As of last Saturday afternoon, Noa Neeman, Melanie Stye and Boris Biberdzic were still busy as they put the final touches on a summer project that’s already beginning to get a lot of attention throughout the borough. Located on the corner of the Upper Lachine Road and Melrose Avenue, Biberdzic’s ‘Harvest’ presently dominates a space that used to be little more than a decrepit old wall that faced a two-storey commercial building’s parking lot. Initially produced by the NDGCC (NDG Community Council) with $17 000 worth of financial support from the borough, the three local artists spent most of their summer up on a scaffold working on a civic art project that’s surely going to raise the bar as to what can be done with the borough’s next available wall.
“We worked well together,” said NDG’s Melanie Stye. “It wasn’t always easy, but we always managed to bring out the best in each other.”
According to Stye, Biberdzic put in a lot of research before he came up with his original design that includes a figurative, yet stylized representation of a smiling peasant who is handing out fruit and vegetables to celebrate the harvest. As food security is considered to be an important issue within the borough where up to 30% of the population live below the poverty line, the mural’s subject will continue to be an issue long after its creators first began to break tiles, mix cement and roll some paint along the wall. While interesting, Biberdzic’s initial design took on a new life after Stye first began to apply tiny bits of broken tile and mirrors along the vines that led to the fruit and vegetables that made up the mural’s harvest. As various applications of paint began to outline the mural’s details, it began to take on a neo-expressionist hue as the multi-colored bits and pieces of tile and shattered mirrors continued to add both depth, color and expression to the mural’s original design. Aside from the neo-expressionist reference to Julian Schnable’s mixed-media work with broken plates and crockery, Stye’s mosaics also refer to the ancient mosaics found in Pompeii and thousand year-old byzantine chapels in much the same way as it does to contemporary work that’s found in some of the city’s more elaborate architectural projects.
As all three artists continued to spend their summer on top of their scaffold or down on their knees mixing cement in a bucket, it didn’t take long before friends and neighbors began to rally around the wall in order to give them a hand. As children broke tiles with a hammer, friends and neighbors began to spend hours of their time placing tiny bits and pieces of broken tile on the wall after which grout had to be applied in order to finish the tiling job.
According to NDG’s April DeFalco, the wall is more than just another civic arts initiative.
“I still remember the Muslim woman who thanked us for what we were doing because she said that the wall’s subject reflected paradise in her culture,” said DeFalco. “That’s when I knew that this wall had something to say to everyone in this community.”
Some 2,000 Quebecers spanning communities, religions and political parties turned out Monday night for an emotionally-charged, standing-room only rally against anti-Semitism at Côte St. Luc’s Beth Israel Beth Aaron Synagogue.
The event, organized by the synagogue, Federation CJA and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), was held in the aftermath of the massacre this past Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, perpetrated by virulent anti-Semite Robert Bowers. Eleven congregants were killed and six people were injured, including several police officers.
In a passionate speech, Beth Israel Beth Aaron’s Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who was born in Pittsburgh and whose father was a spiritual leader there for decades, said the beauty of Jewish life is provocative to some.
“It reminds them of their own ugliness,” the Rabbi said. “Our very existence is a provocation because there are two responses to seeing beauty — one is emulation and the other is to destroy because it’s the evidence of your own failure.
“That’s anti-Semitism! That’s what it was in Pittsburgh, and that’s what it’s been in too many other places, and it’s cost us all too many people. But we are a strong people, and we have people in this room who know that so much better than I do!”
Rabbi Poupko received a standing ovation.
Federal Francophonie and Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly read a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“You, and the whole Jewish community, are on my mind and in my heart,” the letter stated. “I know I speak for all Canadians when I say we are with you in your grief, horror, anger and pain.”
Gail Adelson, First Vice President of Federation CJA, read out the names of the victims in Pittsburgh, while Grade 9 students from Hebrew Academy in Côte St. Luc lit memorial candles.
Quebec Vice-Premier Geneviève Guilbault, speaking for the Government of Quebec, said the attack was an “unacceptable act that we condemn with force and conviction. We want to send a clear message of unity and solidarity to the Jewish community of Montreal, Quebec and the whole world.”
Montreal executive committee vice-chair Magda Popeanu, representing the city of Montreal as Mayor Valérie Plante was out of town, also expressed solidarity and said the city is open and inclusive.”Our diversity makes us stronger.”
“This is a harrowing time in our people’s history,” Federation CJA President David Amiel said. “I stand before you as a proud Jew and humbled community leader, and as a parent raising three wonderful children. That my wife and I found ourselves having to relay and explain this tragic event to them absolutely broke our hearts.”
Amiel paid tribute to Federation’s “unparalleled” partnership with those who protect the Jewish community, including the SPVM and local public security. Rabbi Adam Scheier of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim and Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom also thanked those who protect the community.
Israeli Consul-General David Levy read a letter to the Pittsburgh Jewish community from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Over the centuries, Jews have been subjected to every kind of savage attack imaginable — from blood libels and massacres to pogroms and genocide — for nothing more than the ‘crime’ of being Jewish,” Netanyahu wrote.
Cantor Gideon Zelermyer sang Hebrew psalms and Yehuda Abitan led the Kaddish prayer.
Others on hand included Chantal Rouleau, the new proivincial Minister Responsible for Montreal; Christopher Skeete, in charge of overseeing the Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers; interim Quebec Liberal leader Pierre Arcand, D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, NDG MNA Kathleen Weil and several other MNAs; PQ interim leader Pascal Berubé; CDN-NDG councillor Lionel Perez, former Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre; Côte St. Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and his council, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg and members of his council, St. Laurent Mayor Alan DeSousa and members of his council, amongst many others, including lay and religious leaders from many cultural communities and faiths.