The Jewish Nomad: A midsummer night’s sneak peek at the Museum of Jewish Montreal

The Mile End is my favourite neighbourhood in Montreal, so it was a no-brainer for me to hop on down to check out the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s new stomping grounds.

In honour of the reopening at 5220 St-Laurent Blvd., the MJM held a “house party” complete with DJ, falafel and pizza from local restaurants Falafel Yoni and Pizza Toni, as well as a bar.

Walking in, I was taken aback by the grandeur and cool aesthetic of the space. Looking up, I saw a modern-looking exposed staircase, which winds all the way up to the top floor, covered by a futuristic glass dome.

While the music pumped, I walked by lots of artsy looking folks chatting up their friends. I made my way up the stairs and peeked into various rooms, which remain empty. (The museum isn’t set to officially open until 2023.)

Large open spaces with big windows and classic Mile End wooden floors had my imagination running wild, as I pictured the possibilities for a wide variety of exhibits and community gatherings. How exciting for Montreal to have a new hub like this.

At a whopping 10,000-square-feet, it’s a massive upgrade compared to their old location, which was a renovated 1,200-square-foot storefront in the heart of the Plateau.

A museum volunteer, who gave me and some friends a private tour, explained that the building has had many lives, most notably as Le Luxe—an all-night commercial hotspot in the 1980s and early-’90s.

Afterwards, I kept looking around for familiar faces. I grew up in Montreal, after all, I must know more than a couple people. However, I was surprised to see many new folks. Are these the Jews of the Plateau? Recent grads? Who were all these Jews coming out of the woodworks?

To answer these questions and more, I sat down with the museum’s founder, Zev Moses.

What was your initial vision for the Montreal Jewish Museum and how is it shifting because of the new location?
Actually, it’s funny, it’s almost coming back to the initial vision. Even though I don’t know if I was admitting the initial vision to myself when I started thinking about this. 

I more or less lived here since I was 12, but I went away for a few years in my early 20s, for grad school, and lived in the States. And when I came back to Montreal, I remember I was starting to look for what my Jewish community was. 

It’s easier when you’re a kid or in high school, or even in university, to have organizations that kind of fit what you’re looking for in your life Jewishly. And there kind of wasn’t anything when I moved back here at 24. So, that was in the back of my head, as I thought of this project that became the museum. 

The museum, at first, started as this heritage project an online, kind of digital mapping tool of Montreal’s Jewish heritage and history. But at the same time, I was thinking, “Where is the community that I want to be part of?”

And somehow all of that is starting to get stitched together into this space. 

Back when we opened our first space, in 2016-17, we started pivoting towards more events, more culture, arts and exhibitions, things like that. So that shift already occurred, like five or six years ago, and it’s gonna live on in this space for sure. Now it’s all kind of coming together, a community space that is informed by Montreal Jewish heritage, and by arts and culture.

But it’s also truly a place where you can build community, find community, explore, and experiment with what Jewish community means to you.

What really blew my mind was hardly recognizing anyone at the launch party. Where are all these Jews from? Who are all these people?
There were probably somewhere in the range of 200 people that came in that night, so I don’t know everyone who came. Not everyone’s from the neighborhood, because I think a lot of people have been priced out of Mile End. But we’ve become much more focused on community building in the last few years. 

We made a major shift, basically, as soon as the pandemic hit. It gave us more time and energy to kind of work on that. I think that was a moment where suddenly we were all so isolated from everyone. I think people were looking for community in a more focused way, even though it was online. 

So we invested a lot more energy, especially with young, creative people in the Jewish sphere, who wanted to work on different projects and create and explore their Jewish identity in some interesting way. We spent a lot of time mentoring, helping, even funding different projects. And a lot of the people that were creating those things brought all of their friends—and some of those people ended up doing projects as well. 


Coming up, the MJM is planning an experimental night on the relationship between brining fish and memory, hosting an international bagel summit in conjunction with New York’s Museum of Food and Drink, and bringing in two artists from Germany to work on an outdoor mural.

And that’s all before it officially opens next spring, with many more events to be announced leading up to then. The details you need to follow are on the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s website.

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

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