The votes were counted and we now officially have more tolerance for the sex shop down the street than for an insular well-meaning community in our midst. Not to pit one against the other (talk about dirty fight), but at what point do we stop measuring “progress” by metres of fabric?
Unlike a few hundred years ago, when Europeans scoffed at the “naked savage,” today the impetus to cover up is equated with prudery, oppression, backwardness, lack of choice, or ignorance. Making, of course, the urban twelve year old girl the epitome of enlightenment. With her tween-size thong, padded bra, short shorts and skimpy camisole, she clearly speaks for the entire history of western liberal values.
I say this because the way the Hassidim dress came up a number of times as I went door to door campaigning for their right to add a 10-ft extension to a small synagogue. But the women are over-dressed! Did you see the mens’ hats! Why don’t they let their children wear “regular” clothes! People wondered why they were “allowed” to live in our midst with such antiquated habits, customs and choices.
It’s not my place to defend their choice of dress. But would we even notice them, let alone be “offended,” let alone hold them accountable to the voting whim of their neighbours, if they dressed like “us”? Their very visibility made them the lightening rod for a rather smug group of people (including an Outremont borough councilor, whose daily presence on our street has me wondering about her orphaned constituency back in Outremont) who catalogued and publicized every possible infraction.
The damage was done. Even though the renovation plans were perfectly within all City norms, the repeated use of the word “illegal” (illegal parking! illegal air conditioners! illegal music!) succeeded in creating an impression of an illegal people. And when you do that, I don’t need to tell you, bad things happen.
But in the losing of a referendum, we gained a community. In one short week of going door to door, talking on the sidewalk and spreading the word, we got to know each other as neighbours, as regular people, as friends. This was so beyond the scope of Mr Lacerte’s imagination that he continues to accuse us of being funded by Cossette. But in his five years of slipping explosive tracts in people’s mailboxes and ringing their doorbells, one Hassidic woman told me, he never once rang their doorbells or gave them his propaganda.
To most people, no doubt, this little struggle of ours on Hutchison street between Fairmount and St Viateur, to quote Bogart, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Fair enough. But the thing about communities is they grow. You start with a tiny hill of beans and the next thing you know you have seeds for acres of gardens.
Les Amis de la rue Hutchison (Friends of Hutchison Street) was born one afternoon just over a week ago because Kathryn Harvey and I needed a name to go on our flyer. Now, it’s the beginning of a new rapprochement between the Hassidic and non-Hassidic communities.
In this era of frenzied social media and globalization, I hope it’s a reminder that real community is also just the person next door, who ever they may be.
Leila Marshy is the Literary Editor of Rover. As a Palestinian, she would like you to know that some of her best friends are Hassidic. Contact Les Amis de la rue Hutchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.