‘Prank’ threatens Quebec shul’s future

By JANICE ARNOLD, Staff Reporter, The Canadian Jewish News

MONTREAL — A synagogue in Laval, Quebec is fighting for its life after an act of vandalism left it on the brink of bankruptcy.

The Young Israel Synagogue of Chomedey is facing a possible bill of $100,000 or more for the cleanup of heating oil on its property.

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On the night of Oct. 6, someone put the synagogue’s garden hose into the external pipe leading to the oil tank and forced 2,300 litres of fuel out onto the back of the building.

The congregation’s insurer says it will pay a maximum of $25,000 toward the costs, said shul president Frank Cwilich. “At this point, the cost is at least $65,000 above that, and could go to $100,000 or two or three times that if they find the oil has leaked underneath the building.

“This is a devastating blow. Our future is in jeopardy,” he said.

Cwilich is terming the incident a “prank” at this point because there is no evidence of an anti-Semitic motive.

The synagogue at 1025 Elizabeth Blvd., just north of the main thoroughfare, Notre-Dame Boulevard, is next to a strip mall, where youths often congregate, he said.

Excavation of the property began in late October, and it may be some time before the extent of the contamination is known.

“We are appealing for help from anyone, be it financial, legal or moral,” he said. “We really do not know how we are going to handle the bills, and are trying everything we can.”

The congregation has no major benefactors or endowments.

The synagogue, which has been at its present site for 50 years, has been struggling for years. It has about 150 member families, a far cry from its peak in the 1960s and early ’70s, when it had nearly 900 members and was the centre of the suburb’s Jewish life.

Chomedey’s once-thriving Jewish community was in steep decline by the early ’80s, with people moving to homes on the Island of Montreal or leaving the province.

Cwilich is hoping some of the past members or their descendants will come to the synagogue’s rescue.

The congregation has also contacted the three levels of government to see if it is eligible for any compensation, and will also turn to Federation CJA.

A community-wide meeting is planned for Nov. 11 to discuss the situation.

There has been other trouble since the vandalism. On the night of Oct. 31, a visibly Orthodox member of the congregation was ridiculed and assaulted by youths hanging around the mall when he was on his way to the synagogue, Cwilich said. “They called him terrible names and threw a chair at his head, hurting him slightly.”

The jibes, however, were not of an anti-Semitic nature and the middle-aged man’s limp may have been the source of the derision.

Cwilich said the congregation is satisfied that the police are investigating these incidents and have promised to step up their patrols. In the meantime, the Young Israel has put a lock on its oil pipe and installed security cameras.

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