How a Montreal Jewish community group is celebrating Christmas during a pandemic

·3 min read

Peter Horowitz has gone out for Chinese food with his family on Christmas Eve for as long as he can remember.

Even if they were on vacation, he remembers his parents loading the family up in the car to cruise neighbourhoods and ogle vibrantly decorated houses.

They'd sit down for tasty meals like General Tso's chicken, stir-fried vegetables, rice and egg rolls. For dessert, there'd be fortune cookies, and there was always a trip to the movie theatre.

Horowitz is far from the only one with such memories. It is a Christmas tradition for Jewish families around the world, and back in 2011, his budding Jewish group decided to make a community event.

"We all realized that this is a tradition that we are all doing all on our own, each family separate, and now that we are building this community based on our cultural connection to each other, why not have this event together?" he said.

That first year, dozens of members of the Mile End Chavura came together on Christmas Eve to eat Chinese food and watch a movie in a rented hall.

The tradition stuck, growing into an annual event — renting a place big enough to host a large buffet and screening of a Christmas or Jewish-themed movie.

This year, however, the pandemic has put the brakes on gatherings. But the group isn't giving up.

"Christmas for Jews has gone online," said Horowitz.

"We're working with the restaurant that we have for the past three or four years to deliver the food to addresses in our neighbourhood."

From online games to Fiddler on the Roof

There will be a few ice-breaking online games and an ugly sweater contest before families and individuals sit down to eat in front of their webcams and screens — setting up laptops on their dining room tables so everybody can interact while eating just like they normally do on Christmas Eve.

Szechuan et Nouilles, based on Bernard Street, will be serving up a substantial order as roughly 30 households registered to participate by the Wednesday deadline, Horowitz said.

The restaurant is delivering to those in Mile End, while others are picking up their orders. Every meal is subsidized by the Jewish Community Foundation's Shaping our Future grant program.

Submitted by Peter Horowitz
Submitted by Peter Horowitz

This is just one of several activities the Mile End Chavurah has moved online, managing to keep the group alive despite the need to stay a safe distance from each other and not gather.

Horowitz described the group as a synagogue without a rabbi or building as it brings Jewish people, many of whom don't have family in the area, together to celebrate community and religion together.

'A sense of togetherness'

Among those who are looking forward to the online gathering is Lisa Goldman.

As a child in Vancouver, B.C., she remembers the Christmas Eve tradition of heading to Chinatown for a meal before watching a movie.

She looks forward to keeping the tradition alive this year alongside fellow Mile End Chavura members.

"There will be a sense of togetherness, and I think we've all become used to this compromise," said Goldman.

"Even for Jews, Christmas is a day when everything goes quiet and there's a sense of community and family and being together. And I'm glad we're managing somehow to create our own tradition during this pandemic and feel together — less alone."