Coronavirus: Jewish leaders outraged Hanukkah gatherings banned, Christmas ones OK

Click to play video 'Quebec Jewish community says it’s excluded from Quebec’s Christmas break COVID-19 measures' Quebec Jewish community says it’s excluded from Quebec’s Christmas break COVID-19 measures
WATCH: Montreal's Jewish community is angry that the provincial government won't allow families to gather for Hannukah celebrations. This reaction comes after the province's premier and public health director gave the green light for Christians to gather for Christmas. As Amanda Jelowicki reports, Jewish leaders say the decision shows clear favouritism and are calling for all religions to be treated equally. – Nov 20, 2020

Montreal’s Jewish community is expressing outrage and disappointment that the Legault government is allowing groups to gather to celebrate Christmas together amid the continuing COVID-19 crisis, but won’t let Jewish families gather in small groups for Hanukkah.

“Premier Legault has not addressed the concerns and needs of several minority groups in Quebec, including the Jewish community,” said Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, in a statement.

“While we applaud the notion of a seven-day family quarantine in late December, it fails to allow accommodation for Jews to celebrate the eight-day Jewish holiday of Chanukah.”

The Legault government unveiled its plans for the holidays this week, and is allowing groups of up to 10 people to gather from Dec. 24-27. When asked if exceptions would be made for other religious holidays including Hanukkah, Legault said no.

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“The Quebec government must take the needs of minority communities, including the Jewish community, into consideration, and work proactively with these communities prior to the lifting or imposition of unilateral COVID-19 restrictions,” Mostyn said.

“There must be no favouritism. The premier must be the premier of all Quebecers.”

Côte Saint-Luc resident Marissa Sidel-Dubrofsky had hoped she could celebrate Hanukkah with her family.

She’s dumbfounded Christians can celebrate Christmas, but Jews can’t celebrate their holiday together.

“What about us? This is a total slap in the face. Why are you assuming we are unable to celebrate our holiday healthy and safe just like the rest of the province?” said Sidel-Dubrofsky.

She runs a popular West End Facebook page with around 1,600 members from Côte Saint-Luc and neighbouring communities. Many of the members are Jewish. She says members have expressed outrage online with the Legault government’s decision, and how it was delivered abruptly.

“His answer yesterday was quite frankly unacceptable,” she said.

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While not a high religious holiday, Hanukkah remains an important date for Jewish families to gather together.

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Leaders of Montreal’s 90,000-strong Jewish community say the decision smacks of favouritism.

“It is bewildering that the government would prize one faith community over the other and we would just hope that all faith communities in Quebec would be treated in the same manner in an equitable fashion,” said Rabbi Reuben Poupko of the Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation.

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Other Jewish leaders say they don’t understand why any exception is made at all, given the COVID-19 crisis.

“I sadly officiated at a lot of funerals in the first wave of this pandemic and I don’t want to see that happening again in January because of this government decree,” said Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of the Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom.

Grushcow says the Jewish people have successfully and creatively celebrated many holidays at a distance, including Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. She said other faiths can follow suit, and celebrate virtually and safely.

“I think we should all be celebrating our holidays but I think we should do it creatively and at a distance. I don’t think we should do it in person,” she said. “I think our community has shown these past few months we can celebrate creatively. ”

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Some Jewish leaders plan on lobbying the government for an exception.