The small town of Ste. Agathe is located about 100 kilometres north of Montreal in the cottage country of the Laurentian mountains and sits on the picturesque lac des Sables. It has been the vacation playground to much of Montreal's Jewish community for over seventy years and is home to one of the two last remaining Quebec synagogues that stand outside the greater Montreal region (the other is in Quebec City.)
The people of Ste-Agathe have worked hard to shake off the history of overt antisemitism that manifested itself up until the 1970's. Signs like "NO JEWS" or "CHRISTIANS WELCOME" were not common, but were also not rare.
Relations between the communities slowly improved but took a serious setback back in the summer of 2008 in reaction to a series of antisemitic attacks.
In a bid to ease tension, a Jewish couple invited the whole town to attend their open air Hassidic wedding. The town, in a reciprocal effort to show good will, embraced the idea and co-operated by providing facilities for the wedding. The couple were married along the shore of the lake, before a large audience of Christians and Jews. For almost all the local townsfolk, it was the first time they had attended a Jewish wedding and they eagerly followed the ceremony guided by a bilingual pamphlet that explained the unfolding ceremony.
The event was a rousing success and represented a turning point in relations. The small gesture of goodwill was widely appreciated and the Jews and the synagogue became am integral part of the greater community. Read the Story
Last week the synagogue was rebuilt and again the entire town was invited to the re-dedication ceremony. Hundreds of town folk turned up to join the festivities and take a tour of the new building.
Unfortunately the event received little media attention. It seems that when communities reach out to each other successfully, in an effort to foster good relations, it isn't quite newsworthy and that's a shame.
Now here's where the story gets strange. The reporter covering the event interviewed a non-Jewish francophone who has been attending services in the 'shul' (synagogue in Yiddish) regularly. I almost fell out of my chair when the reporter explained who the individual was;
Was that Guy Bouthillier, the ex-president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the strident separatist French language militant?
Yup....it appears so. I was flabbergasted.
For those who don't know, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste is Quebec's leading French language and sovereignty advocacy group. Notwithstanding its radicalness, it enjoys a wide measure of acceptance and is recognized as THE defender of Quebec language and culture. In fact, it is so respected that the government has awarded the organization the exclusive contract to coordinate the yearly Fête Nationale (Saint-Jean Baptiste Day) celebrations, province-wide, much to the consternation of Anglo commentators.
Could you imagine the stink that would be made if Alliance Quebec was awarded a government contract to organize the Canada Day celebration?.....but I digress..
I did a little research on Mr. Bouthillier, (Okay, it was just Wikipedia,) I found out that unlike the present president of the SSJB, Mario Beaulieu, he is highly educated, broad-minded and perfectly bilingual, as you heard in the news piece.
But he was also a committed sovereignist and a strident French language rights promoter and seeing him become a parishioner at an ENGLISH Jewish synagogue is startling, to say the least.
|Imam Mario Beaulieu|
Maybe there's hope for others?