Monday, April 30, 2012

Montreal’s Kosher Bootleggers 

A few years ago, on a visit to Montreal, a friend invited me for Shabbat dinner. "Bring wine," he said.

In Montreal, all wine must be sold in Société des Alcools de Quebec-owned stores, but the nearest SAQ shop had only one shelf of kosher wine, and only two types of wine on it: Kedem Red or Kedem Chablis. I phoned my friend and got the address of a kosher supermarket, hoping that it would have something a little less Kedemy.

An elderly Hasidic man working the register told me that the supermarket didn't carry wine. "Did you try the SAQ?" he asked. I walked up the grocery aisle in search of a different dinner gift, maybe a babka or box of cookies, when someone whispered me over. One of the bag boys, a pimply teenager in a yarmulke, was standing in the shadow of a towering wall of matzo meal products.

"Look," he said. "There's a place you can go." He handed me a card with an address and phone number and stepped back into the darkness.
The address belonged to a small synagogue in the middle of a quiet, residential block. I called the number on the card, and a Hasidic man walked out from a side-entrance to greet me.

"You Jewish?" he asked.

I nodded solemnly.


He led me into the side entrance, through several doors and hallways, and down into a basement filled with empty wooden wine crates. I waited for a few minutes until a different man brought me through one last door, into a small room crowded with Hasidic men. Lining the wall was the single best selection of kosher wine I'd ever seen. "Can I make a recommendation?" the shop-keep asked and held out a nice-looking Cabernet.

A year later, the organized-crime unit of the Quebec Police Department raided a different synagogue in Montreal, Congregation Toldos Yakov Yosef Skver, and confiscated 900 liters of bootlegged kosher wine. The synagogue paid a $20,000 fine to avoid going to court.

The Hasidic community is located in Outrémont, a beautiful neighborhood with tree-lined streets and well-preserved 19th-century architecture. It was originally a predominantly francophone neighborhood and remains one of Montreal's most well-heeled areas. I phoned Congregation Toldos Yakov Yosef Skver a few months after the bust. A woman who spoke only Yiddish answered and passed me on to two more Yiddish speakers before I finally connected with a man who told me, in heavily accented English, that his name was Shmuel Weiss.

"I wanted to know about your synagogue bootlegging kosher wine into Montreal and selling it from the basement illegally," I asked him. "Would you be willing to talk about that?"

Amazingly, Shmuel said yes. Why were they selling the wine? For money for the synagogue. Where did they get the wine? Ontario. How did they get caught? This woman named Céline Forget. She causes many problems for us. Are there synagogues in Montreal still doing this? Yes. Meet me here, at the shul, on Friday morning and I'll show you.

Weiss also promised that he would tell me how the Hasidic community was smuggling the wine in, and even introduce me to the people in charge of the operation. I bought a train ticket, set to arrive first thing Friday morning.

Before leaving for Montreal, I obtained Céline Forget's email address and asked her if she could meet while I was in Montreal to discuss the illegal alcohol and her part in the police raid.

"This subject is very simple," she wrote back. "I can answer you by email: First: Everyone in Québec who wants to import alcohol from outside the province has to register at the SAQ (Société des Alcool du Québec). Second: Everyone who sells alcohol needs a permit. Otherwise, you do illegal business. And that's why the Hasidim were accused and had to pay the infraction amount."

I got off the train on Friday morning and went straight to Congregation Toldos Yakov Yosef Skver, but when I showed up at the synagogue, Weiss was nowhere to be found. Two Hasidic men walked past me. "Do either of you know Shmuel Weiss?" I asked. They looked at each other, discussed something in Yiddish, and shook their heads. "What do you want with him?" one of them asked.

"He said he could help me find kosher wine," I said. "In a shul."

They consulted again in Yiddish before shaking their heads. "We don't know anything about that," they said, and turned toward the sanctuary.


Basically one person controls this congregation toldos yakov yosef.He and his family are controlling the activities , control the finances , demolish properties , transfer funds in many differant accounts, sign mortgages,control salaries,etc.etc.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog