By DAVID LAZARUS, Canadian Jewish News
Montreal currently has well over 20 Chabad centres, ranging from the simple Chabad in NDG to the grandiose Montreal Torah Centre, but one that opened up four months ago can boast that it is the first to fill the spiritual needs of the Jews of Old Montreal.
Temporarily located in a rented conference room in the Gault Hotel, a luxurious boutique hotel at 449 St. Helen St. between McGill and St. Pierre streets and south of Notre Dame, the fledgling Chabad of Old Montreal centre will seek to gain ground in an area seeing burgeoning growth and development, Chabad emissary Rabbi Nissi Gansbourg said.
“How many Jews are here? We’re not so sure,” Rabbi Gansbourg said. “But there are many Jews who work in the area and who probably live in the area, too.
“It was felt that there was definite need for a ‘Jewish address’ here.”
Rabbi Gansbourg, who is 25, acknowledged that there is something “a little bit alien” about an observant Jew and a Chabad centre being located in such an apparently incongruous setting.
Although born in New York, Rabbi Gansbourg grew up in the predominantly Lubavitch area around Westbury and Kent avenues, and the majority of Chabad centres are located in areas of the city with much more significant numbers of Jews: the west-end, the West Island, Chomedey and “upper” downtown.
In Old Montreal, by contrast, there isn’t a kosher restaurant to be seen – although there was one about 25 years ago on nearby St. Pierre Street – and the vast majority of area inhabitants are neither Jewish nor anglophone.
Sill, Rabbi Gansbourg is undaunted. He plans for the centre to attract Jews who work and live in Old Montreal and “lower downtown,” Jewish tourists visiting the city, as well as Jews who live on Nun’s Island, only 10 minutes away by car.
Rabbi Gansbourg lives on St. Jean Street, around the corner from the centre, with his wife, Chanie, who helps him run the centre, and their young daughter Mushka.
With a cobbled-together list of Jewish names and addresses from the area, he has had a minyan davening with him every Friday night and Saturday morning at the hotel, while the search continues for more permanent premises. The High Holidays and Sukkot were also celebrated, albeit without a sukkah, but “we waved the lulav,” Rabbi Gansbourg said.
He said the centre receives financial support from individual contributors.
Even though Chabad of Old Montreal’s activities have thus far been devoted mainly to Shabbat and holiday observance, eventual plans call for adult education classes, counselling, a “mitzvah campaign,” study groups and Shabbatons, according to its website.
The site states that it “is dedicated to serving all Jews, whether they are working, touring or living here, with ahavat Yisroel – an unconditional love and concern for every Jew, regardless of background and affiliation.”
“I think I can safely say that there are Jews we have already touched,” Rabbi Gansbourg said, pointing to one man “who hadn’t put on tfillin for 20 years.” Another man, “about 60… told me that he hadn’t davened since he was seven.
“These are people we have touched who otherwise would not have been,” Rabbi Gansbourg said.
The late Luavitcher rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, put it simply, Rabbi Gansbourg said: “ ‘Every Jewish person counts.’
“There is a mission, a purpose,” Rabbi Gansbourg said.
For more details on Chabad of Old Montreal, visit chabadoldmontreal.com