Shira Choir, Federation CJA and The Cummings Centre to mark Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities and mental health conditions and those who love them.

As part of this initiative, the dynamic husband and wife duo of Cantor Daniel Benlolo and Muriel Suissa Benlolo have a fabulous program at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (4894 St. Kevin Avenue) featuring The Montreal Shira Choi on Saturday, February 8.  Meanwhile, the Cummings Centre will be featuring several programs at its main campus located at 5700 Westbury Ave.

The  Montreal Shira Choir is an inclusive group of singers with developmental disabilities dedicated to celebrating the power of music, to bring joy, to inspire and unite people of all ages and abilities.  Cantor Benlolo serves as the musical director and leads the choir, with the assistance of Rebecca Bensimon.   Muriel acts as the liaison/administrator and organizer. “This is one of my closest encounters of what doing good in this world is all about,” the charismatic Cantor told me.

Since its inception, the choir has received a number of community grants. This will allow the group to spread its wings. New members are always welcome. They have also launched a long-term project, which involves the creation of a documentary film by Evan Beloff about the choir geared mainly for educational purposes that epitomizes the power of music.

The Montreal Shira Choir will be collaborating this year with the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue to offer two events in celebration of JDAIM. This is going to be the first time that the Spanish, which Cantor Benlolo joined a few months ago (indeed a star free-agent signing), will participate in JDAIM events. “It was important for Cantor Benlolo and myself to offer both a Shabbat morning event and an evening event,” said Muriel. “The Shabbat morning service will offer the members that attend the regular weekly and shabbat services a small preview of what JDAIM is all about and the evening event will be opened to both members and the community at large.”

At the morning event there will be a keynote address by Sam Benamron from Physio-Verdun, an inclusive business for the past four years. Male Jewish choir members who have a wide range of disabilities will be integrated into the service with aliyahs to the torah or honours like opening the ark, followed by a congregational Kiddush. The keynote speaker will be.

The evening event will start at 7 pm and will begin with a short Havdallah service.  Cantor Benlolo will introduce the choir and they will perform three songs. Sam Benamron will speak again at night and introduce a 23 minute documentary. There will then be a panel discussion and Q&A with questions directed to his four special needs employees. Cantor Benlolo will ask questions to a few choir members and open the floor to the audience. The evening will conclude with the choir singing a couple more songs and a light dessert reception.


On Wednesday night February 12,    Federation Movie Night the St Laurent Spheretech location of Cinemas Guzzo will feature two beautiful motion pictures, one in English and one in French.   Muriel is the co-chair of this activity, presented by the Federation CJA Sephardic Division. The movie is called Hors Normes and delves into the world of autism. The English film is being presented by Federation CJA West Island and entitled The Samuel Project.   You can see the trailers here.  The evening will start with a big cocktail shared by all the people attending both movies. Doors open at 6 pm and the program commences at 7 pm at 3500 Boulevard Côte-Vertu Ouest. For more information, please contact Elise Abecassis at 514.734.1601.




Here are the events from the Cummings Centre, all at no charge:

On Wednesday February 12 from 3 to 5:30 pm an Intergenerational Discussion about Inclusion will be held at the Cummings Centre. Featured are a presentation on Inclusion and Belonging by Professor Darla Fortune, an intergenerational group discussion led by recreation therapy students from Concordia University and a creative exploration and collaboration on What Inclusion / Belonging Means to You with Art Therapist Jessica Gardner. To register call 514.343.3510.

On Monday February 17 from 10:30 to 11:30 am a discussion of The Benefits of Animal Therapy for people living with mental illness and/ or disabilities will be held at the Cummings Centre followed by a group therapy session. To register call Rosanna Magnone 514.734.1738.

On Thursday February 27, from 3 to 5:30 pm, the Cummings Centre presents an inclusive musical event, If You Want to Sing Out featuring the Glee Club, an afternoon of singing in celebration of diversity in the community. All ages and abilities are welcome. To register call Victoria McNeill 514.734.1779.

Also on Thursday February 27, from 10 am to 2 pm, Disability Inclusion at the Cummings Centre will be presented with an exhibition of community programs and accessories for adults 50+ living with disabilities. Information and resources will be made available for individuals living with mental illness, cognitive or physical disabilities or recovering from surgery. Partner organizations will be on-site exhibiting as well. Caregivers are welcome.

Among the areas to be featured are homecare, meals-on-wheels, transportation, and community mental health, day programs for people living with dementia, adapted programs (creative arts / fitness), support groups, virtual learning, in-home exercise training and volunteer opportunities.

Here is an extensive look at what is happening for Jewish Disability, Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. 


New historic building tour: inside The Yiddish School

The Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM) is excited to announce the launch of a new historic building tour, Inside the Yiddish School, opening to the public this February.

This brand new tour takes us back in time to Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood in the 1940s and 50s, to the heart of a vibrant Yiddish community. Visitors will discover the historic hallways and classrooms of the building that once housed the Peretz Shule, Montreal’s first secular Jewish day school.

A tour in progress.

This building, unassuming at first glance, tells the often unheard stories of the immigrant families that established themselves in what is now the Plateau after the Holocaust – the difficult realities they faced, and the courage of the community that supported them as they started new lives. Through multimedia usage of the students’ own journal entries, photos, school materials, and oral histories, we share the stories of the students, teachers, and families who grew up in the neighbourhood and called the Peretz Shule “home” – many of whom went on to become influential figures in Montreal to this day.

“Through the tour, we come to understand that the Peretz Shule was more than just a school, and Yiddish was more than just a language,” says Aviv Milgram, Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives at the Museum of Jewish Montreal. “Both were at the heart of political and social questions within the Jewish community in postwar Montreal, and would shape the future of Jewish identity in the city and beyond.”

A classic original photo from the Jewish Public Library Archives of students in class.

This tour is delivered in partnership with the Maison de l’amitié, a community centre located in the former Peretz Shule building. The Maison de l’amitié is dedicated to promoting social integration of immigrants and reducing cultural divisions within the community – a mission that parallels the role the Peretz Shule once played.  Developing this tour has also been a collaborative effort, with the help of the Jewish Public Library Archives and the Canadian Jewish Archives for the use of their archival materials, and numerous Peretz Shule Alumni who shared their stories through photos and oral histories. This tour has been made possible through Federation CJA’s Shaping our Future and Ville de Montréal’s Patrimoines Montréalais : Une mise en Valeur dans les quartiers program.

This guided tour is mainly indoors, perfect for the winter months, and will run throughout the year. The tour is appropriate for children ages 9 and up, and we encourage families to join us and explore what school was like for their grandparents or great-grandparents.

Tickets can now be booked for tours in February or March via the museum’s online booking service, using the following link:

The Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM) is an innovative place to connect with Montreal’s Jewish life and identity, share the community’s diverse heritage, and create new cultural experiences. Through multidisciplinary programming, the Museum provides an accessible gateway for all tolearn about and interact with Montreal’s Jewish culture, art, food and heritage while also enabling the public to share their stories and experiences. Visit us in person, on Facebook or at our website to learn more about the walking tours and events we have to offer.


Nova Grant supports The Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Center in the creation of Beyachad Academy

Thanks to a Nova Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF), The Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Centre (Yaldei) has successfully launched “Beyachad Academy” under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and in collaboration with the Belz School to service elementary school children within the orthodox Jewish Community. This satellite classroom located in the Belz school serves children with autism, severe language delay with intellectual challenges. These students can also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) /Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and other behavioral issues.

“Children across Quebec and Canada including those in religious communities are being diagnosed in increasing numbers with autism and learning challenges,” explains Risa Plotnick, Director of Yaldei’s school and rehabilitation services. “Our program, which is permitted by the Ministry of Education, provides children access to the Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Centre’s wide range of professional services and specialized education. More precisely, children with special needs are benefiting from specialized pedagogical and professional support in their local school while participating and socializing with their friends and being an active member of their community school.”

Students at Yaldei.

“We established Nova Grants to support the vulnerable, promote Jewish identity and culture and strengthen the institutional framework of Montreal’s Jewish community and to encourage agencies, synagogues and community organizations to experiment, to test new or innovative approaches to meeting critical or emerging needs,” asserts Kathy Assayag, JCF’s Executive Director. “Beyachad Academy epitomizes our raison d’etre. Through this initiative we are reaching out to the most vulnerable of our population, children with special needs, while allowing them to be proud of their cultural heritage and socially participate within the community as full members.”

An additional benefit of Beyachad Academy is the on-site training, coaching and professional development the staff receive. They are learning how best to differentiate learning based on each child’s individual needs while integrating the students within the regular classroom setting and school activities. Furthermore, there is an increasing sensitization in the orthodox communities that all children have access to specialized services if there is an identified need. The approach is child centered and family focused, and community participation and involvement is a part of the success of this program.

“When children with special needs are displaced from their religious community schools and sent to schools outside of their community, it stigmatizes the students and their families and in the end hinders the child’s learning and progress. Removed from their community and culture and uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment, the child becomes socially isolated from their peers, which affects their personal growth long-term and impacts their families,” notes Risa Plotnick.

Founded in 1997, Yaldei, offers a diverse range of clinical, educational, and recreational programs and services to help children of all abilities reach their full potential. It serves children from 0 to 21 with emotional, intellectual and/ or physical disabilities.

Yaldei is known for quality professional and educational services with a specialization in early intervention. It provides a continuum of services from 0-21 under one roof from early intervention to high school. Yaldei is known for implementing innovative approaches and has created state of the art developmental center with traditional professional services, new therapies such as immersive therapy, Snoezelen and a comprehensive ABA centre. All programs include parent coaching. Its professional staff provides a full range of therapies, family support services, and mainstream integration programs using a family-centered approach. Its services are tailored according to the specific needs of each child and family. Aware that finding effective services creates a constant struggle for families and caregivers, Yaldei reduces the stress of that search by offering comprehensive evaluation, therapy and treatment programs for a wide range of disabilities all under one roof. It provides the most intensive program of one-to-one early intervention using a trans-disciplinary approach.

Roy Nissany becomes Israel’s first Formula One driver, with backing from Sylvan Adams

By Mike Cohen

Roy Nissany will become the official test driver for the Williams Group, making him Israel’s very first Formula One driver. Nissany was joined at a press conference last week at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, by the group’s president Claire Williams and Montrealer Sylvan Adams, who has supported Nissany’s development in motor racing and serves as president of Nissany’s management group.

Roy Nissany with Claire Williams. (Shauli Lendner Photo)

Adams made aliyah to Israel several years ago, but still retains a strong presence in our city via his philanthropy. I expect to see him here for the next Grand Prix du Canada in June with Nissany.

The 25-year-old Nissany, who began his journey in motor racing at the age of 14, comes to Formula One following two very successful seasons in Formula V8 3.5, where he secured 13 podium finishes and reached pole position seven times. Nissany’s achievements include two consecutive victories at the Silverstone track in UK, plus wins at Italy’s Monza track, France’s Paul Ricard circuit and Jerez in Spain. Nissany competed in the Formula Two championship in 2018, but missed last season due to injury.

Back in 2014, Nissany completed his first test in a Formula One car with the Swiss team Sauber Motorsport. In early December, Nissany was asked by Williams to participate in two days of testing in Abu Dhabi, after which the group decided to sign the Israeli as the team’s third driver. As such, Nissany will train with the team and drive on Fridays during Grand Prix practice at Formula One weekends, waiting for the opportunity to compete behind the wheel of one of Williams’ two championship cars.

Nissany joins a very distinguished list of past drivers for the UK-based Williams team, which includes Formula One legends such as Brazilians Ayrton Senna and Nelson Pique, Keke Rosberg of Finland, Britain’s Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Jenson Button, Frenchman Alain Prost and Canada’s Jacques Villeneuve.

Today, I achieved the goal which I set for myself many years ago, to become a Formula One driver,” said Nissany. “This is a very exciting moment, not only for me, but also for everyone who has been with me along the way over the years. Formula One reaches a huge audience of fans and I am so pleased that they will now get to know Israel through the motor racing track.”

Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal, commented;:“It is a pleasure to welcome Roy Nissany to ROKiT Williams Racing in the role of our Official Test Driver. Roy demonstrated his capabilities driving in the post-season Abu Dhabi test last year and we were extremely impressed with what he could do in a short space of time. He is a hard-working individual who we are excited to be working with this year.”

Sylvan Adams

Adams, President of the “Roy Nissany Formula One” management group and  the co-owner of the Israel Start Up Nation cycling team  which will compete in next summer’s Tour de France has been working hard to showcase Israel through international sporting and cultural events. Among his recent initiatives, Adams was responsible for bringing the Giro d’Italia bike race to Israel, Madonna’s appearance at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest and the recent international football match in Tel Aviv between Argentina and Uruguay, featuring Lionel Messi.

Adams began working with Nissany approximately a year ago, understanding that his talent provided another opportunity to place Israel on the global sporting stage. With no suitable infrastructure for Formula One racing in Israel, Adams decided to actively support Nissany’s ambition to join Williams and Formula One, becoming president of his management group.

“This is yet another landmark moment for Israeli sport,” said Adams. “Hundreds of millions of motor racing enthusiasts across the world will get to see a different side of our country, what I call ‘normal’ Israel. I have no doubt that Roy will do a wonderful job representing our country with dignity and pride. I cannot wait for the moment when we see the blue and white flag on a Formula One car.”

Chemi Peres, Chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and son of Israel’s former-President Shimon Peres, bestowed the title of “Ambassador of Peace” on Claire Williams.

Today, Roy Nissany proved that what we thought was impossible, is possible,” said Peres. “This is our motto at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. It was also the legacy of my father, Shimon Peres, the Ninth President of the State of Israel. It is a legacy which we continue today, as we educate the next generation. We instill them with important values, which can also be found in the world of motor racing, that through patience, tolerance and teamwork, the impossible can be achieved.”

Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal Invests $400,000 in Community Initiatives

The Jewish Community Foundation of  Montreal (JCF)  has announced  that it is awarding grants to 16 community organizations for 17 leading-edge programs designed to support the vulnerable, promote Jewish identity and culture and strengthen the institutional framework of Montreal’s Jewish community.

“In launching Nova Grants we are encouraging agencies, synagogues and community organizations to experiment, to test new or innovative approaches to meeting critical or emerging needs,” explains David Martz, Chair of the JCF’s Allocations Committee which oversees the Nova Grants. “The initiatives we are supporting do not already receive funding from Federation CJA or other funders, and our intention is for our investments to serve as seed money for programs which will, over the coming years, have a measurable impact on ensuring the vitality of our community.”

JCF Nova Grants, ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, are allocated on an annual basis for either one-time funding for a program which will be carried out within one year, or to be used over a period of up to three years, depending on the nature of the program. This year’s recipients are as follows:

Helping the Vulnerable

  • Agence Ometz is developing a parent consultation service to help parents easily access a one-time affordable screening of their child, ask questions, voice concerns, receive guidance, and support and appropriate referrals to specialized services.
  • Through an Avodah Inclusive Work Experience, Agence Ometz will provide participants with counselling and workshops as well as a real work experience at Federation CJA and affiliated agencies.
  • BANAV will maximize its multi-educational services, including informal Jewish education for youth with learning or developmental delays or on the autism spectrum.
  • The Donald Berman Bikur Cholim Ladies Association will host workshops to enhance awareness of the different forms of elder abuse among seniors in the Ultra-Orthodox Community, many of whom are Holocaust survivors.
  • Through symposiums, Centre Lifeline will build capacity for improved response among organizations already having contact with people who may have addictions.
  • The Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Centre satellite class known as Beyachad Academy will be offered in the Belz Community, providing an innovative individual approach to early intervention, with a sensitization program, outreach and evaluations.
  • Zera Café and Catering, a start-up offering Israeli style food, will employ for adults with intellectual disabilities, while providing them with training for future food service jobs.

Jewish Identity and Culture

  • Beth Tikvah will be using YouTube videos and social media to create The Synagogue with no Walls and in so doing provide Jews of all ages with easier access to Jewish teachings and traditions.  Said Rabbi Mark Fishman: “The Nova grants allow us to deepen our engagement through projects like: ‘The Synagogue With No Walls’. Through their help and deep understanding of our community, we can now reach more people, in a more targeted way, more of the time.
Rabbi Fishman
  • Through music, the Jewish Learning Lab will develop a new program of Jewish engagement by offering monthly Shabbat jams, concerts, etc. in collaboration with other Jewish organizations, including YidLife Crisis.
  • The Jewish Russian Community Centre will develop an outreach and engagement program targeted at unaffiliated young Russian-speaking Jewish musicians.
Cantor Benlolo and the Shira Choir.
  • Cantor Benlolo, the creator and volunteer conductor of the Montreal Shira Choir, an inclusive group of singers with developmental disabilities, will celebrate the power of music by uniting people of all ages and abilities in performance and group activities.
  • Having begun as a virtual museum, and grown into an organization offering walking tours, with a physical space that includes a gallery for art exhibits, food, boutique, and cultural events, as well as research opportunities for students, the Museum of Jewish Montreal will be focusing on engaging young adults aged 20-40 and their development as future community leaders.
  • The OSM Experience will enable Jewish Day School students to engage with classical music and the OSM by enjoying Chamber music concerts at the different schools, as part of a shared cultural experience in a predominantly Francophone context.
  • JAM Jewish Arts Mentorship Program at the Segal Centre is a fellowship program which will support young emerging Jewishly identified theatre artists working on Jewish themed projects or engaged in Jewish identity issues. Over the course of a year, Fellows will meet, network, and work with special guest speakers, mentors and facilitators.

Institutional Strengthening

  • The Mile End Chavurah will develop and implement a 3-year plan to enable this maturing organization to build capacity and become more self-sustainable.
  • The Montreal Open Shul serves the post denominational Jewish spiritual community, creating and leading innovative and inclusive contemplative Jewish practices. They gather in yoga studios, cafes, the Y/JCC, private homes, and other venues. The grant will support a strategic plan, the first step in building organizational sustainability.
Rabbi Lisa Grushcow and members of the Temple.
  • Temple Emanu-El- Beth Sholom’s Building Community-Small Groups at Temple is modeled on Rabbi Ron Wolfson’s Relational Judaism. This program will bring together affinity groups to build relationships and a sense of belonging, while participating in Jewish learning and performing acts of loving-kindness, etc.

“We are delighted with the range of the initiatives that have been brought forward, and by the diversity of organizations that are sponsoring them,” adds Kathy Assayag, JCF’s Executive Director. “We are tapping into the creativity and community spirit of Jewish Montrealers and confident that Nova Grants will make a significant difference. We look forward to the second round of funding and will be launching the application process in March.”

The JCF’s mission is to grow a strong, sustainable community that embodies the Jewish values of tzedakah, tikkun olam and dor I’dor, from one generation to the other. Its commitment is:

  • To help individuals and families support the causes they care about and achieve their philanthropic goals;
  • To find solutions that are tax-wise and create greater impact;
  • To ensure Montreal and its organizations remain strong and vibrant by helping build and carefully steward financial resources.