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April 2009

New President of Oakridge Apartments

Since my election to city council three and a half years ago, I have been very impressed with the way in which a number of residential apartment buildings in District 2 are run. A case in point is the Oakridge Apartments at 5795 Sir Walter Scott Avenue. This is a pretty large building, which took me parts of three days to go door to door in. For more than 20 years Dr. Joseph Brody, a distinguished professor of mathematics and statistics at Concordia University,  has been the president of the Oakridge Tenants Association. He has attended many of my District meetings. In addition, he has organized meetings for his own tenants at which Mayor Anthony Housefather and I have attended.  Well, Dr. Brody has stepped down as president. His successor is Andrew Halmos, whom we wish the best of luck.



A Nostalgic Minor Hockey Banquet


Mike shares a moment with District 2 star hockey player Mathew Stein and his dad/coach Steve Stein.

I remember vividly my days growing up in Côte Saint-Luc and playing in the minor hockey system. These were some of the "best" times of my life. When I started out as a six year old, Cöte Saint-Luc did not have an arena. We played out of Montreal West and the games were scheduled for very early Saturday and Sunday mornings. The night before all of my equipment was neatly placed on the basement floor. I got up, had a light breakfast and got into uniform. I even put my skates on, protecting them with safety blades. My dad, who also served as my coach, put me in the back seat. For many of those years we picked up my talented teammate, Leon Krantzberg - number 16 - and his mom Geraldine. The house league action was competitive and fun.

When I reached the Bantam level, the Samuel Moskovitch Arena in Côte Saint-Luc was built. Scheduled games switched to weeknights and in my final season of Midget I finally made the inter-city "A" team, being called up midway through the season. In what would be my final game, period and shift, a player from Hampstead checked me into the boards. I fell hard on my back, crushing two vertebrae on my spine. An ambulance rushed me to the hospital. I ended up spending a few weeks at the Montreal Neurological Institute. The injury ended my days as a hockey player and actually played a major role in launching my career in journalism. You see, I was fairly incapacitated that summer. I had to give up my job as a camp counsellor and ended up doing some reporting for The Monitor and Suburban newspapers about the local Slo Pitch league. In the fall I started covering minor hockey.

What do I remember most from my hockey career? I loved the feeling of scoring a goal. My dad, Lawrence Frederick Cohen (a.k.a. Larry Fredericks), coached my team for many of those years. He also helped coordinate some of the most amazing end of season banquets. Because he was a sports writer he had access to the city's professional athletes. He would therefore bring along with him the likes of Expos slugger Rusty Staub and Habs legend Jean Beliveau to hand out trophies.


Yes that is Mike (right), in 1970, with hockey legend Jean Beliveau at a  Minor Hockey Banquet.

As a city councillor I now look forward to attending these events. On April 19, 2009, Mayor Anthony Housefather, Councillors Ruth Kovac, Allan J. Levine and I presided over the Minor Hockey Banquet. There was a great turnout of players, coaches and parents. Minor Hockey President Victor Waisgrus served as the master of ceremonies. The Mayor, Councillors Kovac and Levine and I handed out nice plaques with the players' individual photo posted and mini-hockey sticks with their names, We all posed for photos (boy do I ever wish the digital camera existed in the 1970s) and then shared some pizza. I enjoyed sitting with the boys talking hockey, particularly my young constituent Mathew Stein, who plays for the Atom League Penguins. His dad and coach is Steve Stein. Not only are Steve, Mathew, mom Arlene and brother Jessie outstanding residents of District 2, I also had the good fortune of speaking at the wedding of Steve and Arlene, two old friends.

Congratulations to the Minor Hockey Association on another good season. The banquet was very nostalgic for me. 

The  photo below, taken in 1970, shows Mike being presented with a trophy by former Expos baseball superstar Rusty Staub at a Minor Hockey Banquet.


CJC Quebec Region Name Change is Wrong!

Without any form of real consultation with the community-at-large, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec Region, has changed its name to the Quebec Jewish Congress, or in French, Le Congrès juif québécois. I am not at all pleased with this development and I can tell you that the feeling among members of Côte Saint-Luc city council and others from the Jewish community I have spoken to is much the same.

First a little background.

For 11 years, between 1988 and 1999, I served as the national director of communications for Canadian Jewish Congress. Since our head office was based in Montreal, I was also responsible for the Quebec Region.

CJC is the national representative body of Canadian Jewry, founded 90 years ago in Montreal. In fact, it became known as "the Parliament of Canadian Jewry," given the fact its officers and executives, both nationally and regionally, were democratically elected. I was extremely proud to work for this organization, for which I travelled across Canada and to different parts of the world. Government office doors always swung open for our delegations. Ditto for newspaper editorial boards. We were a proactive body when I was there, defending the community against acts of anti-Semitism, serving as a voice for Israel, pushing the dossier to bring Nazi war criminals to justice and even touching on social justice issues.

As for Quebec, one of the highlights of my time at CJC, vis-à-vis this province, was a national unity coalition we put together with the Greek and Italian communities. We travelled around the country to promote the Charlottetown Accord and played a crucial role in the 1995 sovereignty referendum, which was narrowly won by the federalists. When then premier Jacques Parizeau went on his horrible rant and blamed his loss on "money and the ethnic vote" he was talking specifically about our coalition.

The "Canadian," in Canadian Jewish Congress, was something to be proud of. Well, I left the employ of the CJC in 1999 to join the English Montreal School Board. Soon after, CJC moved its head office to Ottawa, while the Quebec Region relocated to Federation CJA headquarters. Few will argue that the organization has never been quite the same, becoming more "reactive" than anything else.

Nationally and regionally CJC would always hold Plenary Assemblies, which would attract delegates in the hundreds. In order to become a national or regional officer (president, secretary, treasurer etc) there was an election process. Only delegates to the Plenary could vote. For most of my years at CJC, particularly at the national level, we often saw heated races for the top positions. Regionally the president tended to be pre-ordained and part of a slate that few opposed. Nonetheless, the Jewish community at large was always brought together to approve or vote on these selections and adopt policy. I have not seen much of this sent I left. The CJC National Plenary, which used to be a grand affair of at least three days, has now been reduced to a one day event. Two years ago, at a synagogue in Ottawa, CJC actually had a pretty spectacular race for president with the very prominent Rabbi Reuven Bulka facing off against Montreal Jewish community leader Sylvain Abitbol. How did the "democratically elected governing body of the Jewish community" handle this? Somehow the two agreed to be co-presidents. Irgo, no election!

When I worked for CJC, the Quebec Region Executive Committee met four to six times a year. This was a useful body, composed of representatives from nearly every Jewish organization in Quebec. Not only did they vote on issues of importance –such as a name change – but the local community press was always invited to observe.

So what happened with the name change? In a letter from Rabbi Bulka and Mr. Abitbol we are told the following: The name change was first brought to the Quebec regional officers on January 15, 2009, and subsequently to the Quebec regional board on March 18, 2009, where it

received unanimous approval. These Boards are representative of Jewish Quebecers from all streams. It then was placed on the agenda of the national CJC Board of Directors for consideration. At its meeting of March 22, 2009, the motion was approved with only one opposing vote. At neither board level was there any controversy or negativity expressed and, in fact, the comments made only reflected how this would be appreciative and illustrative of our two founding nations.

As a member of Côte Saint-Luc city council, representing one quarter of Montreal’s Jewish population, I think it would have been appropriate to be consulted. Is the Quebec regional board what used to be the Quebec Executive? Was the local media allowed to write about and float this idea?

I am sorry, but I believe this name change is the wrong approach. Rabbi Bulka and Mr. Abitbol, can the Ontario Jewish Congress be far behind?

The Blessing of the Sun

  RaskinMikeSun2  Councillor Cohen joins Rabbi Raskin at the podium during the Blessing of the Sun.

On the eve of Passover this morning I participated in a most moving ceremony at the future site of the Beth Chabad Hechal Menachem Community Centre at the corner of Kildare Road and Marc Chagall as about 200 people gathered for Birkat Hachama , also known as the Blessing of the Sun.

This refers to a Jewish blessing  that is recited in appreciation of the Sun once every 28 years when it returns to the same position at the same time of the week that it had occupied at the time of its creation. It was a special significance this year because of the connection to Passover. As people arrived a fire lit to facilitate the burning of Chametz. Rabbi Mendel Raskin led the prayers from what will be the parking lot of the much anticipated facility which will be ready for next Rosh Hashanah. While it was chilly outside, people sang, danced and shared in some snacks. Then, as the ceremony drew to a close the clouds parted and the sun began to appear. "We are witnessing a miracle," Rabbi Raskin proclaimed.