Ometz celebrates 150 years of service to the Montreal Jewish Community

One summer night in July 1863 – four years before Canada was founded – 30 Jewish men gathered in a room over a store on Great St. James Street (now known as St. Jacques) in Montreal and established the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society, an organization dedicated to the social welfare of our community. Their action took incredible foresight, considering that at the time there were fewer than 1,000 Jews in Montreal and that the community was not experiencing any unusual economic hardship. Little did these trailblazers realize the key role their organization would play in shaping the Jewish community in the years to follow.

Today, 150 years after these men took the lead in helping our community’s most vulnerable, we reflect on the incredible impact that Ometz has had on developing our community. From helping families establish their roots, to giving them the support to flourish, much of the vibrancy we experience today in the Montreal Jewish community can be traced back to the mission that Ometz set forth on over a century and a half ago.

This generation-to-generation theme is the cornerstone of their 150th anniversary celebrations, and has opened the door for past clients to share their stories.

Below is the story of the Sokol family, and how almost twenty years ago, with the help of Ometz, they were given the chance to begin a new life in the Montreal Jewish community.

As they’ve done with countless immigrant families, Ometz, along with their affiliated agencies, take a well-rounded approach in educating recently arrived immigrants in both Jewish culture as well as the French skills required to excel in their new lives in Quebec.

Michael Sokol

We arrived in Canada in 1996 as landed immigrants.  We came as a family of four – my wife and two kids (ages 3 and 10).

During our appointment in the Quebec Immigration office, the immigration officer suggested we contact the Montreal Jewish Community Organization. That is how our relationship with Ometz, (at the time it was JIAS) started.

We received advice and help on my children’s education, day care, summer camps, school registration, French and English language courses, work search assistance and financial help during the Ice Storm, 1998.

Looking back and retracing our first steps in Montreal, I can now see that contacting Ometz truly made a difference. They really helped me and my family avoid potential problems, and overcome most of the challenges as we began our new lives in Montreal. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine what the experience would have been like without Ometz as an ally.

One cannot underestimate the importance of the organization to families when they need it most. Having such strong support helps instill confidence, build important skills, and prepares one to make the right decisions. Ometz helped create a strong base for me and my family to build our future success.

I am happy to see that my eldest daughter (she was 10 years old when we immigrated) is now part of the organization.  I am proud to see that she now has the opportunity to give back what was received some time ago.

Eva Sokol

I was very young when I moved here, but it was still difficult to leave my friends behind. Ometz helped my family put me in a Jewish school, which was quite important to me as I really was worried about speaking new languages. Thanks to Ometz, I was comforted in the fact that I was able to interact in Hebrew with my newly made friends at her Jewish day school. While I was learning French and English, Ometz provided me with a membership to the Jewish Public Library, where I could get Hebrew books and still have that connection to the language.

I also remember Ometz encouraging me to participate in a language group for kids (I can’t recall how many times per week we met), where a young volunteer would come and do different activities with us to help us learn English. I think this group has played a significant role in helping me acquire a fourth language (as I was enrolled in a French school).

Even though I was too young to recognize the help that Ometz was providing to my family and how we benefited from the support, I realize now how important the help was and how lucky my family was to receive such guidance and support from the community.

After graduating university, I did not even consider working at Ometz. This opportunity really fell into my lap as I trained some volunteer tutors for the organization. Upon reflection, I realize the importance of volunteers and Ometz. I feel grateful for being able to now give back to families and youth that have once been in my shoes. I am very lucky to have been able to come full circle and help volunteers (just as a volunteer gave her time during the English group) provide invaluable support to youth.

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