A Portrait of Jewish Life In Montreal

Kaneder Adler/Canadian Jewish Eagle, Sunday, April 13, 1958

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A Portrait of Jewish Life In Montreal today on French Television

Approximately a year ago, the French government film board became interested in Montreal Jews and produced an important film about the Montreal Jewish community. The film was shown on Canadian television and will now be shown in all the capital cities in the world through the Canadian Information Offices.

Now the French network of Canadian television has become interested in Montreal Jews. This evening, Sunday, at 9:30 pm, those who watch Channel 2, French television will have the opportunity to see an interesting portrait of the life of a young Jewish man in Montreal.

The portrait is called “Aaron” and is based on the story the local French writer, Yves Theriault, wrote a year ago. The novel was published in Quebec and received enthusiastic reviews, particularly as the first Canadian novel in French on a Jewish theme. The book has since been published in Paris.

The novel deals with the theme of an orphaned boy being raised by his elderly fanatical grandfather. When the boy grows up, he rebels against the rigid Orthodox way of life and escapes from its influence.

The narrative will be adapted for French television on Sunday evening by the film director, Guy Beaulne. The role of the old tailor will be played by the French actor, Claude Breitman, and the young Aaron will be played by Robert Gadouas. Marcel Cabay plays the role of Melekh, an intimate friend and advisor to the old Moyshe. Huguette Garneau plays the girl Aaron loves.

Neither Theriault, the novelist, nor the CBC claim to represent the tailor or religious Jewish life in Montreal realistically. They underline the fact that they were less concerned with fidelity to Jewish life and more to a portrait of Jewish life as the average French reader imagines it.

Nevertheless, those responsible for the production spent many months seriously researching the background to Jewish life. They visited tailoring and workers’ establishments as well as Orthodox homes and photographed Passover Seders and Jewish folk art. They procured Shmurah matzo, mezuzahs, prayer books, prayer shawls, mizrachs (ornamental wall plaques to indicate the direction of prayer in Jewish homes), arbe kanfes (ritual undergarments) etc. The writer studied Jewish history and gives the old tailor interesting thoughts in regard to the fate of Jews in general and the fate of a Jew living in Montreal. The old man tries to show his grandson that by being born a Jew, he takes on the obligation to live a different life than a non-Jew.

We can discuss at length the response that old Moyshe and the French writer, his creator, have to the issues of Judaism, but one definitely observes, both in the novel and in the television production, an understanding and interest on the part of French Canadian culture inconceivable in the same Canadian environment twenty years earlier.