Arts & Culture | This Is How We Jew It (At Le Mood).

One Man’s Battle with Crowds, Conscience and an Overwhelming Desire for Bacon.

I’m late, I’m sick, I just got nailed for a speeding ticket and it’s crowded.  Such is my state of mind early on a Sunday afternoon. Being a cantankerous son of a bitch at the best of times, a fine courtesy of Montreal’s finest is not doing wonders for my personal Le Mood.

And yet, hours later I would find myself glad I came (though wishing I had come at a slightly slower pace, as I would rather hang on to this $130, and not donate it to our local Mafia chieftain by way of the municipal government. You’re welcome Mr. Rizzuto. Please don’t firebomb my apartment.).

I am at the 3rd annual Le Mood festival, held at L’Espace Reunion, a trendy building that looks like a pile of shit on the outside (I will never understand cool architecture). Like the Outremont neighbourhood that surrounds the building, the inside is filled with a mixture of religious Jews and Jewish hipsters.  We are seeking wisdom, we are seeking enlightenment, we are seeking to be engaged, or get engaged judging by the popularity of the talk dedicated to Jewish dating. We are here to get tuned up, turned on, to network and nosh, and like Jews throughout history, we are here to argue about politics.

That is, some of us are. Others are left outside  in the frigid autumn air. But we’re getting to that.

I first sit down to enjoy a seminar entitled “F#$K Social Media: Just Talk to Me”, but after a moment of contemplation in which I realize a) I tweet constantly, and b) people are just the worst, and I’d rather they not talk to me as much as possible, I skedaddle over to a small corner booth where Rabbi Schachar Orenstein is presiding over a talk entitled “Idle Jews No More.”  It was there that I had my first uneasy realization of the day (my second came about an hour later when I stopped by the corner where Pizza Pita had set up shop and was informed they were out of felafel).

A small crowd listened as Wally Thomas, a member of the Anishinabe First Nations tribe, recounted his people’s fight to control their land.  Their battle is just a small part of the large scale Idle No More movement that swept Canada’s Aboriginal communities over the past year – a battle that as a former freelancer for Kahnawake weekly newspaper The Eastern Door, I am fascinated by. I am not alone in my rapture as Thomas talks, but I am close – the small crowd dwindles further as he speaks. It is shocking that people who will spend a day listening to numerous talks on the importance of Zionism can’t muster the energy to listen to a man whose people might still feel a bit pissed off about not having control of their homeland. Granted, there are eight sessions going on at any given time, so there tend to be small numbers at each talk.  But still.

Allow me to be blunt for a second – everyone loves an underdog. That’s why I can’t cheer for the Yankees. No one loves the perennial winner.  And yet, lots of Jews are  winners.  It’s why future Prime Minister and noted hair model Justin Trudeau came to court some votes, and possibly trade shampoo secrets with the attendees of the “Confession of a High School Fashion Show Diva” talk. Judging by the luxury sedans outside the building, many Jews, history’s greatest underdogs, have won at the game of Canada, and I don’t think we know how to relate to people who are still continually shat on by our governments, victims of history, and further insulted by cultural appropriation.

Ironically, this is a subject that gets broached at the sports roundtable of all places; ably hosted by The Gazette’s Bill Brownstein (author’s note: I worked at The Gazette over the summer. While I did not meet Mr. Brownstein at that time, I would like to acknowledge a bias towards him, as I think his Jew-fro is hella cool), TSN Radio’s Dave Kaufman, and sociology professor Avi Goldberg.  Typical of any time you collect Jewish sports fans in a room, most of the time was lent to various middle-aged vets of beer league hockey discussing how they would clearly be superior choices to coach the Canadiens than Michel Therrien.  And some time was dedicated to how noted Jewish rich guy and all-around oblivious douchebag Dan Snyder has refused to acknowledge that the name of the football team he owns and operates in Washington D.C. is insanely racist.

Snyder embodies our worst habits as Jews. It’s scary to have a history based on battling the guys on top, only to realize you’ve hit the summit yourself. You tend to want to cover your ears and go la-la-lachaim.

Maybe this is why Le Mood’s most controversial talk was cancelled. Originally dubbed “Where are all the radical Jews?” the answer was apparently outside, since they were removed from the program, but set up shop and gave their presentation off the premises.

I have bumped into Aaron Lakoff, one of the planners of this talk, at various journalistic events over the past few years. I think he’s a pretty cool guy. I also think his political leanings are, to be charitable, misguided. That’s probably the biggest reason why it’s a damn shame that the big tent of Judaism was not deemed big enough for him and his copresenters at Le Mood. We are the people who invented being a radical before being a radical was cool (Karl Marx even had the beard to prove his hipster credentials). We are the people who invented The Ramones and Lou Reed, and like any punk band worth its salt, we need to remember our rock’n roll roots of not having anything and doing our thing just the same.

This might seem overly harsh. There was plenty of room for debate at Le Mood, on topics as varied and as controversial as euthanasia, women’s place in Orthodoxy, the Middle-East conflict and how Jews can relate to other religions.  The centre holds, and it is wide and diverse. But progress has always emerged from the fringe, and it was a shame to see the most out-there presenters pushed out of the building.

My day is finished with a presentation by founder David Abitbol. Despite my misgiving, it has been a full day, an educational day, even what Ice Cube would have deemed a “good day”. Us Jews are a hell of a group. Any people that counts among its members Jon Stewart and Henry Kissinger, Naomi Klein and Paul Wolfowitz, Ron Jeremy and my future wife Nathalie Portman, and counts them without equivocation, without hesitation, without qualification is special. And Le Mood celebrates that, by and large. We are diverse, but facing that in the abstract is far different from embracing it when it’s screaming its radical politics in your face. We know the who, but we have to embrace the how, also.

At the front of the room, Abitbol is explaining what it means to be Jewish – it is, as we know, a fairly wide open concept.

And yet, I am left to wonder – if the concept of the Jew is so open to interpretation, what is the Jewish community? Who gets to belong to this club? What about the Jew who thinks that clogged arteries from a lifetime of sweet, sweet bacon is not God smiting them for a blasphemous diet? What about the Jew who looks at a talk called “Why We Love Camp!” and thinks “Because you’re insane.” Or the one who looks up to Noam Chomsky instead of Thomas Friedman as the epitome of Jewish economic wisdom?  What do you do with the outcasts from the outcasts?

I don’t know. Let me think about it. Maybe I’ll give a talk at the 4th annual Le Mood on the subject.

Editor’s note: Shtetl would love to hear what you think of this article, or what your experience at Le Mood was like- the good, the bad and the unexpected. Please leave your comments below!


Adam Kovac is a freelance writer who has worked for The Gazette, The Toronto Star and The Hockey News. He is also a producer at CJAD, and yes, he does know that delightful Tommy Schnurmacher . (Every Jew who finds out he works at CJAD asks about Tommy. Every single one.)