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March 2018

In Memoriam: Constituent Esther Hockenstein was one classy lady!

The construction of two high rise  condo apartments on Marc Chagall, known as The Equinoxe, meant a very big adjustment for some residents whose windows looked out at the work site.

While I immediately established an ad hoc group of condo representatives to set some ground rules with the developers and communicate common concerns, a number of residents wanted to speak to me individually. It was about a year ago that I got my first call from Esther Hockenstein. She told me that she was taking chemotherapy, feeling quite ill and naturally the noise from the construction was very disturbing. Like I did with dozens of people, I explained to her that we could not stop the project due to existing zoning.  However, her constructive advice played a role in our negotiations with the developers to lessen the annoyances.

Esther hockenstein
Esther with a new grandchild in 2011.

Esther and I met in person on a few occasions, e-mailed  several times a week and spoke by telephone often. Her classy demeanor was the polar opposite of one of her neighbours who from the get go was rude and disrespectful to anyone from the city. Even in her poor health, Esther tried to reason with that neighbour.  

I did not know a lot about Esther or her personal backstory. Our conversations related specifically to the development. During the election campaign last fall she came to the door to talk to me. Soon after my victory, she called to congratulate me.

"My husband and I voted for you," she said. "I wanted you to know that. No matter how many times I called or e-mailed, you always responded."

Not long after that, I even got a polite e-mail from her neighbour.

Esther sadly passed away earlier this week.

"We are heartbroken to lose her so relatively young but grateful for
the miracle of her life and the impact she had on so many people," her son Jeremy wrote.

Conceived in the Lodz Ghetto, she was born Estera Griner on April 18,
1945 in a Nazi concentration camp in Zittau, Germany, three weeks before liberation. "If you stood at the end of the train tracks that August
1944 day when her mother Regina approached Dr Mengele (with her sister
Esther, who was sent to the gas chambers and after whom my mom is
named), the odds were slim we would see this day in 2018," Jeremy continued. "Indeed, if someone had offered my grandmother a choice that instead of facing the selection, she would survive, give birth to my mother, and my mother would go on to emigrate to Belgium and then Canada, live to 72, spend 57 years (50 plus married) with my father, raise three sons and have four grandchildren, including attending her granddaughter’s bat mitzvah just a few months ago, we would have all taken that dream in a heartbeat. We wish we had her for many more years but thinking back on that day we won the lottery.

"And more recently, she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, as well as breast cancer, just under seven years ago. Through access to the best medical care, she beat the odds by a lot and we had many more years together than we expected."

The Hockensteins thank Drs. Gottlieb and Lau at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Dr. Matulonis at
Dana-Farber in Boston  and Dr. Oza at Princess Margaret in Toronto. "We are grateful for their care and recognize that we took more than our fair share of medical resources for our beloved mom and will do what we can to pay it forward," Jeremy continued.

"So what did she do with these years she should have never had? There will be more opportunities to share memories in the days and weeks ahead. And already many people have written beautiful notes -and a poem from our cousin in Belgium)- sharing how my mother touched them. Most of all she lived with a presence and dignity that felt like she appreciated the miracle of being alive. She was present for people, and among a family of Hockensteins, not known for being quiet speakers, she talked softly and wisely. While her closest friends might complain that she took too long to return their phone calls, it
was because there are endless stories of her paying attention to those around her. This wisdom was present in her life’s work as a social= worker where she devoted her empathy to others beyond her friends and family."

Jeremy added that  long before the mantra, “think globally, act locally,” his mother focused on her local environment: creating a physical and emotional home for her family. "She knew what she could control and what we she couldn’t," he said. "She put a lot of energy into our home - for our family and for guests. Through her attention to food, and to gardening, among others, she created a space that allowed those of us fortunate to spend time in it, to develop the grounding and confidence to go out into the world. I have traveled my share over the years but ever since the day I left home at 19 for college, I have felt in mind
that my center of gravity was around my mom and our home.

"So what a journey she had: literally being born at the very bottom of civilization, in a concentration camp, with no safety and security to the very top. My kids are tired of my referring to the seven billion people on our planet to give us all some perspective on our privilege. But goodness my mom rose from the very bottom to the very top in terms of economics, and security and community. It’s hard to ask for much more. She gave my son Natan some simple advice this week when he visited her: 'Be nice, be honest and pursue your dreams.' The foundation my mom gave us was a gift to allow us to live a life of kindness, integrity and dedication to making the world a better place."

I will miss our talks. My deepest sympathy goes out to her husband Michael and other family members. She was one classy lady!




Felling of trees at Ashkelon Gardens delayed until next winter

The Quebec Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MDDELCC) had given our city permission to begin the process of  felling trees  at Ashkelon Gardens infected by the Emerald Ash Borer. These insects  from China have killed millions of trees across North America in recent years. A public information was held for residents on March 5 to provide more information to residents of the immediate area.

In this forested area between the library and the Cambridge Courts townhouse complex,   most of the trees are sick or dead and could potentially fall down on their own or even catch fire if we don’t remove them. Some good news is that the maple trees located closer to the Bellagio high rise condo are not affected and will remain in place.

All dead trees, once felled, will be replaced.   

Regrettably we have no alternative and a contractor has been hired to fell these trees. Back in 2015 we cut down 40 dead ash trees in Ashkelon Gardens for safety reasons and 255 across the city. In 2016 we cut 255 dead ash trees in Trudeau Park. The total was 85 in 2017, during which time we focused on private property,

Since 2016 we have been treating Dutch Elm Disease, which can kill a tree within the same year as infestation. Sadly, this disease is also present in Ashkelon Gardens, where we  also must remove 21,00 buckthorns. These are invasive plants that tend to grow really fast and stop the regeneration of native species.


Due to warmer weather conditions, the wetlands at Ashkelon  Gardens are starting to thaw. The equipment originally planned  to fell the trees is too heavy to enter the site now (risking conformity of MDDELCC certificate of authorization), therefore the large project to fell the  300 trees and 21,000 buckthorn plants must be  postponed until next winter.

At this point though, our Arboriculture Foreman along with our expert tree contractor, have concluded that approximately two dozen trees located along the fringes of the forest must be felled immediately due to possible imminent danger. The trees have been marked with white paint. Work will start during the week of April 2 or April 9, for up to three days.

We will then completely block off the forest so nobody can enter. When work  does resume it will be broken up into three zones:

  • Closest to The Bellagio (90 percent maples which will stay in place,  five percent Ash and  five  percent Elm);
  • Near Cambridge Courts (75 percent Ash, five percent Elm  and 20 percent others witch will stay in place);
  • Near Cavendish Boulevard (90 percent Ash, five percent Elm and five percent others which will stay in place  which will stay in place.

I want to thank our Department of Public Works for all of their efforts on this massive project and we will have more updates to come.

McDonald's at Quartier Cavendish to close on May 31

The McDonald’s Restaurant at the Quartier Cavendish food court will shut down operations on May 31, franchisee Pierre Brunet has confirmed with me.

Last week I began receiving messages from constituents and readers concerning a “rumour” of such a closing. Brunet, who now owns 19 franchises in Montreal,  told me that after 20 years at Cavendish he had a decision to make when it came time to renew his lease. The fact that his locale at the Côte St. Luc Shopping Centre, opened four and a half years ago, is thriving helped him make  the call. All of the Cavendish staff will move to the CSL Road location.

“We will remain open until May 31 and it will be business as usual,” Brunet promises. “I wish to thank the administration at Quartier Cavendish and all of our loyal customers. This was a business decision  and keeping that franchise open would not have been profitable.”

Pierre Brunet

Brunet’s first McDonald’s franchise was on Walkley and Côte St. Luc Road. That closed more than 20 years ago at a time ironically when the Cavendish location had just opened and was doing well.  “It is very important for me to retain my connection to the Côte Saint-Luc community and I am doing that with our newest location,” he said.

Last year, as a CSL city councillor, I was honoured to work with Pierre to establish the first ever Pierre Brunet McDonald’s  Parks and Recreation Bursary Fund to assist families who cannot afford to register their child in a program and taking into account requests from children with special needs. This is connected to McHappy Day, which this year falls on May 2. Pierre has also been a regular supporter of our CSL Men’s Club, our Winter Carnival and the annual CSL Golf Classic.

We will miss the Cavendish location, but remain grateful that Pierre will remain part of the CSL landscape.

Video recording of our public council meetings fulfills "open city" objective in a fiscally responsible way

For a number of years I brought the possibly of webcasting our regular monthly public council meetings  to the table for discussion.

When Mayor Mitchell Brownstein gave me the Communications portfolio after last November's election, there was already some momentum to provide our citizens with the opportunity to view our meetings online.

Darryl Levine sets up the video equipment.

Initially, we looked into live webcasts.  The cost to video record (and live stream) the council meetings with a professional company would have been $1,230 (plus tax) per meeting. This price only included  one camera. For the 12 regular monthly meetings, this would have translated into a $15,000 cost (plus tax) and  an additional $1,230 for each special meeting that we would recorded as well, such as December budget meeting, for instance.

We are fortunate to have someone as resourceful as Director of Communications and Public Affairs Darryl Levine on our team. When we mandated him to come up with another option he was quick to respond. His department began video recording council meetings in January 2018 and posting the video recording on YouTube within two days. It also began uploading the audio to SoundCloud. There was no added capital cost to the city to introduce this service as the department had previously invested over the past seven years in a camcorder, wireless audio transmitter, a mirrorless camera (used as a second video camera), digital sound recorder, and video editing software. There was no added labour cost either. Our inhouse production uses two cameras during question period to make the video more interesting to watch.

Epilogue: This example highlights the strength of our Communications and Public Affairs Department. They are able to do a lot of work in-house that other cities our size send out.  It also fulfills a key goal of our new "open city" process.

Here is the video feed from our last meeting.

Here is the audio from our last meeting.  

Follow this section on our website to view and listen throughout the year.


Plunge4Mosh raises $65,000

On March 4, a crowd gathered at the Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Synagogue   in Cote Saint-Luc and at Woodbine Beach on Lake Ontario to watch 36 brave volunteers plunge into freezing cold water at the second annual Plunge4Mosh event to raise money for the Camp Moshava Ennismore.

Taking the plunge.

This event raised $65,000.  Over $170,000 is given every summer to the following projects- The Moshava Scholarship Fund, that enables every deserving child a chance to experience a wonderful summer camp experience regardless of financial means, To the Moshava partnership with YACHAD, to enable special needs staff to work at Moshava, and to the One Family Fund, to bring children that are victims of terror in Israel.

Councillor Tordjman (in the Superman suit) with some of the other participants.

Among the participants was Councillor David Tordjman. "It was warm  getting in, but cold getting out," he said.

For more information

Eli Beer: founder of Israel rescue organization shares his story in Montreal talk

When my fellow Côte Saint-Luc city councillor Oren Sebag and I found out that Eli Beer, the much revered founder of United Hatzalah of Israel was speaking at the Shaare Zion Congregation  ( we made it our business to be there. 

Using specially equipped motorcycle ambulances, United Hatzalah’s network of more than 4,000 volunteer medics help save thousands of lives each year across Israel by providing medical treatment in an average response time of three minutes or less.

I thank local supporter Marvin Binbom  and am Regional Development Officer for Canada Andrea Preciado for providing me the advance information which prompted us to attend this most interesting breakfast meeting.

Sandy Lipkus, Eli Beer, Oren Sebag, myself and Andrea Preciado.

First off, United Hatzalah of Israel should not be confused with  Hatzoloh Montreal,  another Jewish first response organization.

Working as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) from the age of 17, Beer saw just how rare it was that an ambulance team was able to navigate the congested streets of Israel to reach an accident victim in time to save his/her life. He also observed that local people, if trained appropriately, could fill the gap in care left between the first call to emergency services and the arrival of the support team—and save lives. His organization has approached this problem through the novel use of technology and an ever-expanding volunteer corps that pulls from all communities throughout Israel. His teams are now able to respond to any incident, regardless of location, in under three minutes.  Organizing  a volunteer unit of EMTs,  using specially equipped motorcycle ambulances to manoeuver efficiently in urgent-care situations, proved to be a stroke of genius.

One day Beer's team saved the life of his own father.

Councillor Sebag, who is a Registered Nurse by education and oversees the Public Safety portfolio in Côte Saint-Luc, was very intrigued by what he heard. Both of us plan to bring this information to the council table. After the talk he gave Beer an overview of how our Emergency Medical Services works and invited him to come see it for himself on a future visit.

“When I was young I said I wanted to be a doctor,” Beer said. “My dream was to save a life.”

Annually, United Hatzalah responds to more than 800 emergency calls each day, of which approximately 25 percent are critical lifesaving situations. They also do not charge for their services, unlike others.

Through his fleet of ambucycles, several thousand volunteers and training programs, Beer has accelerated response time to within minutes, while additionally bringing Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities together to solve this common yet crucial issue.

United Hatzalah trains volunteers and then equips them with, among other items, a GPS application for their mobile phone. When an emergency medical situation arises, volunteers within a specific radius are notified and expected to immediately attend the situation. They then provide first response action within three minutes to stabilize the victim until professional help arrives to transport them to a hospital or more secure location.

While his organization was originally based in the Jewish community, the universal need for these services quickly became apparent. The program was promptly scaled to include Arabs and Christians in the volunteer corps. Today, United Hatzalah members respond to any and all accidents, regardless of ethnic origin or religion.

Beer said he would like to grow his organization in two main directions:  an  Israeli operation of  3,000 volunteers and 500 ambucycles and to replicate the model in other countries—transferring the experience accumulated throughout the last two decades to new communities in need and adjusting the how-tos for new contexts.  Could our EMS use this technology?

Beer joked: “For Montreal, maybe you need an ambucycle snowboard!”

I met Sandy Lipkus. She and her husband Ted Adler heard about Beer’s organization and became supporters of  United Hatzalah. They have visited the command center in Israel and have sponsored two ambucycles and one car via their Foundation, as well as a team of 10 ambulance drivers.  She noted how impressed she was how donors are told regularly exactly how the vehicles they sponsored are used to save lives. “That is very concrete,” she agreed.

Neil Bernstein concluded the event by thanking everyone for coming.

To find out more go to and watch this video of Eli Beer.