In the classic film, Network, frustrated and angry newscaster Howard Beale launched into this following rant:
“All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'”
Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, (The Jewish General) finally could not stand by as Quebec Premier Marois promoted Bill 60, the proposed Charter of Quebec Values (the Charter).
The Jewish General is mad as hell and it is not going to take this Charter any more.
Marois’ Charter imposes a ban on public-sector workers wearing religious garb such as kippahs worn by observant Jewish men and headscarves worn by Muslim women.
The Jewish General, founded in 1934, is one of Quebec’s most prominent institutions. It is located in one of Montreal’s most diverse multicultural areas. For nearly 80 years this hospital has provided excellent medical care to patients of all faiths, races, languages and ethnicities, with compassion and superior medical treatment.
This hospital is well known to the PQ brass. Ironically, such Pequiste stalwarts as Premier Marois and former PQ leader Jacques Parizeau, have been treated at this internationally-known hospital.
Approximately one third of its doctors, nurses and other employees wear either kippahs, hijabs or turbans.
The implementation of this Charter would cause many of these medical practitioners to leave the Jewish General and Quebec.
Mindful of the Charter’s impact on the Jewish General, Marois inserted “The Jewish General” clause in the Charter which permitted hospitals such as the Jewish General to temporarily exempt itself from this Charter.
But to the Jewish General’s credit, it refused to compromise its principles, to “play ball” with Marois and the PQ government. In other words, to quietly go along to get along.
In a strongly-worded statement that has reverberated throughout Quebec, in parts of Canada, Executive Director, Dr. Rosenberg, argued:
“Since the bill is inherently prejudicial, there is no point in taking advantage of any clause that would grant us temporary, short-term relief …This bill is flawed and contrary to Quebec’s spirit of inclusiveness and tolerance.”
Dr. Rosenberg further stated that this proposed Charter is contrary to both the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights. He also stated that should the bill become law, his hospital will not be applying for a temporary exemption to its application. The Jewish General will simply ignore the law, and dare the province to take it to court.
As reported in the Globe, a propos Rosenberg’s brave declaration,
“At a weekend ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass where Nazis launched a co-ordinated attack against Jews in Germany and Austria, Rabbi Reuben Poupko, an outspoken Orthodox rabbi warned of the perils of placidly accepting any attack on symbols of faith. He recounted the story of Ben Zion Halberstam, a rabbi who was killed by Nazis in Ukraine in 1941 as he defiantly kept replacing his kippa on his head during a beating.”
Though not comparing the PQ to Nazis, Rabbi Poupko emphasized the determination Jews have to maintain their religion in the face of the greatest challenges. “We’ve faced greater challenges to our faith than the charter. But make no mistake, the charter is a denial of freedom. The Quebec Human Rights Commission said so,” he said.
This incredibly brave stand by the Jewish General hits particularly close to home. My great-grandfather Louis Salomon, was a Vice President and one of the founders of the Jewish General in 1934.
The Jewish General was founded and funded by the Montreal Jewish community as a response to anti-Semitism in Quebec during that era. Jewish people were denied medical care at other Montreal hospitals simply on the basis of their religion. Jewish doctors were denied medical privileges at these hospitals for the same reason.
My grandfather Dr. Moe Scherzer, a.k.a., “Uncle Moe,” was a pediatrician at the Jewish General from 1934 to 1948. Uncle Moe did not only look after Jewish patients. Many of his patients were French children in the east end of Montreal. In those days, doctors made house calls.
I often heard stories of my grandfather rushing to the east end in bitter cold winter nights to attend to young children in distress. Montreal was gripped by the depression. Oftentimes the parents had no money to pay for his medical services. He often came home to my grandmother with tourtiere pies and knitted socks. Sometimes his patients were in such desperate financial straits that Uncle Moe would ensure that the local grocer would send food to the Quebec family in trouble.
My father, Dr. Aubie Wolfe, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and University of Toronto medical school graduate, was denied admission to all Toronto hospitals in the late ’40s due also to anti-Semitism. My father joined the Ob/Gyn department of the Jewish General in 1950 and worked there until his death in 1996.
Many of my father’s patients were Italian, Greek and French Canadians who sought his medical services, because these services, including contraception, were denied to them in the other hospitals. My father was pre-Morgentaler.
There are hundreds of similar stories of Jewish General doctors who served the diverse Montreal community.
We should all commend the Jewish General for standing up to Marois and opposing, without compromise, this deplorable Charter. In doing so, the Jewish General is nobly fighting to maintain its tradition of service and its hard-won identity.