[URBAN NOTE] “Montreal neighbourhood’s new-temple ban sparks debate about public space”
The Globe and Mail‘s Ingrid Peritz touches upon the tensions between Hasidim and non-Hasidim in the Montréal borough of Outremont regarding the management of public space. There are legitimate concerns on both sides, whether the concern of Hasidim that they are being squeezed out or the concern of non-Hasidim that their public space is being taken over. (The Montréal gym whose windows were frosted so as to obscure outsiders’ views of exercising women, at the request of Hasidim, is located here.)
A referendum vote in favour of banning new houses of worship on one of Montreal’s most upscale streets has inflamed tensions with the district’s community of Hasidic Jews, fuelling a divisive debate over religious minorities and the sharing of public space.
In a vote that coincides with heightened sensitivity across the continent about the treatment of minorities, residents in the borough of Outremont voted 56 per cent in favour on Sunday of upholding a zoning ban on new temples on Bernard Avenue, one of the well-to-do district’s main commercial arteries.
While the bylaw does not identify a specific religion, it coincides with the rapid expansion of the local Hasidic community, a largely insular, ultra-orthodox group that has grown to about 25 per cent of the population.
Some in the Hasidic community see the vote as push-back against its members. With zoning bans in place on residential streets and other commercial areas in Outremont, Bernard was the last place in the developed part of the borough available to open a synagogue.
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The referendum vote is the latest iteration of long-standing strains between the Hasidic Jewish community and the majority in Outremont, home to some of the leading political and cultural figures of Quebec (the borough recently made waves when it renamed Vimy Park after the late premier Jacques Parizeau, a long-time resident). Below the surface, the debate is over the notion of belonging and the stresses of co-habitation in the central Montreal borough of 25,000, where black-garbed Hasidic men are a visible presence. The Hasidic community, bound by deep religious tenets, mostly avoids mixing with those outside its faith.