A letter to my Hasidic neighbours in Outremont

I’m sorry about the referendum result on places of worship on Bernard Avenue. I can’t imagine how challenging this must be for you. I’m writing this letter because I’ve heard so much ugliness lately. I wanted to share with you a snapshot of some of the memorable experiences I have had with members of our community that I’ve gotten to know over the years.

When I first moved to Outremont, my daughter was only 5 months old. I was happy to learn that my Hasidic neighbour across the hall also had a daughter of the same age. I was a complete neophyte, and I’m still thankful to have been able to share those early days of motherhood with my more experienced neighbour. There was nothing more reassuring than hearing from a mom (with 5 kids at the time) that her baby wasn’t sleeping through the night either! Our children have grown up together. Now when I buy my kids sidewalk chalk for playing in the alley, I choose the 50-pack to share with their friends from large families.

When I think of my interactions with my Hasidic neighbours, I mostly remember the many delightful, curious, inquisitive children I’ve met playing in our alley and in the park, or just walking down the street. I can’t help but smile remembering the time a large tree landed on our car following a particularly bad windstorm. Our whole street was blocked. We were out inspecting the damage when a young Hasidic boy came over and started talking to my husband. He walked my husband through the steps he needed to take with the insurance company, including getting a loaner vehicle. Priceless. I wish I remembered the boy’s name. I’m sure he’ll go far.

Speaking of curious children, I’ve often been amused by my little well dressed neighbours’ interest in animals. Amusing because the curiosity comes with a dash of scepticism that it’s a good idea to keep an animal in the house. One day, I was walking down a street and a young girl I didn’t yet know stopped me at an intersection. “You have a cat, don’t you?” She recognized me as her friend’s neighbour. After that, whenever we crossed paths, she always asked me how our cat was doing. And the interest from our young neighbours hasn’t stopped at cats. When I was looking after my mother’s dog, many of the Hasidic children from our alley were brave enough to pet it and even take it for a walk. Maybe it was only about 20 metres, but impressive nonetheless!

Growing up around and playing with their Hasidic friends has led my children to ask many questions about religion and culture. The first real question came when one of the Hasidic boys in the mini-park gave my daughter a toy diamond. She tried to give it back to him after playing a while, but he insisted. He wanted her to keep it. When we came home she asked me if it would be possible to marry a Hasidic boy. It’s not a question with a simple answer, but it was sweet of her to think about it. The interactions my children have had with their neighbours have enriched our conversations at home.

My Hasidic neighbours have always been generous and thoughtful. Halloween? They prepare nice little packages of treats for us. Purim? Same thing! A storm covers our walkway with snow? All the kids are out in a flash with their array of multi-coloured shovels. We only pull our weight on the occasional Saturday. I know we’ve helped out with a stove or air conditioning switch on an extremely rare occasion, but we received so much kindness in return! We would happily do more for our neighbours.

One evening this past summer, we were all outside in the alley behind our homes. It was early in the summer, the sun had gone down, the temperature was perfect and our kids were still out playing. We were finally out of hibernation and enjoying the moment. Then one of our neighbours who was coming home from dinner in the park exclaimed, “Of all the places in world, right now, right at this moment, Montréal is the best place to be.” I couldn’t help but agree. There is really nothing quite like a Montréal summer evening with neighbours. I’m glad we share these moments with our neighbours from the Hasidic community.

Thank you.