Some leaders of Quebec’s religious minorities are questioning the wisdom of allowing gatherings over the Christmas holidays.
People can gather in groups of 10, with family or friends, from Dec. 24 to 27, the government and public health officials announced Thursday.
“I officiated at so many funerals in the first wave and I don’t want to see us back there,” said Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Westmount.
“I’m worried about people in long-term care homes and worried about keeping schools open.”
Montreal’s Jewish community has shown that it’s possible to celebrate important religious holidays, like Passover and Rosh Hashanah, without large indoor gatherings.
“We pivoted and adapted,” Grushcow said. “I’m confident people can do the same for Christmas.”
The decision to allow get-togethers over Christmas is a reminder that minority religions are not taken as seriously as the majority, she said.
“There’s this constant push and pull of Quebec calling itself a secular society, but the four days they chose are the days people are celebrating Christmas,” Grushcow noted.
“We are shifting the school schedule, but God forbid there would be a teacher with a hijab in the classroom.”
While Premier François Legault said he hopes the decision to allow gatherings will make Quebecers happy, Grushcow said she would prefer elected leaders concentrate on keeping us safe.
“I want my government to be paying more attention to science and medicine and health and safety,” she said.
Since the pandemic began in March, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom has been holding all of its celebrations on Zoom. It will do so for Hanukkah in December.
“We’re going to light candles together, we’re collecting underwear and socks for the homeless and we are going to have family activities over the eight nights.”
They’re also encouraging grandparents and grandchildren who haven’t seen each other during the pandemic to meet privately on Zoom.
During the pandemic, religious holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan and Diwali were celebrated in compliance with public health rules that said no more than 25 people can attend indoor religious services.
Most members of Montreal’s Muslim community did not gather with other relatives during Ramadan, or Eid, the religious holiday that marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fast.
“This was the first time we were not able to celebrate Eid at the mosque and there were no big family gatherings at home,” said Yusuf Faqiri, a representative of the Conseil national des musulmans canadiens.
He said the Legault government is adopting a double standard by allowing gatherings for four days over Christmas.
“There needs to be consistency,” Faqiri said. “Members of the Jewish and Muslim communities have followed the rules, as we should, but why is there a double standard? It’s very disappointing.”
He pointed out that Legault has made allowances for people to gather at Christmas while his government is defending Bill 21, its secular law, in court.
Bill 21 bans certain public servants from wearing religious symbols such as a hijab, kippah or turban.
A member of Quebec’s Armenian community said he thinks it’s probably OK to allow small gatherings over Christmas as long as people are careful.
“I think (the government) is trying to find a balance; they mentioned that mental health is important,” said Aram Elagoz, a city councillor in Laval.
As in all communities, elderly Armenians are finding it difficult to be alone and would like to celebrate Christmas with their families on Jan. 6, as Orthodox Armenians do.
“It’s very stressful for the elderly because they expect to be together at those moments,” Elagoz said. “We are not gathering in community centres. The rules are strict and people are following them.”
On Friday B’nai Brith called on the provincial government to include the Jewish community in discussions about pandemic rules and restrictions that affect religious holidays.
“Premier Legault has not addressed the concerns and needs of several minority groups in Quebec, including the Jewish community,” Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a statement. “While we applaud the notion of a seven-day family quarantine in late December, it fails to allow accommodation for Jews to celebrate the eight-day Jewish holiday of Chanukah.
“The Quebec government must take the needs of minority communities, including the Jewish community, into consideration, and work proactively with these communities prior to the lifting or imposition of unilateral COVID-19 restrictions. There must be no favouritism. The premier must be the premier of all Quebecers.”
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