Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ste. Agathe, Canada - Hasidic Couple Invites Town to Wedding

Ste. Agathe, Canada - After a week of bad publicity over anti-Semitism in this Laurentian resort town, a Hasidic couple is getting married here next week in an outdoor ceremony, and the whole town is invited.
Not only that: The local council is providing the wedding location (an arts centre by the lake that is normally used for exhibits and concerts); The bride is printing up a manual for non-Jews to understand the ritual; And two rabbis - one Canadian, one American - will officiate what is being billed as a bridge-building event between cultures.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to get more openness on everybody’s part,” the bride, Hana Sellem, 26, said. “From every community, everyone can learn something from it, and I’m sure they’re going to enjoy it.”
The news comes as Ste. Agathe weathers some negative fallout from an incident, when a young Montreal Jew was attacked by a gang of youths while walking his father to synagogue down the town’s main street.The man, 23-year-old Mendy Haouzi, was cut in the face by a teenage assailant who slapped and punched him before running off with his friends. Police are investigating.
But now more than 200 people, including Ste. Agathe’s town councillors and officials are all expected to attend the wedding at Place Lagny, a downtown park and cultural centre that looks on to Lac des Sables.
“When Hana approached us with the idea, we were enchanted,” said the town’s deputy manager, Benoît Fugère, who will attend the ceremony with the town’s deputy mayor and other town officials.
“The relationship we’ve had with the town has always been a very good one - that’s why the news about (the Haouzi incident) was very disturbing, because it taints the picture,” said Emanuel Carlebach, of the House of Israel Congregation, who’ll be marrying the couple.
Carlebach knows the bride well. She works for his wife, Chana, helping her run a local Jewish girls’ teaching seminary called Beis Moshe Chaim, which caters to the region’s Chabad-Lubavitch community.The two women met several years ago at CEGEP Marie-Victorin in Montreal, where Chana Carlebach began the school and where Sellem was getting a diploma in religious studies.
An immigrant from France who’d grown up in Paris, Sellem came here after high school to pursue her studies. With her CEGEP diploma, she moved to Ste. Agathe seven years ago to teach at Carlebach’s school and now is its vice-principal. She also has two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s, and is doing a doctorate.
Her fiancé is an American she met through a matchmaker a few months ago in Florida. Moshe Barouk, 27, works for the Aleph Institute, a Lubavitch non-profit organization that supports Jewish inmates in U.S. prisons as well as Jewish soldiers in the U.S. military.
“I went to Florida to a friend’s wedding and he was her cousin,” Sellem recalled. “We were introduced, we hit it off and we dated for a few months. We only had one date down there. After that, he kept coming up here to see me all the time, and then we got engaged.
“I’ve been here many years and I’m friendly with many non-Jews, and my dream was to get married in Ste. Agathe by the lake with all my friends, Jews and non-Jews,” the bride said.“So I went to the town and asked them if I could they could lend me their building for the wedding. They told me it was for cultural events, not private, but I told them I wanted to make my wedding into a cultural event, and they liked the idea.”
To keep out any troublemakers, two private security guards have been hired for the event, and they’ll be in contact with Ste. Agathe police. The Sûreté du Québec also has been notified.
As long as they bring an open mind, everyone is invited, the bride said. “Well,” she added with a laugh, “maybe not for the reception, because that’s with food, and I’m not going to have enough for everybody!”

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