I emailed both Stephane and Hicham, Myriam’s husband and brother with some level of fear of how would they feel about my idea. I have known Stephane since he was a little boy, he is our godson and we are Sephardic Jews in Montreal. Well, I am by conversion, as my name obviously gives me away, my origins, some of them, are Basque. I am usually asked why did I convert. As a Chilean born, I came to Canada at age 21 and when I started my family with a Moroccan Jewish born Montrealer, I decided that in a land filled of labels and ethnic divisions, I would fare best by joining a community. The local Sephardic Jewish community was a warm heaven of kindness, friendship and overall joyful group of people who really supported each other. I was given all a young bride needs when my own family did not. I was embraced, my children cared for and it has always been a loving source where to grown from. Stephane and Myriam were just like my children, a mixture of foreign and local, although they would have not self-identified as such, perceptions labeled them as Moroccan Jew and Moroccan Arab. The funny thing is that a Moroccan Jew is also a Jewish Arab. What attracted me the most about Sephardic Jews is that Arab color. Their festivities are filled with oriental flavors. The food, the music, the culture was one where modern divisions cease to exist. I have witness how through the years, the offspring of this community have attached themselves to traditions that are not in line with their origins. Younger Sephardic have become more religious and the religiosity they have chosen in a way has also become more fundamentalist as that of younger arabs or muslim which I recognize are not the same, there are Arabs who are not Muslims and Muslims that are not Arabs. Commonly mislabeled, attachment to Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created a strange taking of sides. People usually assume that all jews are pro Israel and all arabs are pro-palestinian. I also witness how local politics have become pro-Palestinian even when this association is in conflict with local politics. One would imagine that if you sympathize with Palestinians you would also sympathize with First Nations issues. One would imagine that if you identify with Israelis you would also adhere to Quebec’s desire for a nation. Not necessary so. All in all, my understanding is that labels in this issue tend to be shifting and confusing. Inspired by my friend Philip Deering, a Mohawk renegade, I appreciate his Appreciative Inquiry in problem solving: instead of focusing in what does not work, focus in what does work. Myriam and Stephane do work. Instead of focusing of what you don’t want, focus in what you want more of. I want more of Stephane and Myriam, more of love rather than more of hate. When Philip says, tell me the stories of the best situations of what you want more of, I can only thing of Myriam’s story. I believe that by inviting local Arabs and Jews to collaborate in the making of a dress for Myriam, the focus shifts to positive experiences. You see, when Myriam died, I wonder, how would this be dealt with? Perhaps I was projecting on my own death. How will I be mourned? I am a convert jew, my children although jewish by birth, are a hybrid of several cultures. I have always maintained the multi ethnic character of who they are. Their name is a link of both my husband and my origins. Both their origins are simple connected by a little - so they are aware of their Chilean roots as much as their Sephardic ones, plus their own experience of being Canadian. Myriam’s funeral was reassuring for it was filled with mutual respect of multiculturalism. I will never forget Rabbi Lerner calling Mohamed, Ali ad Hicham to the xxxx during the synagogue service, nor will I ever forget Myriam’s mother’s incredible dignity when she sat at Paperman’s funeral home, next to Myriam’s coffin dressed in an immaculate white traditional “jellabah”.
My interview with Stephane and Hicham was an extension of that class and dignity. When asked “what was one good jewish ‘thing’ Myriam brought to your life, Hicham answered: “Stephane.” Stephane provided me with this family we had never been or had. Their daughter Aaliyah was the symbol of that.” When asked about a good Jewish value she brought, he answered: “a community feel, we can rely on each other”. Shiva profoundly moved Hicham, this is the Jewish week of mourning where family and friends accompany the mourners for an entire week, with food, shared meals and prayer. “I was given support from a community I never had.” When asked about one good Arab value he answered: “Myriam was pure, innocent and wholesome, she was well taken care of. Purity, as in innocence undamaged.” Both Stephane and Hicham welcome the possibility of a Condolence Ceremony. Hicham expressed his desire of “moving forward, bring peace to us and an understanding of who she was.”
My desire, besides rendering a fitted testimony of who Myriam was, the love that unites us in all our difference, is to learn the ways of this land. Condolence Ceremony is the way of this land to end the grief. As an artist, my intension is also to visualize an end of the grief between Arabs and Jews that disrupts the peace in our local community.