The long, but little known, relationship between the Université de Montréal (UdeM) and the Jewish community was celebrated at the opening of an exhibition on the contributions Canadian Jews have made to this country over the past 150 years.
UdeM rector Guy Breton hosted the Nov. 27 vernissage for the Canadian Jewish Experience (CJE), which has been travelling across Canada since the spring, while a permanent version continues to show at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa until the end of the year.
Prepared by volunteers and funded by private donations, those who organized the CJE hope to make the Canadian public aware that Jews have been present on this land since the mid-1700s, have excelled in almost every field and are proud Canadians, despite the obstacles and challenges they’ve faced.
By the time its tour ends next July, CJE will have been on 31 university campuses, said Tova Lynch, head of the organizing committee.
The nine-panel thematic exhibition was at Concordia and McGill universities this fall, as well as Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que. UdeM is the only francophone institution on the Quebec tour.
Breton noted that UdeM, which was founded in 1878, has always been open to everyone, despite its Catholic origins. UdeM – now the largest university in Quebec, in terms of overall enrolment – never had a quota, he added, without naming any that did.
Among the guests at the catered kosher cocktail were two graduates who remember a time when Jews had to have a higher grade average to get into McGill: Herbert Marx and Morris Goodman.
Born in 1932, Marx was a Liberal MNA from 1979-1988, serving as justice minister in the government of Robert Bourassa, and went on to become a Quebec Superior Court judge. He earned a master’s degree in English literature in 1962 and a law degree in 1967 at UdeM. He was also a professor of constitutional law at his alma mater for 10 years.
Goodman, co-founder and chair of Pharmascience Inc., the third largest generic drug company in Canada, graduated in pharmacy from UdeM in 1953, at the age of 21. Over the years, he has paid back the opportunity that was afforded to him through philanthropy.
Goodman and his late wife were instrumental in organizing UdeM’s first official academic mission to Israel in 2013, which was led by Breton.
Another guest, prominent criminal defence lawyer Raphaël Schachter, also feels a strong attachment to UdeM, where he received his law degree in 1969. Six years ago, he established an endowment fund and an annual scholarship in criminal law there.
The Sherbrooke native admitted he had had “a checkered scholastic record” before he was accepted, and is grateful that UdeM “gave me a break.”
Others who were present included: Senator Marc Gold, whose late father, Alan B. Gold, former chief justice of the Quebec Superior Court, received his law degree from UdeM in 1941; former federal justice minister and McGill law professor Irwin Cotler, who was just awarded an honorary doctorate from UdeM’s law faculty; and Henri Elbaz, the former executive director of the Jewish General Hospital, who graduated from UdeM’s affiliated business school, HEC Montréal, and was a founder of the university’s Centre Hillel.
CJE is showing in the UdeM’s Carrefour des arts et des sciences in the Pavillon Lionel Groulx, 3150 Jean Brillant St., through December. After that, it will move to the atrium of the Bibliothèque des lettres et des sciences humaines in the Pavillon Samuel Bronfman, 3000 Jean Brillant St., where it will be on display until the end of January.
While the exhibition is always bilingual, Lynch said the edition at UdeM reverses the position of the text accompanying the photos, making the French predominant.
The themes covered (very concisely) include immigration, business, the arts, sports, military service, public life and the fight against discrimination and for human rights legislation.
As Breton observed, the exhibit is “a reminder of the enormous contribution the Jewish community has made to building a prosperous and welcoming Canada, which it, unfortunately, was not always. Many Jews escaped hatred, only to find it here under different guises.”
The CJE project also includes a website, where more information on Jewish life in Canada can be found.
The vernissage concluded with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, including a stanza in Hebrew, sung by Cantor Daniel Benlolo, who served in Ottawa synagogues for 22 years, before returning to Montreal this summer. Many joined in the chorus.