Thursday, December 4, 2014


When my Jewish grandparents came to Canada to escape the Cossaks and the Bolsheviks, they kissed Canadian ground in gratitude. 

With no resources and no love from French Quebecers or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or "Christian" immigrants from Hungary, Romania, Poland - they laboured in sweat shops, saved a few coins, fed, clothed and housed their children and sent them to school. I believe there were times when my parents didn't eat so we, the children, would have food. 

They paid their rent on time. My grandmother, Bobbe Dear, Dvoira Feldman and my mother, Leonie Rubin, gave sandwiches to beggars at the door. My Bobbe walked door to door for charitable causes until her feet gave out and she needed surgery. 

My father was a cutter in the garment industry. He stood on his feet at work all his adult life, day in and day out, winter and summer, even while he suffered from sciatica. 

After decades, my uncle Sam  - who had worked for the owners of Metropolitan News since he was eight years old selling newspapers on the corner of Peel and St. Catherine in all kinds of weather - bought out the Manella brothers and became the sole owner of Montreal's first international newspaper store. He brought in every member of the family to work there. He changed all our lives - but he did have a captive work force. Sam was still working at Metro News into his 90's.

My people never asked anyone to cater to our religious requirements. Religion was our business, our responsibility. My people never asked anyone for anything they didn't earn, and we certainly never tried to make anyone adopt our religion or our religious practices. The families and the community worked hard and long and we helped each other. 

The community set up labour unions for factory workers, the Workman's Circle and the Labour Progessive Party that the government of Quebec padlocked, considering it subversive. I saw the padlock and chain on the front door on Esplanade and Laurier with my own eyes. We were incredulous. Garment workers, members of "The Society", had access to house calls by a doctor - at a cost of about 25 cents per visit - and access to a place in a Jewish Cemetery.  As a child, I had surgery on my infected ears on our kitchen table. 

The Jewish immigrants formed charitable organizations - the Pioneer Women, Hadassah - clinics - Hertzl Dispensary. They kept the children off the streets at Neighbourhood House and provided opportunities for children and adults to play basketball and take courses and read books and swim and learn theatre arts and play music and dance at the YMHA. They opened The Jewish Public Library and schools - Talmud Torah - and synagogues, and decades later, the  Saydie Bronfman Theatre and the Cummings Centre for Art and Culture, and the Jewish General Hospital, where we who were scorned by others, welcome everyone in. 

Our fathers did not murder their wives and daughters. They respected us and cared for us and provided for our needs.

I have no tolerance for ANYONE who attempts to impose their beliefs on others. It is intolerable. People who seek refuge in Canada may be welcomed. But anyone who comes here to impose their customs and dogmas on others must be invited to go back to their homelands where they may be free to practice their religion and customs.

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