The Jewish Nomad: Montreal is a great place to feel like normal life is beginning again

Ilana Zackon’s view from Montreal’s Mile End.

As you may have gathered by now, I move around a lot. Maybe it’s a product of my job as an actor—or maybe it’s me living up to the identity of the Jewish Nomad.

After just having moved to Toronto this past September, I’m already gone! Temporarily, that is.

Last week, I packed a suitcase and headed to my hometown of Montreal, for a role in an Infinithéâtre production called Mazel Tov.

Before we jumped into rehearsals, I had the pleasure of spending Shabbat with my family. 

What occurred to me—simple as the concept might be—is how Jewish ritual and tradition creates a throughline, no matter where you are in the world.

Friday morning, I headed to Cheskie’s Bakery to get a fresh babka to surprise my family with. (The line was already out the door by lunchtime—gotta go early if you want to enjoy that chocolate gooeyness!) And then I picked up some extra food for lunch at Mehadrin—a place where no one knows the price of anything until you get to the cash register.

By the afternoon, I could already feel the hum of Shabbat coming in. Or, maybe it was seeing all the Hasids hurrying home…

Although the environment was different from my Toronto abode, I had all the staples of my weekly Friday night routine: frantically making sure everything was ready, lighting candles, enjoying a meal with my family, reading and relaxing.

Saturday morning, I tried out the services at Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem—or the Baily shul, as the locals call it—which I hadn’t been to in many years. There was even a kiddush, with an excellent cholent. Yay for things going back to almost normal!

Without a device in hand to navigate a map, I ended up walking an hour out of the way to get to where I was invited for lunch. Whoops! Ah, the joys of a technology-free day. But seriously, we definitely rely on our phones too much. Next time, I’m going old-school and printing out instructions from MapQuest, if that site even still exists.

On my (very long) walk, I reflected on how grounding it is to be able to take Judaism with you wherever you go. It’s like a built-in support system for community and connection. Not only is there the continuity of the rituals, but as long as there are Jews around, you can find someone to host you for a Shabbat meal, or wander into a local shul and make some new pals. 

When I lived in New York City, I attended Chabad House Bowery for Shabbat dinner, with all the NYU students. (For the record, I wasn’t attending NYU myself.) When I lived in Vancouver, I ate Friday night meals with Israelis, Toronto transplants and the occasional Montrealler at Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel. Just being in Jewish environments, surrounded by members of the tribe, instantly made me feel at home.

Maybe having these ritualistic touchstones and an open tent mentality (a la Abraham and Sarah) is how we’ve survived, as a peoplehood, after all these years. After all, Hachnasat Orchim, the welcoming of guests, is considered a great mitzvah for a reason.

So, hey, if you’re in Montreal and want to welcome a Jewish Nomad into your tent (or two-storey walk-up apartment)—hit me up!

Funny Jews are back in business

Back in December, a comedy show called Jews Going Out of Business was scheduled at the Comedy Bar in Toronto, at 945 Bloor St. W.

But with the COVID cases coming down chimneys faster than Santa Claus, the venue was temporarily shut down and the Boxing Day show was cancelled.

The good news is that they’re back with a brand new show called Funny Jews. The line-up includes CJN’s own Laura Leibow, who is about to launch a new podcast called Shticks & Giggles

All proceeds go to UJA, to support the crisis in Ukraine. If I wasn’t spending the next month in Montreal, I’d certainly be there! Feel free to show up and laugh on my behalf. 

Funny Jews plays at Comedy Bar on Sunday, April 3, with shows at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. For more info and to purchase tickets, visit their website

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings[@] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

HEAR what else she has to say every week on Bonjour Chai