A paper bag from the Steinberg's grocery store is part of a new exhibition at the McCord Museum about contributions of Montreal's Jewish community. The grocery chain was so much a part of Quebec's culture that people going grocery shopping would say, "je vais faire mon Steinberg." Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette
There is a brown paper bag from Steinberg’s, a place that was so much a part of Quebec culture in its day that, if you were going to shop for groceries, you’d say “je vais faire mon Steinberg.” There is Mordecai Richler’s typewriter. Phyllis Lambert weighing in on the importance of heritage preservation. Books by the poet Irving Layton. Video of a debate Montrealers never seem to tire of: whether Fairmount or St-Viateur bagels are better.
There is that and much more in Shalom Montreal — Stories and Contributions of the Jewish Community, a new exhibition at the McCord Museum. Through personal reminiscences, photos, text panels, objects and multimedia installations, it highlights ways in which Jews have participated in the city’s growth and development in sectors ranging from culture, business and architecture to art and social justice.
Occupying about 4,000 square feet in five distinct zones on the second floor of the social history museum, the exhibition is at once comprehensive and intimate. It’s part of the downtown museum’s tradition of organizing exhibitions that focus on the various communities that make up the city, said museum president and CEO Suzanne Sauvage.
“The Jewish community has made numerous significant contributions to Montreal, and we would like to raise the awareness of these many achievements among Montrealers of all backgrounds,” she said.
A fundraising poster for the Jewish General Hospital, which opened in 1934. One reason for its establishment was anti-Semitism: Jewish doctors could not find work in other establishments. The larger panel, from the 1960s, depicts nurses at work at the hospital. Dave Sidaway / Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette
There are videos and text panels about the work of doctors and scientists including Phil Gold and Mark Wainberg. There are paintings by artists including Jack Beder and Louis Muhlstock of the Jewish Painters of Montreal, a group whose work depicted social realism in the 1930s and 1940s.
“These Jewish artists took their subjects from everyday life, producing urban landscapes and arresting portraits that bear witness to the social and historical realities of their day,” one bilingual panel said.
Elements of the exhibition will be familiar to many Montrealers — from the images of smoked meat sandwiches and the loop of an unintentionally hilarious 1980s television commercial for Au Bon Marché by Shiller père et fils to the image of architect Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 housing complex, an architectural landmark built as a pavilion for the Expo 67 world’s fair.
Still, there is much to learn: Safdie is a household word, but other architects made important contributions as well: Max Kalman designed the Mile End building that houses the Sala Rossa and the Outremont location of 5 Saisons, for instance, and projects by Max Wolfe Roth included the Ruby Foo’s Hotel on Décarie Blvd. and the Garden of Stars at La Ronde.
The first and the final zone feature content created specifically for the exhibition, explained McCord project manager Caroline Truchon and curator Guislaine Lemay; other content in the exhibition, which was put together in about a year, is from the McCord and on loan from establishments including the Montreal Holocaust Museum and the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives.
A pair of shears used by a cutter working in the garment industry in Montreal, from a new exhibition at the McCord Museum. Around 1930, 35 per cent of Jewish workers âwere employed in the garment industry.” Dave Sidaway / Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette
Visitors are welcomed with a testimonial from writer and journalist Elaine Kalman Naves, a first-generation Montrealer and the daughter of Holocaust survivors who emigrated with her from Hungary via England after World War Two.
The next zone, Exoduses, describes Jewish immigration to Montreal and looks at the anti-Semitism that was a fact of life for decades in 20th-century Quebec. Featured, for instance, is the story of the day that hundreds of Jewish children at Aberdeen School went out on strike — Feb. 28, 1913 — because a Grade 6 teacher had told her students the previous day that the increasing “dirtiness” of the school coincided with the growing number of Jewish students. In addition to the panel describing the incident is an electronic copy of the appealing graphic novel Kids on Strike: At Montreal’s Abderdeen School, 1913, by Roderick MacLeod and Mary Anne Poutanen, illustrated by Derek Broad.
A satirical cartoon from the 1930s, part of a new exhibition at the McCord Museum. Dave Sidaway / Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette
In June 1934, interns at Notre Dame Hospital went on strike to demand that the appointment of Dr. Samuel Rabinovitch, who was Jewish, as chief intern be rescinded. They were joined by interns at three other Montreal hospitals. The standoff ended only when Rabinovitch tendered his resignation letter. He moved to the United States to continue his medical training and returned to Montreal in 1940.
There is a fundraising poster for the Jewish General Hospital, which had it origins in the late 1920s with the initiative of about 30 doctors and eventually opened its doors in October 1934. The hospital, established because anti-Semitism made it difficult for Jewish doctors to find work in Montreal institutions, adopted “what was probably the first official non-discrimination policy in Canada: patients and employees of all cultures, languages and religions were welcome.”
What about the future of Montreal’s Jewish community? The final segment of the exhibition gives voice to 14 young Jewish Montrealers. Dave Sidaway / Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette
The exhibition’s final zone features a lively documentary-style multimedia installation in which 14 young people discuss their views of the city, their place in it and what it means to be Jewish in Montreal today. They include physician Sara Cohen-Fournier, actress Sarah Segal-Lazar, Kat Romanow and Sydney Warshaw of The Wandering Chew and Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman, co-creators of the web series YidLife Crisis.
“We wanted to give young people a voice,” said the McCord’s Truchon.
The Shalom Montreal exhibition drew on the expertise of a committee that included Pierre Anctil, a historian and professor at the University of Ottawa; Yolande Cohen, historian and professor at Université du Québec à Montréal; Steven Lapidus, a lecturer in Concordia University’s department of religion who led a media tour of the exhibition space this week; Ira Robinson, chair of Canadian Jewish Studies at Concordia; and Morton Weinfeld, professor of sociology and chair of Canadian Ethnic Studies at McGill University.
AT A GLANCE: The exhibition, which opened May 3 and runs to Nov. 11, features dozens of multimedia installations and will be accompanied by activities including film screenings, concerts and an evening of Jewish food, art and humour.
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