Friday, April 10, 2015

Growing up as a Jew in Montreal

Mike Bell

{This is a guest post and was received via email.  The opinions expressed are entirely those of the writer.  -  Editor's note.}

MontrealHearing of the experience of growing up as a Jew in Paris is disturbing. I want to share my positive experiences of growing up elsewhere, i.e., in Montreal and elsewhere in Canada - and why I think that it's different. But first let's start with the bad, which really isn't so bad, when you consider the endings.

I'll start with the one physical anti-Semitic incident I did experience, shocking because it stands out for how unusual it was.

I was in high school, and was outside a Jewish institution with a
friend. Some yobs drove by, called us Jews, got out, and sprayed
us with water pistols. It felt like it might escalate. My friend
threw some juice that he was drinking on them, and I threw a rock
at their car, with the promise of more (I must have been a lot
braver/stupider back then!). They drove off and never came back.
Just for the record, these were English-speaking "white trash" yobs
of some sort. From the look of them, I couldn't imagine that they'd
have any Middle Eastern connection whatsoever.

Although I look Jewish, I don't sound Jewish in French. This
statement will make sense to people from Montreal, but for the rest
of you, you'll just have to take it at face value. As a result, I
often hear what people really think. There is "old school"
anti-Semitism in Quebec. It's not all that rare to hear anti-Semitic
commentary when people are sure that they're talking to one of "their
own". On a couple of occasions, I've arranged for the issuer of the
comments to find out that I'm Jewish, in some subtle way. They're
inevitably embarassed and shame-faced. What I'm getting at is that
while people might say these things, they won't say (or act) upon
them openly. They know that it isn't acceptable in the broader
society. As strange as it might sound to say this, it doesn't bother
me very much that people have such views as long as they have no
desire or opportunity to act upon them.

Interestingly, I have never, EVER, had any hostile reaction to being
Jewish from an Arab or Muslim person, physical or verbal. I have
heard anti-Israel commentary from those sources (but more on that
later), but never anti-Semitism as such, or personal affront. Never.
Not once. Surprising as it might seem, I'd say that the arrival of
many Muslims in Montreal has probably lowered the overall level of
anti-Semitism, as the "yobs" have another group to focus on instead.

In other words, rather than the yobs and Arab/Muslim anti-Semites
joining forces like in France, the feeling that I get is that it's
more of a case of the Jews and the Arab/Muslims joining forces
against the yobs! A key example of this was seen when the Quebec
government tried to ban religious symbols of dress among public /
parapublic employees, French-style. An image that stays in my head is
of one demonstration where hijabis, hassids and someone waiving an
Israeli flag were all demonstrating against the common enemy of
intolerance. Whatever else the Quebec government of the day achieved,
they brought this crowd together... Incidentally, they lost the next
election in great part because of this issue, and their proposed
restrictions are history.

I think that we have a society that is generally more tolerant of
difference than Europe is, but at the same time more intolerant of
extremism. There's nothing like the Front National around here.

Let's go back to elementary school. Every so often, there would be
school-offered hot dogs, for some event or other. I remember the
teachers assuring us that they would be 100% beef, not pork, so that
"everyone" could eat them (there weren't many Hindus back then). In
retrospect, the message was subtle, and probably unintentional: we'll
meet you 1/3 of the way. You get beef, but not Halal/Kosher beef.
We'll make some adjustment for you, but not change everything. If you
want more, you're going overboard and so no free hot dog for you, I
suppose.  Looking back on it, I think that the willingness to make
some - but not total - adjustment was important. Europe seems to
be very binary in these things. Incidentally, the vast majority of
the Muslims I know today, including people who pray five times per
day, are willing to eat non-Halal beef. To this day, I think that
the sensitive thing to do is to offer "no pork" and "vegetarian"
options at any large gathering. I'm happy to make what is known as
"reasonable accommodations", and I expect the same in return. The
emphasis is on the "reasonable".

There is a short strip of stores in Montreal where can be found a
Halal butcher, a Judaica store and a storefront fundamentalist
church. Somehow, everybody goes about their business. Muslims attend
the Jewish hospital for the Kosher food. It's fairly common to find
female staff wearing a veil. Nobody - other than the previous Quebec
government - seems to really care. The parts of Quebec where people
do care are the parts with almost no immigrants! Other parts of
Canada seem similar, but with even less tension. In Toronto,
synagogues often have large JNF fundraising or Israel Bonds signs
outside. I've never seen one of them be vandalised. Moncton's
synagogue is on the corner of a street named after its former Rabbi.
I've never seen any security guards around any of these places.

I often wait for a bus outside an "extremist" mosque in Montreal.
I've yet to see anyone behaving in a yobbish way. Amusingly, there is
a Chabad centre not far away from it. I've yet to hear of them having
problems with each other. As far as I can tell, they happily ignore
each others' existence. I've heard of worse ways to fix such problems.

Flying El-Al out of Toronto is pretty much like flying with any
other airline, save that El-Al has extra personnel at the check-in
desks for questioning passengers, as they seem to do everywhere.
Amusingly, the check-in desk is just around the corner from the
Saudia one. There isn't anyone with machine guns around.

While it isn't rare to hear Arabs/Muslims criticizing Israel, I
wouldn't say that it's any more extreme than what I hear from other
people. Curiously the pushback to it often comes from a surprising
source: other Arabs, typically Christian Lebanese, some of whom
have great admiration for Israel. Indeed, I've had a couple of
experiences where I've found myself telling some that while Israel
is a much better place than the rest of the neighbourhood, it isn't
as perfect as they imagine. There's one in particular that I jokingly
refer to as the "Israeli Consul". He'd have no difficulty getting
along with Liberman, but would be a little too Zionist for Tel Aviv.
I could see Bennett telling him to tone it down. He's quite happy
to share these views in public and with Muslims around, by the way.
Needless to say, he doesn't get broad agreement, but they get along
anyway. Similarly, I've heard religious Muslims heavily criticising
the Saudi Arabians for being extremists. Obviously, I agree. One
of my most bizarre experiences has been hearing a Muslim asking me
about Israel (he knows I'm Jewish and have visited) and what it's
like there. He told me that he thinks that people's rights are
better respected in Israel than in Arab countries and was wondering
if it's true. Somehow, he figured out the truth, despite being from
North Africa. I pointed out that even the Muslim Brotherhood (viz.
the Islamic Movement) fares better in Israel than in Egypt these
days. What I've also seen, many times, is many individual Muslims
becoming less religious and less traditional over time. Veils
giving way to hats. People starting to drink alcohol. Daughters
moving in with boyfriends. In short, the same trends that happened
with much of the Jewish community over the last hundred years.

So the big question to my mind is, WHY? Why do we have fewer
"problems" here? Granted, we're not perfect (just like Israel isn't),
but it's a much better situation than Europe, and as far as I can
tell, nearly everyone wants to keep things the way that they are.
There's a minority of people who want to join ISIS, surely, but they
do not dominate the discourse and would generally be perceived as
mental defectives.

Here is my analysis:

1) We have a long history of "living together". Canada has never been
a uni-ethnic country. Nobody cares that much about the natives in
reality (who have it MUCH worse than Arabs in Israel, incidentally),
so let's leave them out of the analysis. Largely because of the risk
of the American revolution spreading north, the British had to come
to an understanding with the French population, rather than a
merciless crushing as they had done in the past. A compromise was
reached. Neither side was overjoyed, and that hasn't changed, but it
has remained livable. So there's a tradition that varies from the
"all or nothing" of places like France, which have historically
crushed minority populations (Corsica would be the most obvious
example). Bad as things are in the UK, they have more of a tradition
of dealing with such things - and immigrants also fare better.

2) We don't really mean it with multiculturalism beyond anglo and
franco. In practice, we welcome any delicious food that you bring
with you and that's pretty much where it stops. Our food was really
bad, and even a reprobate racist would agree that immigration has
improved this! We'll tolerate any funny way you want to dress or
odd things that you want to put on your head - we don't really care
either way. We'll make some reasonable accomodation for your dietary
restrictions, much as we do for those with allergies. You're of
course welcome to pray in the non-denominational chapel, like
everyone else. But move beyond this, and you hit a bit of a brick

3) We DO mean it with multi-"ethnicism", multi-"religionism" or
multi-"racism" - terms that I just made up. By and large, if you
want to be like us, we don't really care what you look like or to
what God you like to pray. We'll even vote you into office. And not
just in left-wing socialist parties. The right-wingers will happily
have you too. They've got room for anyone who agrees with them. Unlike
the left-wingers, they tend to really mean it, too. It's downright
heartwarming to see, sometimes.

4) There's pressure to conform for economic reasons. You want to make
a big show of praying five times per day (Muslims) or of minimising
contact with the opposite sex to a bare minimum (ultra-Orthodox Jews)?
Sure, but don't expect that most jobs will be open to you (in
reality). You'll suffer economically. And you'll know the reason. So
will your kids, who may choose not to do the same.

5) We select immigrants. We've taken in a fairly reasonable number
over the years, but it's actually fairly difficult to be selected,
and if you don't have a reasonable education and work experience
or some business know-how, you probably don't have a chance. Chances
are that you were at least middle class in your society of origin.
And you know what? Middle class people have a fair bit in common
worldwide. That's the big open secret of successful immigration.

Geographically, we're fairly hard to get to, and airlines are fined
for inadmissible passengers. In short, that means that even if you're
a refugee, that you probably at least qualified for a visitor or
student visa at some point. There are exceptions, but they're not the
norm. And the norm is what's important - not the occasional exceptions.

Europe, on the other hand, seems to have immigration mostly from the
lower classes. It's politically incorrect to say it, but I think that
it's a HUGE part of the problem.

6) There is repression, and it's sometimes necessary. It's sad to
say, but for some people, nothing else works. You really think that
beating your daughter is the way to make her behave? Some people
try it.  Some even get away with it. But we're not going to care
less because the victim is "ethnic". A couple of trips to jail, and
you'll either lose your taste for it, or leave the country. You
think beating random Jews (or Muslims, or whoever) up is fun? The
police will come down on you like a tonne of bricks. You're better
off picking fights in bars, which may well get ignored. You want
to develop a taste of the Islamic State? The Harper government isn't
going to find it funny. Expect to have problems.

7) Finally, and specifically on the anti-Semitism issue, I think
that there's a huge unspoken factor. Anti-Semitism just isn't very
popular in the "host" society. If you go around spouting hatred
against Jews, you're going to hear about it. From your friends. From
your colleagues. You'll be a liability. Soon, you'll shut up, out of
your own self-interest. You might even start thinking differently
some day, when you discover that Jews will generally be nice and
helpful to you. But in the mean-time, it will be those of your
countrymen (or co-religionists) who feel otherwise who speak the
loudest. And, like most people, you'll likely go with the flow. And
the flow isn't to be an anti-Semite - if nothing else, it'll make you
re-evaluate your views when you meet your first Jews. You'll turn
instead to making fun of the American government, the Harper
government, or the Quebec government instead. There's lots of
material to work with, and it gets a better reception.

I'm afraid that what has happened in places like France is that
Arab/Muslim immigrants have integrated just TOO well. The underlying
"flow" of the society has anti-Semitism, and it has mixed in with
Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism to continue or become extremism. In Canada,
I've often found that immigrants are the most loyal of Canadians,
the ones who will most vehemently defend the prevailing norms of
society. Maybe the same is true elsewhere - and that's a scary
thought. If their first contact with old-stock French people confirms
their anti-Semitism, the worst can be expected, because Arab/Muslim
societies aren't in a good place to start with with respect to Jews.

(As an aside, for all its problems, I think that Israel is closer
to Canada in dealing with minorities than it is to Europe. It has
had much recent and successful experience with immigration. It's
easy to point to Ethiopians and show that they're relatively
disadvantaged. But look how far they've come in a short time. Give
it another generation... Israelis are quite loud (even obnoxious!)
about what they think, and so the problems that do exist are more
apparent. Integrating the Arab minority to the broader society has
been much less successful, and the reasons are obvious, BUT I think
that this is changing. A few years ago, I was speaking with an
Israeli Arab (in Toronto) who had left about 40 years before. It
was an eye-opening experience in terms of the progress that has
happened since. Educational achievement among Arabs in Israel is
improving rapidly. There is greater economic integration. Israeli
Arabs have a better opinion of Jews than most Arabs elsewhere [1],
which says a lot. I think that in fact, the situation of Arabs in
Israel may be better than the situation of Arabs in Europe.  At the
same time, I wouldn't give Israel all the credit. I think the fact
that a cross-section of Arab society remained after 1948, surely
has a lot to do with it.)

[1] Poll: 90% of ME views Jews unfavorably - But Pew poll finds only
35% of Israeli Arabs express bad opinion of Jews.


  1. I think the point made about underlying social currents and 'flows' really is the key. It's not cool to be an open antisemite in Canada or the US. At least in the more metropolitan areas.

    European nations can officially suppress the Jew-hatred disease underlying their societies, but that at best only pushes the sentiment somewhat underground, and at worst grants antisemites a sort of power, and their groups a sort of attraction to certain sorts, in the form of their being 'forbidden' and anti-establishment and whatnot.

    I don't know enough about Australia, personally, to say for sure, but I get the impression from our friends Down Under that the situation there is more along the US and Canadian lines, than the European.

    Excellent points all around.

  2. I think it's really interesting what you say about Canada being 'multi- ethnic',
    ' multi- racial', and 'multi-religious', but not being ' multi- cultural'. (Beyond being Anglo/ Franco.)

    Clearly, the hugely difficult situation of the indigenous, native people is very disturbing and concerning.

    That, in effect, the Canadian system seems to have placed a value on its own host culture, and believes that all people entering the country can enrich that. That it expects- and gets - loyalty from people who come to make their lives there. And it expects all people to be treated equally under the laws of the land. Regardless of background.
    I would imagine that a different immigration system, one that is highly selective, has, as you say, made a difference. It would be interesting to try and determine exactly why that might be.

    It is considered incredibly politically incorrect to even discuss those ideas in Europe. Here in the UK, it's deemed 'racist' to even raise those issues. Which has led to any debate on the subject being shut down over a long period. Consequently, that has led to some people ( including UKIP supporters, but not exclusively ) feeling that they have not been allowed to voice any concerns. Shutting down debate has not been helpful. Neither has assuming that anyone with concerns must be a bigot. Or a racist, Or xenophobic. It has also led to a complete refusal to confront the occasional failures of a multi- cultural ideal.

    Canada has such a different history on the world stage compared to parts of Europe. And, of course, America. I would imagine that plays a big part in the difference in attitudes.
    Western Europe, for a whole lot of reasons, has lost the ability to have confidence in its own culture. Also, certainly here in Britain, there is a very powerful ( mostly driven by the progressive left) feeling that British culture is innately and terribly, bad , and guilty , and that it is only redeemable by altering it as much as possible. By trying to erase as much as possible of the traditional culture. That past sins must never be forgotten. Or forgiven.
    This has led to a campaign to 'talk down' all aspects of what you might call the 'host' culture. And to treat it with derision and a kind of contempt. It is considered a bad thing for people to be 'proud' to be British. And even worse, to be 'proud' to be English.
    At least, the prevailing culture tells people so. However, a lot of perfectly reasonable, ordinary, people do not appreciate being told what they are supposed to think and feel by a rather arrogant elite.
    Some of the effects of this are now evident in our political and cultural landscape. And it has created a great deal of distrust and lack of connection between much of the political ( and media) class, and wider society.

    Obviously, Europe's history with anti- Semitism is enormously difficult. And seemingly impossible to resolve. Perhaps, post the Holocaust, even more so than before. Many people have written eloquently on that subject.
    In Europe, the difficulties facing its Jewish population are not going to get easier.

    Really interesting to hear from you.

  3. "Yobs"?

    I have lived in NY, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and California, and in none of those places did we use the term "yob."

    What the heck is a yob?

    I have to say, though, I honestly feel honored that I get people from all over the world dropping by this joint. Mr. Bell is from Montreal and I had no familiarity with this gentleman until he contacted me with this piece.

    Montreal is one of those towns where I simply like the idea of the place, if that makes sense. San Francisco was one of those towns, too, before I actually moved there. Don't get me wrong, I still love SF, but it's not exacly an abstraction. Boston is kind-of like that too, as is New Orleans. But Boston I am familiar with and New Orleans I have been to. Montreal, however, is a mystery with probably the best food in all of Canada.

    As for this piece, having read it over a few times, I am more and more pleased with it, because it is hopeful.

    What Bell is saying - among other things - is that Jews and Muslims tend to get along quite nicely in Canada and, for the most part, as I can attest, this is true in the US, as well.

    We both agree, I think, that Europe is the problem... not to mention the small matter of the Muslim Middle East.

    1. Mike,
      "yob" and " yobbo" are very British terms. Some people suggest the word "yob" is derived from back- slang - it's"boy" backwards. Haven't got a decent dictionary to hand, so can't confirm that. It's a very common word on this side of the pond.

    2. I think that that might be where I got it from.

    3. Mike B,

      You're lucky, you get to do slang in two languages. My best friend when I was at secondary school had spent some years at the Lycée in London and was bilingual at the age of ten. Something of a rarity in this country. We're hopeless over here; too used to the rest of the world speaking English.

    4. Youze guys have a reasonable excuse for being uni-(your own created)-lingual, though. Like, say, defendin' it from us hoagie-mouths awn de udder side'a da wooder, and those like us all around the world, who sometimes do rather bad things to it. ;)

    5. Jay,

      I hadn't thought of it that way. But now that you have brought it up...

      Ever since that whole nonsense with the Boston Tea Party etc., you have taken it upon yourselves to mangle the "King's - or Queen's - English".

      Having said that. With the dominance of American popular culture, many of my fellow countrymen now pronounce "schedule" with a hard 'c'.

      And other such travesties. ;)

  4. Bell dropping in :-).

    Thanks to all for the nice comments!

    JayinPhiladelphia: Throughout Canada, antisemitism is "not cool", but
    I think that in English Canada, it's not even that much of a hidden
    thought. From most that I come across, it gets a similar reaction to
    Zoroastrianism or Buddhism. Not much, in other words. In the
    difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada, however, I can get
    an idea of what the problem is in Europe. The moderating effect of
    the RoC (Rest of Canada) on Quebec calms things a lot, in general.

    k: I really do think that most people see things as I've said it.
    The current government has de facto cut back immigration a lot,
    without talking much about it, probably precisely because they want
    to avoid all the accusations that go with that kind of action. That
    being said, integration did seem to happen even at much higher
    immigration levels. Toronto in the late 1990s was full of new
    arrivals who barely spoke any English. The worst I can say is that
    littering went up (temporarily). The vast majority of the people from
    that time have joined the mainstream. It's completely common to find
    people with nice houses in the suburbs who arrived with nothing 15-20
    years before.

    Mike L: "Yobs" - I've lived elsewhere, where I may have picked up
    that term. An "ars" if you want to use the Israeli term. Montreal
    *is* a nice idea, though we locals can be a bit inconsiderate to
    strangers, at times, so if you visit, don't freak out if you find
    that people have a bit of a shell. For the nicest people, try
    Atlantic Canada - it's a different level there. But yes, people in
    Montreal - and Canada in general - do get along for the most part.
    One thing I forgot to add is that I've seen immigrants getting along
    who wouldn't have in their original context, across religious or
    ethnic lines. "Back home, we'd have been shooting at each other"
    is a comment I've heard. Some people seem to be able to operate
    with both contexts, i.e., one for here, and one for "back home",
    and change the module at the airport. "All that stuff is BS" is
    another fairly common one. Couples form across these lines, as well.

    Another interesting thing is that Quebec culture (in the Montreal
    area, not so much elsewhere) has changed quite a lot itself over
    the last 30 or so years. It used to be a culture that had quite a
    bit of difficulty in integrating the different, at least if they
    weren't Catholic (a surprising number of unilingual French-speaking
    Quebeckers have Irish Catholic origins and became French-speakers
    over the generations, as religion was more important than language
    back then).

    [rest in the next comment]

  5. This originally caused most immigrants to lean towards the
    English-speaking community, which was more welcoming. Needless to
    say, this created a demographic problem. Attempts were made to force
    a solution by requiring that immigrant children go to French-language
    schools. It goes without saying that this didn't go over too well
    at first, though it has now been accepted as the "way things are".
    What it DID result in is French-speaking Quebeckers being more
    inclusive than they used to be, having indirectly forced themselves
    to be. In other words, French-speaking Quebeckers changed their own
    culture, focussing it on the core (language, social values) and
    dropping less relevant parts (religion) in order to become more
    inclusive. You can low look Chinese and act, sound and BE a
    French-speaking Quebecker. The extent to which this was planned or
    simply happened, I don't know, but it did happen and is continuing
    to happen, very visibly.

    To an extent, I think that what Quebec is succeeding in, albeit
    with roadbumps along the way, is the transition from a tribe to a
    nation state (ignore that it's a province of Canada - for most
    practical purposes, it has more in common with a nation state than
    a sub-unit). The last gasp of the "old" style was the previous
    government's attempt to ban religious wear for public employees,
    and it failed miserably. But I'm equally sure that any future
    government that attempts to diminish the status of French within
    the province will also take an electoral beating. The unwritten
    understanding has become roughly the same as in English Canada:
    "join us". The safety valve to those who want to join "English"
    Canada instead is that they simply leave for other provinces. Without
    this outlet, it's possible that the situation would be more

    Throughout, the interesting thing has been to see TWO cultures
    co-existing in the same city, one which has always been more willing
    to integrate newcomers (and indeed, views them as a positive
    demographic addition) and the other which wasn't, but has changed.
    It gives a unique perspective on the immigrant integration problems
    of Europe, which I think are a mix of host-culture and immigrant
    culture problems. Neither is exclusively to blame, in my view.

    Other tidbits: I've heard Europeans visiting Montreal express
    amazement at the level of integration and economic success of
    immigrants. Again, if you choose the cream of the society of origin,
    this is what happens. And despite occasional appearances, this is
    largely what we do. A more dynamic economy that isn't as difficult
    to "break into" for newcomers is surely a factor as well.

  6. Greatly appreciate you dropping by, Mike. Thanks for the view from your part of the world, and feel free to stick around as you can.

    I would not object if you were also to bring some karnatzel!

    I hold a rather controversial sentiment in my part of the world, but I also maintain that Montreal-style bagels are the best in the world.

    1. Oh, I see.

      That's how it is, is it?

      Montreal-style bagels.

      I'll tell you one thing. I never had a Montreal bagel until fairly recently, after Beauty's Bagels opened up in Oakland.

      And, I gotta tell ya... that's a damn good bagel.

    2. I was able to try my first of that style at Kenny & Zuke's in Portland, in 2008.

      Spread here in Philly is my current dealer, and is currently, imo, the best bagel in Philly right now.

      Sometimes I'll admit the mood strikes for a NY-style bagel, for which I'm glad I have family up in North Jersey (nothing around here on that count comes close, sadly)... but for the most part, Montreal is my default.

      It all comes down to personal tastes, of course!

    3. Alright, so you're just looking for trouble, is that it?


      You're like some sort-of Montreal-style Bagel Supremacist!

      Well, I remain a devotee of the New York-style bagel.

      My whole family was practically raised on the New York-style bagel, dammit, and here you come with your Montreal-style bagel heresies!

      We have a place called Old Brooklyn Bagels & Deli in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood and, I have to say, they make the kind of bagel closest to what I knew as a kid growing up in New York and Connecticut.

      This is no Noah's bagel. (Ptewey!) This is no shabby excuse for a hard roll with a hole in it.

      No way, man.

      Oh, and btw, you should know that this myth about the water making the difference in NY bagels has been refuted by the recent May - June issue of Cook's Illustrated. I kid you not. Chris Kimball and his gang of culinary degenerates are holed up just outside of Boston, but they made bagels. They made bagels with local Massachusetts water and they made bagels with water shipped in directly from NYC and they found no difference in product and virtually no difference from the chemical tests that they had scientists run.

      And what this means is that I have been raised on a lie!

      You CAN get good NY-style bagels outside of New York, but they are only just now learning how to make them elsewhere, like in Boston, Philadelphia, and Oakland, California.

      Who knew?

    4. A friend told me a story the other day. He was in the Shoprite over on Aramingo looking for lox. Asked the fish guy where it was, he told him to go to the deli. Got to the deli and asked the kid behind the counter for lox, and the kid said "what, you mean like for a door?"

      What's this world coming to anymore, Mike?

      I grew up on the NY-style bagels, too. They make 'em very good in North Jersey, as well. Any place with a neon sign saying "hot bagels" is a solid bet for a great breakfast.

      But they're not Montreal-style bagels!

      The wooder thing may not be true, but something else does have to explain it. And I say this as a Montreal partisan! It's not like your average skilled baker in, say, Omaha, is any less a baker than some guy in Hackensack or Queens. It's not like he can't figure out a recipe for a very specific thing. But damnit if ten times out of ten, the guy in Lodi or Corona is gonna nail it over the guy in Topeka, every time.

      It may not be the wooder, but there's gotta be something deeper than just geography, right?

      Perhaps it's some mystical thing we should stop trying to understand!

      South Street Bagels here in Philly has been making solid NY-style bagels for almost 20 years. I've been eating them for 15. Up until 18 months or so ago (when Spread really got going), they were still the only passable bagels in town.

      Since then, many places, some old but mostly new, have stepped their games up, all along the spectrum.

      It's a very good time for bagels right now, no matter which style one prefers!

    5. Two things about bagels we should agree upon:

      1) Cheese-flavored / cheese-topped bagels are just wrong.

      2) Sesame or poppy are the way to go. "Everything" is also acceptable.

      Bonus point) Bialy is actually FAR better than either Montreal or New York bagels, but that's a whole 'nother issue altogether!

    6. I would argue that there are varying degrees of bagel infidelity.

      {None of which, sadly, result in death to apostates.}

    7. Oh, for crying out loud.

      Jay, so now you insist upon dragging this blog into the age-old bagel versus bialy debate?

      I am on to you, dude.

      You're just a friggin' trouble maker... just like that guy from Portland, OR, who used to piss people off at Daily Kos!

    8. I was only able to hide my true self for so long!

  7. And in this country, we argue about the 'correct' way to eat a scone.

    It can get very nasty:

    1. The same week he ate a ketchup-topped hot dog with a fork and a knife? Rather impressive. The man clearly has no fear!

    2. "Dr Eugenia Cheng, of Sheffield University, concluded that the best weight ratio is 2:1:1, which means an average scone, weighing 70g, requires 35g of jam and 35g of cream"

      I know nothing about scones, but this sounds right to me. It's science!

      My initial feeling would be to do it the Devon way. Cream first, jam on top. It's always nice to know where I should run for office if I somehow ever end up in the UK. ;)

  8. I'm impressed by your kaleidoscopic knowledge of the profoundly serious issues being covered in our general election campaign.

    On further food related political moments:

    1. That photo is a classic. Gets better every time I see it!

      I had to look up what the British bacon sandwich was the other day. I think that's one food item where youze actually manage to outflank American over-indulgence.

      I always joke that my mastery of street food would net me at least five points, if I were to ever run for office.

      My campaign kick-off event would be a Combo (fish cake and hot sausage on a Liscio's hoagie roll, with mustard and pepper hash - it's an old school Philly thing!) Eating Contest / fundraiser at Johnny's Hots on Delaware Ave in Fishtown. I'd also be seen doing 3 AM cheesesteaks at Philip's on Passyunk, Texas Wieners down Snyder, Puerto Rican soul food at Porky's Point, lamb & rice carts, food trucks at The Porch @ 30th Street Station, etc.

      Horrible for the arteries, but great for the poll numbers!

      Former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who also served two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania, chaired the 2000 DNC and played a large role in bringing the 2016 DNC here to Philly, would have pounded down two of those bacon sandwiches at the same time, while chugging a beer and analyzing an Eagles game. There was a guy who knew how to play the "eat like the people (allegedly do)" game! Might have even had a tiny little bit to do with his political success...

    2. (and here's hoping your election doesn't turn on scones or bacon sandwiches, of course...)

  9. Horrible for the arteries, but great for the poll numbers!


    I have had to look up some of those Philly delicacies. It seems like you have good street food in your neck of the woods.


    Your ( ex) Mayor Rendell sounds amazing.
    He might have been ' playing the game', but at least he could carry it off with aplomb. And a real sense of authenticity. Definitely a vote winner!

    Highly debatable as to whether any of our politicians could manage to eat a sandwich and drink a beer at the same time; even at home in private.'s hoping your election doesn't turn on scones or bacon sandwiches...

    Here's hoping.

    1. Even Republicans would "want to have a beer with" Rendell, as the saying goes around here.

      Back in 2004, when he was running for president, John Kerry disastrously tried to order a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese (!) during a visit to Pat's.

      If you're doing the Pat's thing, you should order it "whiz wit," as even ten seconds of internet research can tell you. Even though any self-respecting Philadelphian eats their steaks with American or provolone, and says "fried onions" (even though we technically mean "sauteed onions") rather than "wit" - we *do* speak proper English sometimes!.

      These kinds of things are never forgotten, for better or worse.

      The food thing should never decide an election, but it's always telling when it comes about. George H.W. Bush ordering "a splash of coffee" at a truck stop, Kerry asking for Swiss cheese, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio eating a slice of pizza on Staten Island with a fork, Peter Mandelson asking for the 'guacamole,' etc etc...

  10. I think the Peter Mandelson/ guacamole story turned out to be made up. Sadly! Think there's a link somewhere to a 2009 BBC blog by Michael Crick which explains that.
    It's such a great story, though, it ought to be true.

    I didn't know about the de Blasio / pizza slice with a fork story. That's brilliant.

    One thing you have to hand to Bill Clinton; he knew how to eat in public!

    1. Ah, that's sad to hear. I wanted that to be true, too! It's such a great story, indeed.


      Ed Rendell would take him down in two bites, and wash him down with a Lager, while talking about Chip Kelly's offense.

      Yeah, Bill definitely knew how to jog for twelve blocks and then pound down a Big Mac!

    2. Ah ha! That's who Ed Miliband looks like!

      This was bothering me for months. Just figured it out.

      He's a dead ringer for a Piano Man-era Billy Joel, isn't he?

    3. Just checked out some Billy Joel, when younger, pictures. Yes, you're right! There is a definite resemblance. Maybe Ed could capitalise on that.

      Memo to David Axelrod...

      There's a certain amount of schadenfreude in John Kerry ( diplomat extraordinaire) screwing up ordering a cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Signs of things to come.

    4. And here's a song that wasn't, but easily could be, dedicated to Ol' Horseface.

    5. Randall,

      Thanks for that.


      All John Kerry jokes very welcome.

    6. I prefer Jim Kunstler's loving nickname for Mr. Kerry. "The Haircut in Search of a Brain."

      One positive thing I can say about him is that he has very nice hair. :)

    7. (because I always try to be respectful and say nice things!)

  11. For the record, my favourite Montreal bagel is St-Viateur. I also like Fairmount.

    An amusing Montreal moment happens when buying Israeli junk food (my favourite) in "Hassidic" stores in that part of Montreal. The (usually) non-Jewish immigrant clerks often wonder who this strange non-Hassid guy (me) is doing in there!

    Of note is that in those stores it's fairly common to hear children speaking Yiddish. It's not the majority, but it's nonetheless common.

    1. Mike B,

      I'm fascinated. What is Israeli junk food? And why is it so good? ( Excuse, my ignorance.)

      Lovely story of shopping in Montreal ' Hassidic' stores. It sounds great.
      Probably need security over here.

      I'm always relieved to find my local big chain supermarket ( small town, non urban metropolis) is still happy to stock matzo. And no picketing BDS types around, so far.