinrich, "Laurentians"). But neither is it an aware audience. Throughout the book, Zipora names, explains, engages her unfamiliar reader. She intervenes in the conflict between Quebec's Hasids and their neighbors--carefully, tactfully. She gives voice, through her writing, to women whose voices haven't been heard--again, both for the sake of fellow Hasidic women knowing their own voices can be heard as well as for non-Hasidic readers to know her, even if only in some small way. By writing her stories, Zipora is ultimately redefining the Hasidic woman and her role in cultural relations.
"A truly Hassidic house is devoid of any external influences such as public media, whose entertainment prevails at the cost of values," writes Zipora (18). While this is true, in the twenty-first century, there are a number of "kosher" novels and films (starring women-only casts and screened for women-only audiences), (20) and the everpopular women's glossy magazines--primarily Ami, Mishpacha, and Binah. (21) These are the kinds of magazines that Zipora mentions in her reference to her writerly past. The stories contained are rarely controversial, but rather informative and entertaining and highly relevant to Haredi lifestyles. Zipora, for example, has an article in Arm about Hasidic life in Montreal; it could have appeared in an in-flight magazine were the flight full of Jews who cared to restrict their knowledge of Montreal to the best kosher bakery and the option of $7.00 per day frum daycare. The stories and articles in these magazines follow strict, often unspoken, guidelines. As one Montreal writer for Mishpacha and Ami, Machla Abramowitz, explained to me in an interview, any writer for these magazines knows she is walking a fine line. Writing has to be interesting, but topics are limited. So is language. You can write about babies and motherhood (of course), but you can't use words like "abortion" or "embryo." You can write about current events in the Haredi communities around the world (in fact, many of the readers get the majority of their news from these magazines), but most of the magazines avoid taking strong stances on divisive issues. (22)
The rules of these magazines are clear to the writers who contribute; they are often the same writers who, like Zipora, write children's stories and educational articles for forums with identical rules. Turning to a wider audience, however, is a challenge, one that screenwriter-director Rama Burshtein also faced in making the recent successful commercial film, Fill the Void (2012). Similar to Zipora, Burshtein imagines herself as "open[ing] a rare window into an insular world" (qtd. in Miller, "Director Rama"). She also broke a mold by creating her art for communities beyond her own. In an interview, Burshtein explains, "For me, [making the movie] was like opening a window ... it's a window for you to look through. People will form their own opinions based on what they see. If I had tried to explain it, I think that window would have closed and it would have seemed like I was trying to make a documentary. When people are inside that world, living their lives, they're not explaining why they're doing this or that" (qtd. in Miller). Like Zipora, Burshtein recognizes the perceived insularity of her community and shares Zipora's metaphor of the window onto that community.
Despite the common use of the window metaphor, however, Zipora takes a different approach to showing non-Hasidic readers the lives of Hasids. "If I wrote about visiting someone in the hospital on the Sabbath," she explains in the opening of Lekhaim, "my Hassidic readers would know the unwritten part was that I had walked two miles to the hospital, climbed eight floors of stairs and walked two miles back, because on the Sabbath it is forbidden to use transportation or take an elevator" (11). This knowledge cannot be assumed when writing for a larger audience, and Zipora feels too much context is lost. So the tales become part fiction and part library reference book--and as a result, they often seem didactic. But this instructive element is precisely how the small stories of a household take on their political significance. This is how they participate in an unspoken dialogue between disparate neighbors. After all, much of the friction between the groups comes from unawareness: if the students in Hadassa can't know whether or not their Christian teacher celebrates Hanukkah, Zipora's readers can't be expected to be familiar with "negel vasser" or "kreplach." So Zipora provides an index for her readers: an eight-page dictionary of Yiddish terms and their English translations she gently titles "A Little More Information."
While the index provides quick, easy go-to information, Zipora's intext translations might strike a reader as odd. When she refers to "The Sabbath," the English term is then followed by the parenthetical, italicized Yiddish:"(Shabbos)" (11). Rather than the Yiddish term followed by an English translation, in other words, one finds the reverse. "Destiny" is followed by"(bashert)" and the full expression "A person thinks, and G-d laughs" by "(a mentch tracht und der aibishter lacht)" (11, 13). This continues apace. It is almost as though Zipora is translating for both the insider reader and the outsider. Perhaps, she is suggesting, the meanings of expressions sometimes change along the way--which even an insider might forget. "'That is how it was at home (udj volt othon),' she used to say," Zipora writes of her mother, and then offers a third variation on these words, "and she meant that was how things should be" (16). Awareness of Hasidic customs is not just for the foreigner; Zipora aims to educate the Hasid, as well. In fact, it is typical of "kosher" literature to moralize and instruct. Zipora's simply does so on more than one plane.
In teaching her readers to be "fellow brothers and sisters," she challenges the way that people regard Hasids as living anachronisms--great-grandfathers and foremothers. Even Quebecois who have supported Hasids and tried to find links between Quebecois and Hasids have erred in this way. Quebecois writer, journalist, and filmmaker Jacques Godbout, for examples, writes, "Nous n'aimons pas voir les hassidim proliferer parce qu'ils nous rappellent qui nous etions, notre repli national, notre refus du siecle, et qu'au temps de l'orthodoxie nous etions solidaires, preoccupes de notre survivance. Les hassidim se veulent uniques et distincts, nous aussi (We do not like to see the Hasidim proliferate because they remind us of who we were, our national decline, our rejection of the century, and that in a time of orthodoxy we had solidarity and were concerned about our survival. The Hasidim want to be unique and distinct--so do we.)" (qtd. in Herman 180n39). Hasids have come to signify a temporally remote "otherness" such as the one identified by Johannes Fabian in Time and the Other in anthropological discourse, or Anne McClintock in the context of colonial discourse. Representations of Hasids often reflect, to paraphrase McClintock, the "regression from white, male adulthood to a primordial, black [hat] degeneracy" (9). We see this anachronization in popular culture; in 2005, Montreal-born secular Jew Dov Charney, CEO of American Apparel, who had been compared by the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell to the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century handschumachers, the Eastern European Jewish glovemakers of upstate New York, used a tableau of nine pictures of a twenty-first-century Montreal Hasidic tailor depicted above the line, "There's nothing like the shmata business," (23) suggesting he was continuing an ancient tradition rather than sharing a parallel with a contemporary one. We see this anachronization in literature; the conflict between Orthodoxy and modernity comes via the old grandfather and the young man in the 1954 novel Aaron by Quebecois writer Yves Theriault. We even see this anachronization in theories of ethnicity, which purport to create an understanding of the relationships among the majority culture and ethnic communities. The historian David Hollinger, for example, in the preface to Postethnic America, conflates history and reality when he relates a story about a group of men in black hats and coats whom he thinks are Pennsylvania Dutch, only to be corrected by his fiancee who tells him, "No, those are Hasidic Jews ... My roots, not yours" (ix). This anecdote, in a book about the relationship between ethnic heritage and voluntary affiliations, is a strange one: although the fiancee and the Hasids are Jews, they do not necessarily share the same "roots," and, as her contemporaries, the Hasids certainly are not the fiancee's roots.
By distinguishing between Hasids living in history and living through history, Zipora's book force readers (and even theorists of ethnicity) to rethink their characterizations of Hasids. Crucially, the characters are never, themselves, anachronisms; in her stories, the Hasids are speaking on cell phones (in fact, phones loom large in the book, reminding us that communication and community are bound together), visiting physiotherapists, and using computers (there are two chapters devoted to computer use, and they are followed by a chapter called "Women's Communication Network," suggesting an underlying relationship between yenta-ing and the internet). This modernity is not depicted as antithetical to the fundamental belief in passing down historical values to children "sing[ing] the same songs their grandparents sang" (she adds, in a Whitmanian vein, "as they sing the story of Hanukkah, they sing of themselves and their parents and great grandparents from generations back") (102). The twin desires--to be a part of their living world (involved in their community and their daily lives) and to be a part of history--are thoroughly intertwined. Only through the lessons and rituals and traditions of history can they live in and interpret the modern world.
While this conceptual issue of image (of the Hasids at large as well as the Hasidic woman) is fundamental to Zipora's collection, she also confronts specific political conflicts head-on. One of these issues is that of the succah, the temporary structure that observant Jews construct and eat in during the fall holiday of Succot to commemorate the "sojourn of the Jews in the desert while living under the protection of the clouds" (Zipora, 152). In Outremont, succahs have been contentious since the turn of the twenty-first century. Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, one case of succahs in a condominium complex that had been declared illegal in 1998 by the lower and superior courts of Quebec, went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court, before being overturned by the Canadian Supreme Court. Still, a law was passed in Outrement that a succah can only be up for two weeks. In "Malice in Montreal," an article in Ami, Abramowitz describes the scene:
The independent city councilor [Celine Forget] has personally taken upon herself the thankless task of monitoring these regulations. Not her job, but having been personally responsible for the law's enactment, it's only right that she see to its enforcement as well. So there she is, meticulously recording every screw that goes in, then sending copious notes to City Hall noting the day and time that Reisner [a resident] 's sukkah went up. In the course of two weeks, Reisner will receive three notices from City Hall: the first informing him of the date and time his sukkah went up, the second reminding him when it must be taken down, and the third a warning that if it isn't down by then he will be fined--heavily. Woe to the Yidden should the first and last days of this two-week period fall on Shabbos. (50)
The time limitation is deeply problematic for the Hasidic community of Outremont, as the two-week period can prove insufficient. The Hasids must have their succahs up before the eight-day holiday and take them down when it is done; there is only a four-day period between Yom Kippur and Succot (when Jews traditionally build their succahs), and they are not allowed to build on Saturday, since it is their day of rest, nor, in Quebec, on Sunday, since it is the provincial day of rest (this deference to Catholic Sabbath observance is treated by the state as historic and national, just as the crucifix above the Speaker's chair in the Quebec National Assembly is; only minorities' religions are problematic).
In "Squeezing in a Succah," Zipora begins her chapter as many of her other ones: by explaining the Jewish- or Hasid-specific holiday or event at hand. In this case, she defines Succot as "the holiday of remembrance of the Jewish exodus from Egypt and their travel through the desert" (152). But Zipora's story is neither about the Jews and their exodus nor modern Montreal Jews celebrating. Instead, she actually begins at the close of the holiday: "The little huts perched on the balconies of the houses in the city of Outremont during the holiday of Succoth with their roofs of bamboo and ferns have all been packed away" (152). This is the story of a succah that has not, according to the law, been taken down--"to the chagrin," as she writes, "of many of the non-Jewish Outremont dwellers who are accustomed to a city that is as well groomed as the poodles and pedigreed canines that they elegantly lead around the streets" (152). She knows that "if it stands around a few days longer, there are sure to be complaints from neighbors whose sensitive tastes cannot tolerate any impairment to the aesthetic air of this neighborhood" (153). Despite this satirical language, and despite the repeated barbs at Outremont's elitism in the piece, "Squeezing in a Succah" offers a serious intervention in Hasidic-Quebecois relations. For one, Zipora attempts to see what resentful Quebecois (i.e., Celine Forget) see when they see the Hasids' rites and rituals. "It looks more like a tent for camping out," she writes, "or perhaps a tarpaulin covering a snow blower or a tank" (153). She can see that "this particular succah is a real klutz" (153).
But if the succah appears as a real klutz, that means it has been "looked at only with the eye and without the heart" (153). What if the succah were looked at with the "heart" instead? What if instead of worrying about "taste" that is sensitive to "aesthetic" violations, one regarded the succah as an expression of spirituality and love of community and family? This is what Zipora is arguing for in "Squeezing in a Succah," wherein Zipora's daughter, Sheindl, and Sheindl's husband, Shulem, try to erect a halakhic succah on their balcony--a feat that seems impossible.
Much of the story follows Shulem and his male cohort's work with an air of suspense (will they make it? Or will they fail?), taking us back in time to the days and hours leading up to the holiday: "two days before Succot ... Shulem begins scrounging around for supplies"; "the day before the holiday ... Shulem ... realizes that building a succah does not just involve randomly banging in nails"; "By three o'clock with the help of neighbors the succah is up"; "With three hours to the holiday ... the succah as erected is rendered not kosher"; "Two hours before sunset, the dayan himself, accompanied by Talmudic students with Shulem and his friends tagging behind, come to study the succah, and figure out how it can be constructed in a way that would render it kosher"; "His friends arrive from all directions with new supplies ... Sheindl lights the candles exactly ten minutes after Shulem throws the last tool into the tool box" (154-58). We are reading a mystery story with no real mystery; because the story begins with the description of the klutz of a succah, we are assured success in the end. And yet, a reader is made to sit on the edge of her seat, wondering how the victory will be achieved, how the miracle, perhaps, will occur. The klutz of a succah gathers significance as readers, even those who had not known the term succah a few pages back, are made to share the breathless anticipation of building and tearing down and rebuilding the succah, until the final creation, imagined by the reader, leaps from the page as a model of perfection.
Yet, there is more to the story than the men's labor. The rest of the story follows the women's roles: cooking, consulting with each other, preparing back-up plans, recleaning the apartment every time a new troupe of Talmudic scholars comes through. The women, per typical Haredi discourse, are spiritually ignorant ("I do not have at my fingertips the fine points and complex rules for Succoth, nor do I profess to understand the technical part of this particular 'learned succah' [lomdishe succah]"; "I am no Talmudic scholar. To me this succah is the oddest looking one I have ever seen") even as the women are more practical in every way that would be understandable to a non-Hasidic reader (153, 159). It is the woman to whom the reader relates; the Hasidic women understand that the succah is ugly, understand that it seems strange to build and destroy and rebuild a new succah worse looking than its predecessor, and they are the ones to get done the things that everyone thinks of as things that need to be done (cleaning, cooking, planning). And they are also the ones who tell the non-Hasidic reader why we have to appreciate the things that men do, too--their abilities to parse the dense law, to solve complicated problems, and to work, perhaps most importantly, together to serve their communal needs. Her conclusion sets aside the frantic tone of the piece to show us the grandeur of the result, even as she continues to move deftly between the opposing perspectives: "It is amazing how beautiful something so technically coarse could be. There is no way that the neighborhood of Outremont will accept the things anything but trash. Eight days of this eyesore is too much. But to the owners of this succah, it has special qualities and the holiday is just way too short" (159).
The practicality and effectiveness and seeming "relatability" of women (without discounting the spiritual usefulness of men) in "Squeezing in a Succah" revises the images of Hasidic women for non-Jewish readers whose concerns about the roles of women in minority cultures helped lead to the Reasonable Accommodation Commission in Quebec.
In teaching awareness beyond her own community, Zipora enters the fraught discussions in Quebec that hit their peak in 2006-07 during the Reasonable Accommodation Commission. The Commission, according to Pierre Anctil and Howard Adelman's detailed account in Religion, Culture, and the State: Reflections on the Bouchard-Taylor Report, "was mandated to take stock of existing practices with respect to diversity within Quebec society ... conduct a broad process of consultation ... [and] propose recommendations to the government to make sure that solutions already found and others to be implemented conformed to the core values of Quebec as a pluralistic, democratic, and egalitarian society" (Anctil and Adelman, 6). The commissioners traveled around the province and recorded responses on the ground and in the media to cultural conflicts: the YMCA window exchange, the purchase of Miramont-Sur-Le-Lac, the "code of conduct" published in January 2007 by the small (white, Catholic, immigrant-free) town of Herouxville and sent to the provincial and federal governments stating, "it is forbidden to stone women in public," that "a woman can ... drive a car, sign cheques, dance, [and] decide on her own," and that "burning women alive or burning them with acid is not considered acceptable" ("Welcome to Herouxville"). The reaction to the YMCA, the purchase of lake property, and the code of conduct, as well as many other practices and declarations, revealed an anxiety about multiculturalism, with particular regard to the treatment of women by immigrant and other ethnic groups. While it was common to read the Herouxville injunctions as anti-Muslim sentiment, (24) it was clear that Hasids were also likely targets. The code, which also addressed women's attire (in terms of modesty concerns of both Islam and Hasidut) and interactions between the sexes in swimming pools (which would be limited for Hasids) was immediately linked, in the press, to the YMCA "tempest in a teapot" as well as other "accommodations" for Hasids (providing male examiners when Hasidic men took their driving tests and male police officers to interrogate Hasidic men). (25)
Quebecois were asking the question: Are these people a part of us? In "Hassidim and the 'Reasonable Accommodation' Debate in Quebec," Shaffir analyzes the responses of Quebec's Hasidim to the reasonable accommodation publicity, much of which intimates that Hasidim make poor neighbors. A Tasher woman tells him, "We don't want to be influenced from the outside ... We're trying to shelter our kids," and a Satmar woman says, "We are not a friendly group ... We stayed this way to stay the way we are" (41-42). Concludes Shaffir, "For hassidim, protection and preservation require erecting fences or enclosures and there must be full implementation at street level" (42). These responses and Shaffir's analysis suggest the answer is no--no from the side of the Quebecois with their codes of conduct keeping out foreign practices, implying those who do not share their values and follow their ways ought to "choose another province," and no from the side of the Hasidim, who are busy erecting fences. But "fences" do not necessarily mean exclusion, and if the proverb "good fences make good neighbors" were ever relevant, it might be here. In fact, the lack of assimilation of the Hasids of Quebec is neither a call for special treatment nor even an indication of poor relations. Shaffir quotes one Hasidic woman saying, "In Ethics of Our Fathers, it says you should greet all your neighbours. I know all the neighbours on the block, even the biggest anti-Semite, because that's the kind of person I am" (Shaffir, 40). Furthermore, how "friendly" one Hasid is might not be an indication of guidelines set in the community. A Hasidic woman complains about a Hasidic neighbor and then tells Shaffir, "Hasidim are people. Forget about what they look like. Some are friendly and some are not. And to generalize because one person doesn't say hello!" (40).
Ironically, write Anctil and Adelman, the term accommodement (accommodation) was widely misunderstood by the public giving their briefs to the Commission as well as the media reporting on it. "Reasonable accommodation," they explain, is a legal concept, "which appeared when federal courts judged that the provisions designed to protect various minorities from discrimination could miss their targets"--not cases of "open-ended negotiation without legal significance, as in the case of the avenue du Parc YMCA" (Anctil and Adelman, 9). The crisis, they argue, never really took place:
Brief after brief from social and public health organizations reached the Commission stressing the artificial nature of the debate supported by Bouchard and Taylor. They claimed that ways and means to accommodate the time of immigration had long been reached in Montreal. Cultural diversity and religious pluralism in certain neighbourhoods of Quebec's largest city had become commonplace, and examples of adjustment and adaptation simply more widespread than instances of conflict or confrontation. (13)
Despite the media's tempest--and what were perhaps real ideological disparities--according to Anctil and Adelman, on the ground, differences were being worked out. Often by women.
Zipora enters these discussions as both Hasidic woman and Canadian. If there are Quebecois who have difficulty seeing Hasidim as part of Quebec, by virtue of their own refusal (similarly, in one of the best-known documentaries about Hasidic life, A Life Apart, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, one of the great scholars of American Judaism, declares, "Hasidim don't consider themselves American"), we see this refusal to accept a national identity in addition to a religious one to be untrue in Zipora's writing.
Zipora's identification as a Canadian is deeply significant for a book that is both a series of stories and a political intervention. And it is established through the everyday, similar to her Shabbos reliance on her feet to get her places. "Winter is a unifying experience," begins one chapter (81). The paragraph continues with the use of the first person plural: "We make up for the falling temperature by producing inner warmth, as we become one big family of fellow sufferers" (81). Continuing the familial metaphor, Zipora refers to a neighbor who worries about her lack of gloves becoming her "mother" (81). This neighbor is a fellow Hasidic woman, but Zipora makes clear that the "one big family of fellow sufferers" extends beyond the Hasidic community: "The below zero temperatures have made us Canadians a friendlier society"; "our main athletic pastime becomes pushing cars with revved up engines and spinning wheels out of snow banks": "When scientists threaten and warn us to change our lifestyles to avoid global warming, we Canadians dismiss them and advise them to address their concerns to the nomads in the Sahara desert" (82). Otherwise hostile neighbors find a point of common contention: "Instead of picking on each other, the weather becomes the punching bag" (86). In her conclusion, she returns to the kinship theme: "Why feel handicapped when we know this is part of the ritual that leads into spring? We are all part of that plan, and we should celebrate and relate to one another like one big family" (88). Using the language of "ritual" and the idea that Canadians are "all part" of a (predestined, ordained) plan, Zipora suggests that the weather that encourages her to address her readers as "fellow brothers and sisters" is God's intervention into Outremont's hostilities (88). It's too cold to fight. So everyone should just get along. It might not be the sharpest political tool, but in a Montreal winter, it makes sense.
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(1) All translations are mine, with help from Eva Ludvig and Marc Bellemare.
(2) This prize is awarded annually by a panel of students from different colleges and CEGEPs throughout Quebec.
(3) Long preceding these novels by Francophone writers about the Orthodox Jewish Other in Quebec is Wes Theriault's Aaron (1954), a novel that follows the plodine of much early twentieth-century Jewish American literature in which Orthodoxy--that series of rituals belonging to the old, out-of-place, immigrant grandfather--is rejected by the new American-born generation in favor of assimilation.
(4) Orthodox individuals who have chosen to leave their communities.
(5) Authenticity continues to be a pressing issue in literary studies. Even within the inter-Jewish literary circles, the resistance to "outsider" representations of Orthodox Jews has been a topic of debate since Wendy Shalit famously published her 2005 rant in The New York Times against non-Haredi Jewish writers approaching the topic of Orthodoxy in their fictions. One critic calls Nora Rubel's entire book, Doubting the Devout, "a measured expansion of Shalit's essay" (Zierler).
(6) Rubel is also, in this context, discussing Naomi Ragen's 1993 novel, Sotah, featuring a Haredi but not Hasidic heroine, who, too, is silenced and exiled. "Haredi" is an umbrella term that includes two groups: Hasidim and misnagdim. "Haredi" is often called "ultra-Orthodox" in English, but this term is considered derogatory.
(7) There are many Hasidic communities. The major ones are Ger, Belzer, Chabad Lubavitch, Satmar, Klausenberg, Skver, Vishnitz, Karlin, and Bobov.
(8) While Malka Zipora might be said to dominate the literary forum, a young Hasidic woman named Mindy Poliak, running for borough council, has been dominating the political one. It is also significant to note that Quebec's Hasidic women are certainly not the only ones to be changing their images and having their voices heard. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for example, we can find a more literal rethinking of kol isha in the all-women Hasidic alternative rock band, Bulletproof Stockings, which plays to women-only venues.
(9) This 1877 poem, published in The Washington Capital, refers to the "Seligman Affair," in which a man named Joseph Seligman was denied entry to the Grand Union hotel in Saratoga, New York, for being a Jew (though Seligman professed no prejudice against "Hebrews"--only Jews).
(10) Max Beer traces some of this history in "The Montreal Jewish Community and the Holocaust," Mordecai Richler in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!, and Erna Paris in Jews, An Account of their Experience in Canada. Examples often come from Anatole Vanier, who wrote a number of articles in the influential magazine L Action nationale about Jews in the 1930s, demanding from the government that Canada keeps it doors closed to desolate Jews in Europe and declaring, "C'est a cause de cela qu'ils connurent les ghettos et qu'ils les connaitront encore en Allemagne et ailleurs, car le sursaut actuel de l'Allemagne nouvelle est en germe partout ou les Juifs sontjuges envahissants ou encombrants. Et, ou, on peut bien se le demander, sont-ils juges autrement?" (What is happening in the new Germany is germinating everywhere where Jews are considered as intruders. And where, one may well ask, are they considered otherwise?) (Vanier, 2 September 1933, "Lesjuifs au Canada") (Translation: Paris, Jews, an Account of their Experience in Canada, Toronto: Macmillan, 1988, 52).
(11) Groulx published a great deal of antisemitic propaganda, yet to honor his memory, a subway station in Montreal is named after him. In 1996, the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada petitioned the Executive Committee of the Montreal Urban Community to have the station be renamed, but their request was not granted.
(12) Similarly, a Quebecois graduate student named Esther Delisle, who wrote her doctoral dissertation about the antisemitism of Quebec nationalists around the same time, waited two years to have her thesis approved at Universite de Laval and was subject to very critical press. See Nadeau for the Quebecois media response and Caldwell's searing review of both Delisle's The Traitor and the Jew and Richler's Oh Canada! Oh Quebec.
(13) Other Orthodox communities have not gone untouched, however, especially since Quebec proposed a new "Values Charter" in 2013, forbidding public employee Jews (doctors, professors, government workers, teachers) from wearing skullcaps and other overt symbols of faith.
(14) A number of people have written about this heated exchange. See Richler in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!, as well as Shaffir, Herman, Stoker, and Bauer.
(15) Covertly purchasing the land in his French-Canadian girlfriend's name, Duddy wins a bidding war for a piece of Ste Agathe lake grounds against Dingelman, a wealthy, established big macher, because, as his girlfriend Yvette hesitantly explains, "One of the farmers ... well, he hates Jews. He'd prefer to sell to me." Duddy exploits the French Canadian's antisemitism, telling "Wette: "Listen you get a hold of that farmer and tell him Dingleman is the biggest, fattest, dirtiest goddam Jew who ever lived. If he gets hold of that land he's going to build a synagogue on it. You tell him that" (288). More recently, on the south side of the border, Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls (1998) explores a similar question of property purchase in the Catskills. An Orthodox Jew wishes to buy land in Kaaterskill; the local judge, who is defined by his love of his country and his god, wishes to preserve this land from the encroachment of "cultish" people who "do not inspire his sympathy, generosity of fellow feeling" (61). Using free indirect discourse, Goodman visits the mind of the judge to confirm for readers that the Jewish suspicions of American antisemitism are accurate (191).
(16) In Quebec, the Hasidic problem is often referred to as "la problente juive." In East Ramapo, New York, an ongoing conflict between Hasids and their neighbors concerning the ways the public schools are run has attracted the media and was the focus of an in-depth article in New York Magazine in April 2013. The article cites one student-interviewee explaining that at church, active congregants urged their peers to vote in school board elections: "'Parents,' they'd always say, 'Let's go vote for the district, we're voting against the Jews.'" Another young woman admits, "At a young age, you hear Jewish' and you automatically think, Oh, they 're trying to kill my school district' (Wallace-Wells). Similar concerns arose in the coverage of the East Ramapo school board conflict by NPR's September 2014 This American Life episode, entitled "A Not-So-Simple Majority" and Tablet Magazine's counterargument piece. See Calhoun, Ungar-Sargon.
(17) Secular Jews often side against Hasids, determined to distinguish themselves from their Hasidic counterparts. Barbara Kay, for example, a columnist for the National Post and a secular Jew, made clear her allegiance in an article entitled "Not in My Backyard, Either," which responded to the purchase of the resort in St. Adolphe. Kay writes, "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," she adds, quoting the manager of Miramont-Sur-Le-Lac, "I would worry 'that [they] might not integrate into the [Barbara Kay] community with the result that the property would be ghettoized'" (Kay, "Backyard"). Rubel refers to this secular Jewish anxiety as "They are us in other clothes" (Rubel 147). Rubel begins Doubting the Devoutynth a historical example that nicely highlights the "culture war, largely between Orthodox and non-Orthodox practitioners of Judaism"--the lawsuit that Orthodox students filed against Yale University over co-ed bathrooms in 1997, a lawsuit that led to a distancing of secular Jews from the image of Jewishness being presented by Orthodox Jews (Rubel 2). The most classic literary example of this anxiety comes by way of Philip Roth's short story "Eli, the Fanatic," which was published in Commentary in 1957 and still feels contemporary today.
(18) In Almost a Family, a 2010 film made by and for Haredi women, viewers encounter a very successful hard-working secular businesswoman who is punished in the story for prioritizing badly, which is to say, for putting her career before her children. At the film's conclusion, she sees the proverbial light (through a strictly Orthodox nanny), and although she is offered a promotion to become president of the company she works for, she decides the only place she wants to be president is in her own home. Interestingly, the film does not end with her quitting her job, only decreasing her hours. Haredi cultural productions cannot dismiss women's paid work outright when Haredi women are often the sole financial support of their households.
(19) In Rebecca Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem, hardly a book that extolls the virtues of Orthodoxy, the frustrated secular wife thinks of Eshes Hayil, quoted at length in the book, in sociobiological terms, but respects the tremendous sociobiological work Haredi women perform: "While liberated specimens among her goyish counterparts struggle against the myth of helplessness and the tradition of dependence, the Orthodox ayshes chayul (woman of worth) is traditionally the sole support of her (very large) family ... Her liberation wouldn't require her being freed from a dollhouse or lifted off a pedestal" (63).
(20) The 2011 Israeli documentary, Ha'Cholmot follows Haredi women filmmakers on their very difficult journeys to satisfy their own ambitions, their fellow women's viewing interests, their families, and, perhaps above all, their rabbis' decrees and decisions.
(21) See Berger on the "explosion" of Haredi literature. It might be noted that the magazines are in many ways similar to each other: all can be ordered to arrive just before Shabbos; none features pictures of women--lest a man open the pages of the magazine; all cater to the transnational Haredi community that includes Jerusalem and Stamford Hill in London and Crown Heights in Brooklyn and Outremont in Montreal. Yet, each has its own readership and angles its stories slightly differently, with Mishpacha aimed at the most conservative crowd, and Binah at the youngest and most liberal.
(22) In a rare exception, in December 2012, Ami published an interview with George Farkas, the attorney who defended the convicted rapist and pedophile Nechemya Weberman, explaining that "upon consulting with leading rabbinical figures, we determined that it is imperative that the defendant be given the same opportunity as his accuser to present his case, not only in the court of law but also in the court of public opinion. The prosecutor's case has been given its full airing in the general media. The defense's arguments deserve equal exposure" (49). This editorial choice led to a number of readers boycotting the magazine, and the creation of a Facebook page publicizing the effort.
(23) Charney has since made several campaigns featuring Hasids.
(24) See Ahadi.
(25) See Heinrich, "Media Stir up Storm"; Ferguson; Breummer and Dougherty; Hustak.
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|Author:||Skinazi, Karen E.H.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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