Montreal: Hasidic woman elected councillor

While in Israel Orthodox women are unsuccessful in entering politics, 24-year-old Mindy Pollak wins race for borough councillor in Outremont after gaining her community's support

History was made in Canada this week, and in the entire ultra-Orthodox world in general. A Vizhnitz Hasidic woman was elected Sunday as borough councillor in Outremont, an arrondissement of Montreal, after winning 32% of the votes.


Mindy Pollak, who got a seat in the Claude-Ryan district, became the first Hasidic woman to be elected in Montreal, the Montreal Gazette reports.


In interviews she gave during the campaign, Pollak defined the race as "revolutionary," claiming to have gained her community's support. The Satmar Hasidic movement, however, refused to recognize her and presented a rival candidate who was unsuccessful.


'It's not common at all'

While in Israel haredi women are still failing to enter municipal or national politics, forced to withdraw their candidacy after being subject to threats of boycott, in Montreal a 24-year-old Hasidic woman managed to become a councillor in a city of more than three million residents.


The newly elected councillor speaks four languages, has a Jewish food blog (which she started with a non-Jewish resident of her neighborhood) and takes part in meetings between Jews and Palestinians. And yet she is an integral part of the community, but not the only woman in the haredi community involved in local politics. In fact, as many as four women were involved in the elections in different ways.


Pollak joined forces with Leila Marshy, a Palestinian woman who lives in the neighborhood, and the two began holding joint events for Hasidim and the rest of the residents in a bid to promote a dialogue between the sides.


The decision to participate in the elections stemmed from an anti-Hasidic campaign launched by one of her opponents, Pierre Lacerte, who eventually failed to win a seat. A brochure she run across one evening, as she was returning home, served as a political wake-up call for her to start acting, she told Tablet Magazine.


In an interview to CBC Radio One upon launching her campaign, Pollak said she didn't think it was "common at all" for a woman from her community to get involved in politics. "I think it's definitely something unique and special. There are women that have opinions and voices for sure. It's not the traditional thing to do, but it's not anything that's 'oh my gosh, never' or something like that."


Seeking to reduce tensions

Pollak noted in the interview that she has had two years of public work. "We've spoken to a lot of people in the neighborhood. There's a situation that needs to change, and I think I am in a position to do it," she said


Asked why a Hasidic woman would want to get involved in municipal politics, Pollak responded: “I want to get involved because things have to change in Outremont. There is a situation, there's tensions. We need to establish a dialogue between the communities and we just need to get people to calm down a little bit and see if we can find solutions."


According to local media, there has been a lot of tension in the area between the Hasidic and non-Hasidic communities due to the expansion of a synagogue of the Bobov Hasidic group and complaints over traffic during religious festivals.


"I think the first step to be able to do that is to establish a dialogue," Pollak clarified. "Get people talking, have an atmosphere where people feel respected and people feel welcomed. That automatically will lead to reduced tensions, defused emotions.


"Then start talking about how can we help you and how can we help each other, how can we work together to find solutions. Dialogue is number one, that's my first step,. Changing everything or improving things, that comes after, but first we need to establish a dialogue."


'There may have been gasps in the beginning'

What did members of her closed and conservative community say about her decision to run for municipal politics? "Well, I've been talking to them for months and this decision was not taken lightly," Pollak said. "I spoke to my family, I got their support, I spoke to my friends. And the individuals in the community that I've spoken to have been really enthusiastic and supportive.


"Definitely it's revolutionary, it's something that's never happened," she added candidly. "So it's a delicate situation, but absolutely people are enthusiastic."


Asked how she reacted to people who may not have been supportive of her in her own community, Pollak said: "Well, I can't speak for everyone and I'm definitely not trying to force anyone's decisions or anything. You approach it by stating the options, and if you look at all the options that we have and you can come to your conclusion on your own, given the facts and everything."


Pollak admitted that "there might have been gasps in the beginning, when the idea was floated, but definitely people warm up to it and I've gotten people approaching me on the street and just saying, 'We heard you're running and we're so supportive, we're so excited. It's actually the first time that I've ever seen people excited about municipal elections."


What sorts of misconceptions about Hasidic women was she hoping to clear up just by even running? "Well, I think just running speaks for itself," she said. "Misconceptions are on both sides, I feel, so it's not something specific that I'm setting out to do."


Pollak's win as a candidate the Projet Montréal party follows the municipal elections in Israel, in which any political attempt by haredi women failed miserably. In Jerusalem, two haredi women - Racheli Ebenbaum and Marilyn Wenig – were forced to quit the race following threats and harsh reactions in their sector. In Elad, a group of haredi women led by Michal Chernovitzky failed to make it into the local council.



פרסום ראשון: 11.05.13, 13:19
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