It was a confrontation Montreal’s Jewish community says should never have happened.
Police entered an Outremont synagogue Thursday night after a complaint, investigating a religious ceremony amid restrictions on gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I saw there was eight police lined up on the building,” said Max Lieberman, a member of the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec. “The police told me they got the complaint from the fire department, that the fire department saw close to 50 people doing a prayer.
“It was not true. No one was in this building.”
Police won’t comment on the incident. But the community insists the building was empty and officers were too heavy-handed.
“We follow the rules. If they find in our community if a minority that does not follow, we have no problem with them using the force of the law,” Lieberman said. “But at the same time, we want to make sure not to scapegoat us. After the crisis will be over, we still need to live together.”
The Jewish community complains it’s yet another incident in which they’re being unfairly targeted during the COVID-19 crisis.
Last week, police visited a Jewish bathhouse in Côte Saint-Luc after reports emerged that religious ceremonies were still taking place.
Finger-pointing continued on social media after a wedding at the Crowne Plaza hotel on March 16.
The wedding was held just a few days after Premier François Legault closed Quebec schools and ordered all travellers to self-isolate for 14 days.
Many of the wedding guests came from New York City, and several guests have since contracted COVID-19. The father of the bride — prominent Montreal real estate tycoon Michael Rosenberg — also now has the virus, and is in intensive care at the Jewish General Hospital.
“The tragedy is people at that wedding, some of them are very sick today, and in retrospect, some of the restrictions we live with today maybe should have been imposed earlier,” said Rabbi Reuben Poupko, a prominent member of Montreal’s Jewish community.
“No one can deny that some mistakes were made, but the degree of focus on the Jewish community is way out of proportion.”
Poupko said too many are unfairly laying blame for the spread of the virus on Montreal’s Jewish community.
“The level of hatred, the level of focus, of scapegoating, has gone beyond anything we have seen before and it is disturbing and all Jews are deeply disturbed by this,” Poupko said.
Rumblings and accusations about events and weddings that some critics say shouldn’t have happened in Westmount have also been circulating.
“I think there is a lot of negativity. It’s really important to get the message out that we have followed every government directive out from the beginning,” said Rabbi Adam Scheier of the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.
“We have been maintaining distances religiously and people are staying home — that really is the fact.”
Scheier says the Hasidic community — with many large families — is especially a target of criticism in Montreal. He said often families will have five or six or more children, and they will take walks together, and then people will call police complaining they are violating social distancing rules.
“I will question any community that has raids on empty buildings. I wonder why this community is being raided and they find nothing,” Rabbi Scheier said.
Local leaders say with Passover and Easter next week, the entire Montreal community must focus on uniting emotionally, while they can’t physically.