Monday, May 20

Canada, or New France?

Sorry for the oblique Canadian social studies reference, but with three recent attacks on synagogues I felt obliged to subject my (almost) home and native land to the same scrutiny as every other country. According to the National Post, the most recent attack, which occurred last night and targeted Quebec City's only synagogue, did only superficial damage (hardly the point, I know) and came "out of the blue." The best suspect so far is a madman found nearby. For a description of the other attacks on synagogues across the country, see this story.

DIGRESSION: The National Post article describes the Jewish population of Quebec City as numbering about 100 and "dwindling," which seems surprisingly low considering its proximity to Montreal, which is home to an old, large and culturally robust Jewish population. My surprise probably reveals nothing more than my ignorance, but 100 seems like a miniscule Jewish population for a North American city of 650,000 (167,000 in Quebec City proper).

This diversion also gives me an excuse (it's a stretch, but bear with me) to make an observation that has occurred me repeatedly having lived in Montreal for 6 years and New York for 3 regarding the ability of a large and vibrant Jewish community to dominate the culinary identity of a city. New York's defining foods, at least in the minds of the rest of the world, are bagels and pastrami sandwiches on rye and Katz's deli (or several similar deli's scattered throughout the boroughs) is probably the shrine of this cuisine. Now, travel north for about eight hours, and look at Montreal. In the rest of Canada (and, to a lesser extent, the world outside New York), Montreal is known for two foods: the bagel and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches on rye. Like New York, Montreal also has its culinary temples, places like Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen and Ben's. Several years ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had two bagelmakers, one from Montreal and one from New York, debate the relative merits of the two cities' bagels. This was a waste of everyone's time, of course, as every right-thinking person knows that Montreal bagels are the only true bagel (New York bagels are just flavorless buns with a dent in the middle). What I would be interested in seeing is a comparison by a neutral panel of connoisseurs of the "cured meat" on rye sandwiches from the leading delis in both cities. Let me be the first to volunteer for duty.