Montreal police seize 8,000 bottles of illegally imported kosher wine


Police seized some 8,000 bottles of kosher wine in what appeared to be a Passover-related bootlegging bust at a Montreal synagogue.

Two men were arrested at the Young Israel of Montreal synagogue on April 26, where police found 650 cases of kosher wine – from Israel, Australia, and the U.S. – in its basement.

Quebec prohibits the private sale of alcohol except through mandated provincial agency stores, although some wines and beers sold at grocery stores are exempt.

Also allowed is some private importing of alcohol as long as special taxes are paid to the agency, known as a Crown corporation.

According to news reports, increased Passover demand for kosher wines combined with a minimal selection at agency stores and prohibitive prices prompted the creation of illegal “stores.”

Such stores are something of an “open secret” within the Jewish community come holiday time.

“There is not a big kosher selection [at the agency stores],” one synagogue member told Global News. The police “always seem like they are coming down hard.”

In 2010, a Hasidic synagogue in Montreal was charged with illegally bringing in about 1,000 bottles of kosher wine without a permit.

Jewish security officials, cops from five North American cities tour Israel


Jewish security officials from five North American cities joined top police officers in a tour of Israel to examine its security practices.

Four U.S. metropolitan areas — Cleveland, Memphis, Detroit and Kansas City, the site of a deadly attack on Jewish institutions last year — are represented on the weeklong trip by Jewish security officials and senior police officers.

Also joining the tour, organized by Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community, are directors of security for Montreal’s Jewish community and a representative of the New Jersey State Police. In addition, a senior official of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is accompanying the group, which arrived in Israel on Sunday.

SCN, affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has long emphasized the importance of building relationships with local police. JFNA and local federations are paying for the tour.

The aim of the trip is to examine Israeli methods of increasing public awareness of a security threat. Israeli officials will brief participants on terrorism, international threats and cybersecurity, among other issues.

The timing of the massive terrorist attack in Paris over the weekend made the need for the training especially acute, said SCN’s director, Paul Goldenberg.

“The events in Paris, with well-planned and coordinated attacks on innocent civilians at soft targets, highlights the importance of an approach which brings together community, security professionals and law enforcement,” he said in a statement.

JDL looks to establish Montreal chapter after increase in attacks on Jews


The Jewish Defense League of Canada wants to set up a chapter in Montreal, citing an increase in attacks on Jews.

The national director of the Toronto-based JDL, Meir Weinstein, told local media he has been contacted by Montreal residents who would like to see a chapter set up in the city.

In interviews, Weinstein denied his group is controversial or militant.

“We have a very serious history in Canada – fighting anti-Semitism, exposing Nazi war criminals and a variety of neo-Nazi groups in the city. … We’ve worked very hard in this country against physical threats to the community, and I’m very proud of my history with the organization.”

The FBI identified the JDL as a “right-wing terrorist group” in reports on terrorism in 2000 and 2001, citing a thwarted bomb plot in 2001 against a California mosque that involved members of the organization, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

In Canada, the JDL has not been identified as a terrorist group.

But since the start of the current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the group has been on the front lines of both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests, with one of its members bloodied in a recent scuffle in Toronto.

Some observers have noted that the JDL has signified a return to the in-your-face, sometimes violent, street protests the group staged in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.

“For anyone who says we are ultra-nationalist, I’m not exactly sure what they mean,” Weinstein told Montreal radio station CJAD. “We’re proud to be Canadians, and we uphold Canadian law, and we support the state of Israel. Confrontation is part of it.”

David Ouellette of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs  said that for the first time in years the conflict in the Middle East has led to a rise in anti-Jewish sentiment in Montreal.

“I would expect that JDL is making this calculation, knowing this is a time when many in the Jewish community are concerned with their safety, that the time is right to try and make inroads,” he told CBC.

Ouellette said the JDL hasn’t had a presence in Quebec in years and has had a difficult time establishing itself in any significant way.  “They really stand on the fringes of our community,” he said.

Montreal Rabbi Reuben Poupko agreed, saying the local community already has a good working relationship with police and doesn’t need an outside group to agitate.

“There is nothing to be gained from a street confrontation,” Poupko told Montreal’s  CJAD radio news.

Montreal police: Soap not made from human remains


A lab analysis of a swastika-stamped bar of soap said to be made from Holocaust victims shows no human remains.

The beige bar, said to have been made during the Nazi era and put for sale at a Montreal curiosity shop, made headlines in March when the owner claimed it was made from the fat of Holocaust victims. The shop owner had said he bought it from a former soldier and that it was from Poland circa 1940.

Montreal police seized the item following complaints from Bnai B’rith Canada and a media frenzy. The incident also triggered debate over whether the Nazis made soap from human remains at all. The item was sent to a laboratory near Toronto, which conducted tests for both human and animal DNA. The soap tested negative for both.

“It’s just a regular bar of soap,” Montreal Police Inspector Paul Chablo told the Canadian Press.

Shop owner Abraham Botines said in a March interview with the Canadian Press that he didn’t know whether the soap was actually made of human remains. Botines, who is Jewish, said he had tried to sell the bar to a Holocaust museum. He was asking about $300 for the item.

Police don’t plan to pursue any charges, and the soap will be returned to the shop.

Montreal synagogue charged for importing wine


A Montreal synagogue was charged with circumventing the government’s liquor regulator by importing its own wines and spirits.

Prosecutors filed civil charges against 10 members of the Toldos Yakov Yosef of Skver Congregation after police seized nearly 900 liters of wines and spirits at the synagogue in December.

The Skver Chasidim established the congregation, which now has more than 300 member families, more than 30 years ago.

The Montreal Gazette reported that the synagogue itself also was charged and that similar charges against another five members of the congregation are expected to follow soon.

Potential fines for each offense range from $125 to $6,000.

Max Lieberman of Montreal’s Jewish Orthodox Community Council said the synagogue has not broken any liquor laws and that all the charges will be fought.

Lieberman cited the federal Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which specifically allows “the importing, sending, taking or transporting, or causing to be imported, sent, taken or transported, into any province from or out of any place within or outside Canada of intoxicating liquor for sacramental … purposes.”

The federal law “clearly supersedes the Quebec law,” he told the Gazette, adding that the province specifically lays out exemptions for religious congregations.

A spokeswoman for the Quebec Alcohol Corp., the government-owned entity responsible for the trade of alcoholic beverages in Quebec, said all religious communities in Quebec must buy their liquor from the provincial regulator, from whom they receive a 17 percent discount.

Quebec Leader Tours Firebombed School


Entering the room that once housed a children’s library, the premier of Quebec couldn’t help but scrunch up his nose against the burnt, toxic smell.

"It will actually leave a very strong impression," Jean Charest told reporters, following his April 8 visit to Montreal’s United Talmud Torah. "This sight and smell leaves a lasting impression of how violent a gesture this was."

Firebombed early on the morning of April 5, the school reeked of burned children’s books and plastic, making it nearly impossible to stay inside for more than a few minutes. A note left at the arson scene reportedly said the attack was in retribution for Israel’s recent killing of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin and was just a taste of things to come.

Police have tightened security at local synagogues and mosques following the attack. The heightened security came as some parents of students at the school said the attack was reminiscent of book burnings in Nazi Germany.

"My sons are in shock, and so am I," said Joel Greenberg, a parent of one of the students. "I am very worried about their safety from here on in."

Politicians, community leaders and letters to the editor all condemned the attack.

The city’s Sun Youth community organization has offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrests of the perpetrators. Police reportedly had leads on the arsonists’ identities but said they don’t know the group that claimed responsibility in the note left at the school.

B’nai Brith Canada issued a statement on calling on the government to do more to protect Jewish sites.

"We acknowledge and appreciate the condemnation by politicians of all backgrounds," but "words are meaningless if not accompanied by action," said Frank Dimant, the group’s executive vice president.

The arson occurred a few weeks after a rash of anti-Semitic incidents, including graffiti spray-painted on homes in a Jewish neighborhood in Toronto and after a report showed a rise in anti-Semitic incidents across Canada.

Prime Minister Paul Martin met in Ottawa several weeks ago with members of major Jewish organizations, who expressed their concern about a growing tide of anti-Semitism in Canada. The groups included the Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada, United Israel Appeal, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the leadership of several of Canada’s Jewish federations.

The government is finishing a plan to establish a hate crimes police force across the country and to establish initiatives to combat racist attitudes, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said. He described the plan as "an effective and comprehensive approach" that will help to "mobilize a constituency of conscience" in the country."

The heads of two leading Islamic organizations, Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal and Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress, condemned the attack. Elmasry called it a hate crime, adding that "the agony will be double if it was committed by a Muslim."

Charest’s visit to the school, which lasted slightly more than an hour, was intended primarily to reassure students, parents and faculty that his Liberal government was doing everything possible to ensure that such an attack would not happen again.

After seeing the ruined library, Charest spent about 20 minutes with a class of sixth-graders who had been gathered specially to meet him, although the school was closed at the time because of Passover. He answered questions from students and reassured them that they would receive "as much help as necessary" to get the library reopened.

School officials estimated that it will cost about $225,000 just to replace the damaged books. The provincial government will pick up part of the cost, Charest said.

He added, "We’re going to work with those who have the job of policing to be very vigilant in trying to prevent these events from happening again."

It was clear that the students had spent a lot of time pondering the broader ramifications of the attack.

"I feel like this will not become another Holocaust, because this time people understand what’s going on," a student named Jillian told Charest.

Charest praised the educational role of the Montreal Holocaust Museum, adding that during the Holocaust era, "people who were in a leadership position should have been less tolerant of what went on."

During a brief meeting with parents, Charest reiterated his pledge of tighter policing. In the meantime, while police are continuing the investigation, he said, "we will continue to be very vigilant. We will examine, in light of these incidents, what action will be taken to prevent them."

The Case of the Missing Torah


Did a rabbi steal the Sefer Torah? A Montreal resident claims that a Torah she loaned to a local senior home has illegally ended up in a Southern California synagogue. And now she’s on the hunt to find it.

The 60-year-old scroll was housed at the King David Senior Residence in Montreal, and in August, the owners say they gave it to Rabbi Simcha Zirkind to find out its worth, who then took the Torah to New York, where a sofer, or religious scribe, in Brooklyn bought it from him for $8,000. The sofer then allegedly resold it for a higher sum to a New York-based philanthropist who donated it to a baal teshuvah (newly observant) synagogue somewhere outside of Los Angeles.

The dispute highlights a disturbing trend of trading religious goods of questionable origins.

But Montreal resident Betty Malamud-Bloomstone disputes that the Torah ever belonged to the King David. Malamud-Bloomstone claims that her father, Shloime, donated the Torah to the Rabbinical College of Canada in the late 1940s, and that the College loaned it to the old-age home in 1974 because the residents needed a Torah for services. According to Malamud-Bloomstone, even though the residence has been sold five times in the years since, the Torah has always remained in the chapel, on loan from the college.

"The Torah was very precious to my father, and he would turn over in his grave if he knew that it had been sold," said Malamud-Bloomstone, who is now trying to locate the California synagogue to which the Torah was donated.

Malamud-Bloomstone admits that without the cooperation of the Brooklyn sofer, who has divulged no other details of the sale, finding the synagogue is like "trying to win the lottery."

Neither Malamud-Bloomstone nor Josie Solito, the owner of the King David Senior Residence, allege that the sofer knew the Torah did not belong to Zirkind. Solito told The Journal that Zirkind had offered her the money from the sale, but she refused it.

Solito lodged a complaint with the Montreal Police Department against Zirkind.

Rabbi Saul Emanuel the executive director of the Montreal Vaad Hair, the city’s Jewish council, told The Journal that the Vaad has issued a summons for Zirkind to appear and explain his side of the story.

Zirkind would not comment to The Journal, except to say that Solito’s story was incorrect.

According to Malamud-Bloomstone, Zirkind maintains that the King David donated the Torah to him.

Up to 100 Torahs are stolen every year from synagogues in Israel alone, says Rabbi Yitzchak Goldshtein of Machon Ot, a Jerusalem-based Torah identification service (www.ott.co.il). Torahs are handwritten by sofers on parchment and are worth anywhere from $2,000 for a nonkosher Torah (one in which letters or words are missing) to $35,000 or more for a new Torah.

Generally, synagogues wanting to purchase a Torah scroll will contact a dealer, who — budget permitting — will either negotiate with a scribe to write a new scroll, or will find a secondhand scroll for the synagogue to purchase.

Stealing and selling a stolen Torah can be relatively easy. Many synagogues do not have good security around the Ark where the Torahs are kept. And since people in synagogues basically trust each other, no one would necessarily question someone walking out with a scroll. Also, without its velvet covering, one Torah is almost indistinguishable from another to the untrained eye, so a thief can easily concoct a story about the scroll’s origin when he unloads it on a dealer.

Yet, synagogues can prove ownership of a Torah. Machon Ot runs the International Torah Registry, which assigns a unique code to each scroll and then enters it to a computer database. Machon Ot locates the code by placing a template of a line from the top of the scroll to the bottom in six different locations of the Torah, and then registers what words fall directly beneath each other. Since every Torah is handwritten, the shape and size of the words and letter differs slightly between each one, and no two would have exactly the same word alignment.

With a registry system in place like this (as well as other Torah registry system such as the Universal Torah Registry System, which uses a similar method of identification), any synagogue purchasing a secondhand Torah can get a reliable assessment of its provenance, providing it is registered. Many of the old Torahs in synagogues today are not registered.

In the case of the Montreal Torah, Malamud-Bloomstone says that she has evidence that the Torah was loaned to the old-age home and is now trying to recover the Torah. She has contacted the Board of Rabbis of Southern California to see if they could help her, and is considering placing ads in Jewish newspapers all over the state for anyone with information to step forward. The Board of Rabbis, the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of California were unable to provide any leads. Once the Torah is recovered, Malamud-Bloomstone will consider hashing out the question of its ownership in the beit din (religious court).

"We just want to get the Torah back," Malamud-Bloomstone said.

Native Son


A few months ago, I wrote a story in these pages about my experiences as a Jewish Big Brother. As Paul Harvey says, here’s “The Rest of the Story.”

My Little Brother, Josh, invited me to his graduation from Northwestern Law School last month. “No, thanks,” I said. “I can do better. Let’s go back to Montreal.” He hadn’t been there in 18 years, since he was 9 years old, leaving the only home he’d ever known in a taxi, with tears running down his face. He still identifies himself as Canadian and an Expos fan. (Believe me, I tried to divorce him of the latter notion, but to no avail.) And so we set out to go home, to Montreal, over the Memorial Day weekend.

Josh came back to Los Angeles after graduation and we had lunch with Bobbi Feinberg, the wonderful woman who made our match 16 years ago. We hadn’t seen her in at least 10 years. Big and Little Brothers are brought together though a thorough screening and interview process, but chance also plays its part. On another day, or if I lived a few miles farther away, perhaps we’d both have made different matches with other people. Who knows how those might have turned out?

At my request, Josh’s mother sent me a three-page, single-spaced e-mail list of personal sights to see while in Montreal, including the hospital where Josh was born and the name of his pediatrician. I figured if I never saw the hospital where I was born, neither should he. For that matter, what was he going to talk about with the pediatrician? Get out the file and discuss a 20-year-old runny nose? That wasn’t making the cut on our itinerary.

Our first day in town we headed out to the old neighborhood, Notre Dame de Grace, and saw his house, which had fallen into some disrepair. He remembered the banister he used to slide down, and the same floral wallpaper was in the entry hall. Presumably, the plastic green army men Josh buried in the garden before he left were still there, under a lawn overgrown with dandelions.

We walked a few yards to a pocket park where he used to play ball, with stones unevenly marking imaginary bases … pretty much as he remembered it, except that it seemed so much smaller now. Hard to believe it was once big enough to play baseball in. The huge hill he remembered leading up to his house is now a gentle slope, a rise of perhaps 15 feet. It, too, seems to have shrunk with age.

We rang the doorbell of his neighbors, a wonderful couple named Pearl and Robert Adams who’d lived on the block for 29 years. Robert played chess with David Burt, Josh’s father, every day when David was ill. Toward the end, when David was too weak to move the pieces, too weak to even speak, Robert would touch each of the pieces until David raised his eyebrows, indicating which one to move. Pearl couldn’t quite get over Josh’s resemblance to his father, but also had to wrestle with the idea that the 9-year-old boy she knew was now a 6-feet-tall law school graduate.

Then we drove out to the cemetery, and read the “Kaddish” at his father’s gravesite.

That night we went to the Expos game. I’d contacted their front office, told them our story and asked for a tour of the stadium. “Whatever you’ve got,” I said. “Do you think he’d like to throw out the first pitch?” Goosebumps. “Yes, I think he’d like that,” I said.

This was the kind of secret I like — the kind I can tell everyone I know except two people, without fear of getting caught. I didn’t tell him until we got to the ballpark.

An hour later, as he stood on the field at Olympic Stadium, an interesting thing happened. He got on his cell phone to call his pals in Chicago and Los Angeles. I wasn’t listening, but I couldn’t help hearing that he told one of his friends, “My brother set it up” — dropping the prefix “Big.” After 16 years together, we are family.

He showed me how you hold a split-finger fastball, suggesting this was the pitch he’d use when the time came. I suggested he try to get the ball somewhere in the vicinity of home plate.

Josh was never the most demonstrative kid, something that used to frustrate me to no end, but this was a pretty emotional trip, and I knew it meant a lot to him. When we were about to go our separate ways at the airport, he thanked me for an “amazing” trip, something he’d never forget.

I said, “Now there’s something you can do for me,” and I gave him a little note with three words on it: Pay It Forward. “Go make a difference in someone else’s life now.”

Jewish Big Brothers is on the Web @ www.jbbla.org

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J. D. Smith, pictured above right with his Little Brother, can be found at www.lifesentence.net

Author Mordecai Richler Dies at 70


Mordecai Richler, a Canadian Jewish literary giant, died of cancer Monday. He was 70.

Richler was known for his stories about Jewish life in his native Montreal. "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" and "Joshua Then and Now" are among his most famous works.

"The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" was made into a movie starring Richard Dreyfuss.

Although he was known as a novelist, the cigar-smoking, hard-drinking writer possessed literary versatility.

Richler was a syndicated columnist who enjoyed writing about what he viewed as the racism of Quebec’s separatists. "Oh Canada! Oh Quebec: Requiem for a Divided Country," which he wrote in 1992, earned him many enemies in Quebec.

He was also the author of two popular children’s books, "Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang" and "Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur."

Richler’s latest book, about a variant of the game of pool, was called "On Snooker."

Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Richler was the quintessential Canadian man of words.

"He was quite simply one of the most brilliant, original and celebrated artists in Canadian history, whose works will continue to stand the test of time for generations to come," Chretien said.

Born in 1931, Richler moved to England and lived there from 1954 to 1972.

During his career, he was the recipient of numerous awards and citations, including Canada’s highest civilian honor, the Order of Canada.

He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship and twice won Canada’s most prestigious literary honor, the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction.