About Abigail Hirsch

I am a film producer and CEO of AskAbigail Productions. Currently working on a documentary film/musical theatre production about the life and times of Moshe Kraus, a musical child prodigy and a legendary cantor/hazzan/Jewish prayer leader whose life spans the history of Jews in the twentieth century.

Heroes: Then and Now

In general, each of the Five Books of Moses and all the weekly Torah portions read in the synagogue are named after the first significant word of the book. For example, Shemot (Names in English) is the first important word in the first sentence of the Book of Exodus.

“These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt. (Exodus CH 1:V 1) Eleh Shemot bnai Yisrael…

Despite this simple explanation, many have sought to interpret the significance of the specific appellation. Rabbi Shipell of Lockdown Univerity shared this one recently.*1

Some in the Book of Exodus are named, but many more are referred to anonymously.

A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son.” (Exodus ch 2 v 1-2)

Although many are referred to anonymously, their mission is no less significant. If they had not each performed their specific tasks, as our Passover Haggadah text states, “we, and our children, and our children’s children would still be slaves in Egypt.”

Among the first persons named explicitly in the text are the Egyptian midwives to the Hebrews, Shifra and Puah. These two women’s acts may be the world’s first recorded historical narrative of civil disobedience.

Now the king of Egypt spoke to the Egyptian midwives, one who was named Shifrah, and the second, who was named Puah. And he said, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall put him to death, but if it is a daughter, she may live.” (Exodus 1:17-21)

But the midwives did not follow the Pharoh’s demands.

The midwives, however, feared God, so they did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them, but they enabled the boys to live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said, “Why have you done this thing that you have enabled the boys to live?”

Another character who disobeyed the Pharoh’s immoral decrees was the Pharoh’s daughter.

Pharaoh and the Midwives

Pharaoh and the Midwives, James Tissot c. 1900

Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe in the Nile, and her maidens were walking along the Nile, and she saw the basket in the midst of the marsh, and she sent her maidservant, and she took it. She opened it, and she saw him, the child, and behold, he was a weeping lad, and she had compassion on him, and she said, “This is one of the children of the Hebrews.” (Exodus Ch 2 v 5-6)

This is the origin story of how Moses was saved from death and named and adopted by the Egyptian princess. Interestingly, Phaproh’s daughter is not named here, but she is the one who called the baby Moses, and this is the name by which he is known to this day!

She named him Moses, and she said, “For I drew him from the water” (min hamayim mishitihu). (Exodus Ch 2 v 10)

Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses in the Nile (1886 painting by Edwin Long)

Modern Day Heros

It is now seventy-eight years since the defeat of the Nazis in WWll, and every day I learn about many hitherto anonymous people who were so significant to achieving that victory, some of them Jewish, many of them not. 

One of these liberators I recently learned about is the remarkable Portuguese-born double agent Juan Pujol García, who single-handedly decided in the early 1930s that Hitler had to be defeated. He managed to avoid conscription to Franco’s fascist army but was determined to pursue his goal of defeating Hitler and his forces. So he decided to pass himself off as a devoted Nazi in Spain. He began to send reports to Germany based on available information. He was so convincing that the Nazis enlisted him to go to Britain to enlist other double agents. Once in England, he ingeniously created a fictitious non-existent network of English double agents complete with code names and reports throughout the war. The English decoders of Nazi communications discovered what he was doing and then enlisted him formally to work for the Engish spy network, MI-6.

As MI-6 called him, Agent Garbo succeeded in deceiving the German high command several times in the allies’ favour. With the covert help of MI-6, he created a field of realistic-looking, blown-up balloon tanks and rows of planes set to go, which were photographed and sent to the German High Command. With these pictures, Agent Garbo convinced the German High Command that the invasion would be at Calais, not Normandy. He is genuinely one of the spies about whom it could be said if not for him, the war may have gone very differently. He was successful in his mission and lived to tell the tale and write his memoir, Operation GARBO: the personal story of the most successful double agent of World War II, on Jan. 1, 1985, by Juan Pujol & Nigel West.

Joan Pujol Garcia

Juan Pujol García as a conscript, 1931

Thousands of others like Juan Pujol García are only now being discoverethatnd children took it upon themselves not to for him do the right thing.

Another hero I discovered as I watched the recent movie, Simone, Woman of the Century, is Simone Veil.

Simone Veil

Simone Veil in Deauville, May 31, 1988.

The story of Veil’s life is seen from her joyful upbringing in a secular Jewish family to her arrest and deportation to Auschwitz, the day she received her high school diploma and her post-war accomplishments: – marrying and raising a family, acquiring a French law degree and serving in the French government and managing to alleviate the plight of prisoners of war, chronic drug users,  achieving legal abortion rights in a Catholic country, and becoming the first president of the European Parliament, the EU, to finally avoid the wars that have torn Europe apart for hundreds of years.

I have often considered the line Marc Antony spoke in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

It seems to me that it is just the opposite, “the good that men do lives on and remains with us for all generations to record and recall.”



*1 Rabbi Shipell of Lockdown University gives a weekly seminar on the Torah portion of the week on Lockdown Univerity. To subscribe, contact Lockdown University Staff at info@lockdownuniversity.org.


Does Cosmology Matter?

I have been a constant CBC listener. My radio is on almost 24 hours as I find it good company even at night.

One morning, the radio program CBC-Ideas*1 began with someone reading The Huarochirí Manuscript, one of the few surviving records of the Quechua, a tribe in the Andes of Peru, in a language I had never heard before.

The Huarochirí Manuscript

Francisco de Vila, a Catholic Munk, compiled this document in the late 1500s in order to “eliminate idolatries” among conquered South American peoples. It was hidden for many years in a monastery in Spain and was only recently discovered. Scholars point out that it now serves as a tool for reviving and recreating Andean metaphysics that are quite different from our own. For example, one of its narratives places the past in front of us and the future behind us.

What do we learn from such documents?

We learn that people in the 16th century in Peru or 1500 BC in Egypt were not all that different. Each society had a view of how the world works and man’s role in it. And language is the tool that man uses to articulate these worldviews.

The Book of Exodus is also one of these seminal books that lays bare the cosmology of the Jewish God and the Jewish people.

Christian Pastor Chuck Swindall *2 reviews the book’s theme.

The overall theme of Exodus is redemption—how God delivered the Israelites and made them His special people. After He rescued them from slavery, God provided the Law, which gave instructions on how the people could be consecrated or made holy. He established a system of sacrifice, which guided them in appropriate worship behaviour. Just as significantly, God provided detailed directions on the building of His tabernacle, or tent. He intended to live among the Israelites and manifest His shekinah glory (Exodus 40:34–35)—another proof that they were indeed His people.

The Mosaic Covenant, unveiled initially through the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), provides the foundation for the beliefs and practices of Judaism, from common eating practices to complex worship regulations. Through the Law, God says that all of life relates to God. Nothing is outside His jurisdiction.

If I had to summarize it in my own words, I would say that the theme of the Book of Exodus is there to teach us about Jewish cosmology, how Jews interpret the world and understand G-d’s role in human affairs.

An essential character in the Book of Exodus is the Jewish G-d. G-d introduces himself, first, to Moses at the burning bush and tells him that He has heard the cries of the Hebrews and is sending Moses to get them out. G-d also shares his various names with Moses, and when Moses hesitates and says: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus Ch.3 v11). God responds, “For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Exodus Ch. 3 v 12)

Later in the book, G-d introduces himself to the entire people as they stand at Mount Sinai, beginning with the word “anochi.” 

I – anochi – am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  (Exodus Ch 20 v 2)

And then comes the decalogue in the text (Exodus C. 20 v.3 -14) known in Hebrew as the “ten utterances” – “aseret hadibrot” – as the Mountain trembles with smoke and fire and the sound of the shofar.

So we have a G-d *3, who hears and sees, is compassionate and interested in justice and gives us a code of behaviour to create a world of justice and compassion “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” *4

Moses on Mount Sinai

Moses on Mount Sinai, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1895–1900

This is Jewish cosmology! Jewish cosmology is not interested in the physical characteristics of the world in and of itself but solely in man’s fate and God’s role in that fate. The Torah’s deep narrative structure is there to teach us about the Jewish God and His relationship to Israel, to Man and to all creation. 

The morning after I listened to The Huarochirí Manuscript, there was another CBC-Ideas program*5 that reveals how pseudo-archaeology has been applied to promote political and cultural agendas and the points at which it spills over into the creation of religious myths.

We learn that in the bookstores of the sixties, those of the flower children, and those of the far right, both are populated by invented mythologies, filled with conspiracy theories about how the world was created etc.

Invaders from Mars? Alligators? All of these elaborate ideologies are written down in books, and some have been seen in popular tv productions like the Twilight Zone. Both the alt-right and the far-left use these books to create their alternate visions of what’s wrong with the world and how to repair it.

Myths about Jews and blacks and the superior white race abound. A person who lived in this alternate reality has also created a podcast about his experience and bears powerful witness to the truth that in the absence of a clear cosmology, people will create one to feel grounded and safe in the world.

Cosmologies form the bases for political parties and for wars and guide all human history.



*1 CBC-Ideas, The Huarochirí Manuscriptaired Feb 6, 2023
*2 Chuck Swindoll’s overview of Exodus from his classic series God’s Masterwork, insight.org
*3 G-d, Jews spell God’s Name this way while writing about God to avoid “taking God’s Name in vain” (the third of the Ten Commandments).
*4 On Earth as it is in Heaven, Mathew 6:10, The Lord’s Prayer
*5 CBC-Ideas unearths of how pseudo-archaeology has been used to advance political and cultural ideas and where it crosses from pseudo-science to religious myth-making—aired Feb 7, 2023.



Redemption in our Time

As I contemplate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the liberation of  Auschwitz in January of 1945, I prefer to recall the dual redemptions of the Jewish people that have occurred since then.

The first redemption is the miraculous refounding and maintaining a sovereign Jewish political entity, the State of Israel, for the last seventy-five years. The second redemption is the enormous proliferation of serious study of Jewish texts among Jews and non-Jews alike, in person, in books and online.

This redemption is symbolized for me by a dear friend, a Quebecois-raised Catholic living in Montreal who discovered Judaism through weekly Torah study online with a French-speaking Rabbi living in Jerusalem. To date, she has not converted to Judaism, but she claims that this study has improved her life immeasurably. I was one of the first Jews she encountered when her teacher suggested she venture out to a synagogue and meet some Jews in person.

Jewish Children with their Teacher in Samarkand. Early colour photograph from Russia, created by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii as part of his work to document the Russian Empire from 1909 to 1915.

Jews in Mumbai break the Yom Kippur fast with roti and samosas.

This kind of educational engagement is reminiscent of another historical era, the “convivencia” *1, the golden age of Spain, in the ninth and tenth centuries, representing a near-perfect crossroads of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Alton Brooks, Professor of Religion at USC, describes this period as “one of the rare periods in history” when the three religions did not either “keep their distance from one another or were in conflict.” During most of their co-existing history, they have been ignorant about or attacked each other. María Rosa Menocal, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, describes the libraries of Córdoba as “a significant benchmark of overall social, not just scholarly well-being representing a near-perfect crossroads of the material and the intellectual.”

We are in a similar era today. Therefore, I consider this enormous proliferation of the study of Jewish texts among Jews and non-Jews alike a valid path to redemption for the world as we know it.

I recently read Thomas Cahill’s book, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels *2. Cahill is a Roman Catholic scholar who has written several other similar books, which he calls the “Hinges of History.” *3 One is about the Irish, How the Irish Saved Civilization, one about Christianity, and another about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

In The Gifts of the Jews, Cahill begins with a study of pre-Abrahamic civilizations, such as the Sumerian Philistine. He then gives a detailed account of the Jewish story that grew from that context. Finally, Cahill compares Israel with the parallel Greek and Roman civilizations, which form the bedrock antecedents of our current times. Although Christianity and Islam adopted the Hebrew Bible as their foundational text, they also practiced ideological imperialism, claiming they were the true heirs to the Jewish story and denigrating Jews and Judaism. However, it was only in those times when the ideas of all three civilizations co-existed amicably that science and the arts flourished. Such is the case of Spain’s Islamic “convivencia” periods and the “renaissance” in Europe.

The Jews gave us the “outside and the Inside” – our outlook and inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact, new, adventure, time, history, future, freedom, progress, spirit, faith, hope, justice – are the gifts of the Jews.

But like Moses or Martin Luther King, though we may remember that we “have been to the top of the mountaintop,” we do not enter the Promised Land but only glimpse it fleetingly. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. That accomplishment is intergenerational and may be the deepest of all Hebrew insights.


My Own Education, Secular and Jewish

My Jewish learning has come to me in dribs and drabs. Although I grew up in a religiously observant home, I did not attend a Jewish school but an English Protestant one. All Jewish children in Quebec who did not participate in a private Jewish school were assigned to a Protestant English public school because the French Catholic schools in the province refused to accept nonchristian Jewish children, so only the Protestant schools were genuinely public open to all. Although the “religious” education was minimal, it left me with a puzzling grasp of who I was meant to be.

Growing up in these different worlds, I struggled with my identity. I spoke English, and our public school teachers were English, but I was not English. We did not know any English Canadians. Also, we have yet to learn any French Canadians. My parents’ friends and neighbours were all Hungarian Jewish immigrants like ourselves, as were most of my school friends in the public school I attended. But, as in Bancroft elementary and Outremont High School, the Christian child was the anomaly.

The closest I came to a more intimate interaction with an English Protestant person was my dear high school art teacher, Helen Mackey, whom I maintained contact with throughout her long life in Montreal. Our Outremeont High School class organized a formal weekend reunion, and we learned some interesting details about the lives of our former teachers. Some of our teachers were of Scottish origin, and we even had one or two Jewish teachers, like Mrs. Barsky, who had to hide the fact that she was pregnant because, in those days, pregnant teachers were disqualified. I am grateful that I was able to film our glorious weekend reminiscing about our school days.

My peers and I graduated from high school at the age of seventeen. If you had good grades, you were awarded an early placement at McGill University without applying. So I attended McGill U, BA classes for two years. I did not do well. I felt so lost that I was determined to participate in college far away from Quebec and my home circle. I dreamed of Lausanne, Switzerland because I thought it sounded interesting. I applied and was accepted. But, still dependent on my parents, I had to share my plans with them. My mother gave me an ultimatum. No to Lausanne, but I could attend University in Israel if I wanted to. So that’s how I came to participate in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

My Jewish education, growing up, was gleaned from the home, the synagogue, Sabbath afternoon youth groups, Jewish summer camp, and a Hebrew afternoon school a few days a week. However, only recently have I had the opportunity for consistent daily study of Hebrew texts with a chosen teacher when I discovered Shiviti, a newly formed Yeshiva for adult women in Jerusalem.

Through my studies at Shiviti *4, I care to understand that there is no subject in the material world to which our rabbis did not address their serious attention. In the first session of his zoom course, The Really Big Questions About Judaism, Prof. Yoram Hazony’s seminar laments that in our present intellectual climate, the Hebrew Bible is too often disparaged as antiquated and even perhaps perhaps perhaps geared to children and the unsophisticated. However, many ancient and contemporary scholars have found the Torah a marvellous source of ideas on all aspects of human striving.

Our Jewish canonical texts use every literary device, from metaphor to parable to outright fantasy, to convey their thoughts. When Jews look at their canon today, they do so with the aid of the many intergenerational commentators who have left us their writings, such as the eleventh-century French author and vintner, Rashi, known for his straightforward elucidation of the texts of the Torah and Talmud, or the twelfth-century physician to the Egyptian Caliph, Saladin, Maimonides, also known as the Rambam.

Bronze statue of Moshe Ben Maimon or Ben Maimonides, Jewish philosopher 1135-1204 in Cordoba in Spain.

I just watched a three-part documentary series called Searching for Maimonides, “the Great Eagle.” a philosopher revered by all three faiths. I loved this series for its interplay between past and present, text and context, scholars and simple folk.

Education begins in the home and then branches out to public venues and sources such as schools, libraries, concerts, movies and the internet, hopefully accessible to all people of all ages and backgrounds. Access to education is truly the “great leveller,” opening opportunities for all to fully engage in all aspects of this amazing life we have all been blessed with.

This is the true path to our shared redemption, education that creates peace and harmony in our homes, nations, and the world. If we can learn to unite in harmony, there is no challenge or calamity that humanity cannot address.



*1 Convivencia, Wikipedia
*2 Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews, 1998
*3 Thomas Cahill, The Hinges of History
*4 SHIVITI is an international, online women’s learning community with a home base in Jerusalem.

A Season of Miracles and Light

The holiday season is a time of miracles.

  1. The miracle of electricity lights up our lives, homes, and public spaces.
  2. The miracle of cars and roads enables speedy connectivity worldwide.
  3. The miracle of flight still astounds me every time I enter an airplane. 
  4. The miracle of film and the internet powers communication on a macro and a micro level worldwide.
  5. The miracle of love is the backbone of peace in our homes and the world.

My Recent Miracles

Miracle 1: Buying an apartment in Jerusalem

Over the last several years, I have been visiting Israel for extended family holidays and studying at Shiviti and Simhat Shlomo. These two yeshivas are unaccredited Jewish universities for adults who wish to learn Jewish texts, practices and history.

When I visited Jerusalem last April, I began looking for an apartment I could call my own. I saw several but needed help to see how I could afford them. Then I was told about an apartment that was one-third the cost of the previous ones. True, it did not sport a swimming pool or a gym, but it offered a small corner of peace in a residential neighbourhood of Jerusalem close to a street of popular shops and cafes, Emek Refaim, and not far from my favourite cinemas.

Buying the apartment long distance proved to be a nightmare, so I left for Israel the day after the Jewish Fall Holidays on October 19th, 2022. Yet, miraculously, over the next five weeks, I managed to take possession of the apartment and even begin to make it habitable!

Apartment in Jerusalem, Israel

Apartment in Jerusalem, Israel

Miracle 2: Walking in the rejuvenated city of Jerusalem

I lived in Jerusalem as a Hebrew University student from 1965 to 1969. Jerusalem was always a city where everyone was used to walking to get wherever they wanted. During this visit, I could walk from one end of Jerusalem to the other even though buses and a local train were all readily accessible.

Kikar Hamusika close to Ben Yehudah Street

Before the 1967 six-day Arab-Israeli war, Ben Yehudah Street and Yaffo Streets were the only two central streets in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, in those days, was more like a small village than a city. However, in recent times Ben Yehudah has become one of many central streets that is walking-only, with cafe tables down the centre and shops of every kind on both sides. Below is a picture taken at another pedestrian oasis close to Ben Yehuda-Kikar Hamusika. It is a square equipped with tables, surrounded by restaurants, and boasting the main stage with live music more often than not.

Miracle 3: Reconnecting with old friends

The day after I arrived in Jerusalem, my brother-in-law, Shragai, surprised me by sharing that Barbara Friedman, our friend from Montreal, was having a reunion of Montrealers in her apartment and that I was invited. This was indeed a rare treat to reconnect with old friends, one of whom brought a guitar.

We sang songs, including the children’s Noah’s ark song about the animals entering “two by two.” It was a fitting song since it was the Friday before the Sabbath when we read the portion about the ark that Noah built at G-d’s behest to protect his family and the animals from the rampant immoral behaviour that had infused civilization in those times.

A Montrealers’ reunion in Jerusalem

Miracle 4: Participating and filming the European Cantors Convention in Budapest

On November 1st, I left Israel for Hungary to participate in the European Cantors Convention at the renovated Rumbach Synagogue in the heart of the Jewish section of Budapest, where my dear parents got married on December 25th, 1943.

I hired a local cameraman, Zoltan Banki, to document the convention and my subsequent visit with my cousins, Tehila Umiel, Rachel Kaufman and Effy Fadida, to follow up on our personal histories in Hungary.

At the convention, I met and interviewed many cantors, including Cantor Benny Meisels of Toronto, Cantor Deborah Katcko-Grey, of the US, and Cantor Leah Frey Rabiner of Germany, among others. I also interviewed Harriet Kiss, the director of the Rumbach Synagogue, and the leaders who conceived of and continue to lead the European Cantors Convention, Geraldine Auerbach and Alex Klein.

Every one of them has a fantastic story which I hope to tell in a forthcoming documentary based on the convention. We also participated in exciting panel discussions and unforgettable concerts.

My cousin, Tehila Umiel of Los Angeles, joined me at the ECA and on our subsequent trip of family discovery.

My cousin Rachel Kaufman and I at Rumbach Synagogue

My cousin Rachel Kaufman and I at Rumbach Synagogue

European Cantors Convention at Rumbach Synagogue

Miracle 5: Revisiting our family history in Hungary.

After the convention, Rachel, Tehila, her daughter, Effy Fadida from Israel, and I travelled to Tokay, Szabolcs, Kereztur, and Debrecen, where our Hungarian Jewish families had made their homes. We met with local guides, toured and had kosher meals at Kereztur, the home of the late Hassidic Rebbe Reb Shiele, which has become a place of pilgrimage and hospitality to all.

Effy FadidaAndRachelKaufman

Effy Fadida and Rachel Kaufman on the train to Tokay

We found and visited the Rebbe’s grave at night after supper, as we stayed close by in Tokay. The next day we met and spent time with living relatives who had remained in Debrecen after the devastation of the Shoah.

Below is a write-up of our visit to Debrecen, published in the Hungarian Jewish Debrecen Community Bulletin. I did my best to do an English translation.

The Széchenyi street bakeshop and baker, Sándor Hirsch (Sanyi Hirsch, my late father’s brother), still live on in the memory of the elders of Debrecen. Descendants of his family, Rachel (Kaufman), Tehila (Umiel), Abigail (Hirsch), and Effy (Fadida) from America, Canada, and Israel, visited our community (last week). First, they remembered their dead and visited the cemetery. Later, the family’s path led to the old wood-burning bakery. Although the religious community no longer owns this bakery, the oven still functions today as it did then. Ilonka Zsabolci (a Debrecen resident and daughter of the late Sandor Hirsch who grew up in one of the adjacent apartments) recalled precisely every point of the bake shop just as our elders can recall their daily conversations and the aroma of the five-kilo loaves of bread that emanated from here during the 70s and 80s.

Ilonka also recalled families bringing their Sabbath cholent to the bake shop on Friday afternoon, and Sandor (Sanyi) would ask them, “Do you want the cholent’s texture to be soupy or thick?” Then, according to their request, he would place the labelled containers in the oven closer or further away from the flame.

Around the corner from the bakeshop at the intersection of István Tisza boulevard and Simony Street #28 used to stand the compound of the late patriarch Samu Hirsch (Shlomo Yisroel, my grandfather, who perished in Auschwitz). There is no longer any trace of that compound. It has been torn down, and a modern apartment building is in place.

After our tour, we shared a joint lunch at the “Mazal Tov” restaurant of the Debrecen religious community. Gyuri Lázár from Los Angeles – formerly from Debrecen – joined us with his wife, Maggie. Gyuri is a member of a family still living in Debrecen. Gyuri left Hungary to study in the US and has lived in Los Angeles ever since. He happened to be visiting Hungary and is related to Rachel Kaufman’s father, Joshua Kaufman, who is also the son of a prewar Debrecen family.

During lunch, we shared memories and photographs.

After lunch, Abigail (Ágnes) Hirsch went over to the club room of the Rachel Women’s Association to get to know the local members. Unfortunately, they rarely have guests from Canada. But unfortunately, the visit was short because there was not much time before their train returned to Budapest.

Of course, the Jewish Quarter, with its synagogues and Holocaust Memorial Wall, was not to be missed. Family members were recalled everywhere.

Tehila and Effi, pictured here, could find Tehila’s father’s name – Bela Hirsch – carved into the memorial wall, which lists all of the Jews from Debrecen who was deported and died during this time, never to return.

The past came back and was moving for the religious community and the Hirsch family. Their stay in Hungary, including their commemoration in Debrecen, was filmed by a professional cameraman (Banki Zoltan). Abigail is working to integrate their family history into the history of the Jewish community in Hungary. The religious community is looking for additional materials for this. It will be a lasting reminder of the past and the present. 

Written by Gabor Kreisler (who was also our guide for the whole day, delegated by the Debrecen Jewish community)

Thank you, Gabor!

Miracle 6: My Christmas Cactus

When I arrived back in Montreal, I discovered that my Christmas cactus, transplanted by a plant whisperer in my neighbourhood, is flowering again!

Now, In the darkest time of the year, we are reminded that sometimes less is more. Small lights can light up large spaces. And the few can overcome the many as in the time of the Maccabbees!

May we all be blessed with peace and joy in our homes now and in the years to come.

Am Yisrael chai – The People of israel are alive!
Am Yisrael thrives!
And when Am Yisrael thrives, the world thrives!

Happy Holy Days to all and everywhere


Back in Montreal, wearing my holiday sweater and attending the Chanukah sing-along concert “Latkes and Lyrics” at the Segal Centre.












The two solitudes: Language and the 2022 Quebec Election

My native language is Hungarian since I was born in Debrecen, Hungary.
At the age of three, I escaped communist Hungary with my parents and baby sister to Vienna, Austria, where I began to attend kindergarten and spoke German in no time.

Photo of Abigail Hirsch in Vienna at the Rothschild hospital displaced persons camp post World War II.

By age six, we had arrived as a family in Montreal, and I began studying in the English Protestant school system, the only public school system accepting Jewish children. So I became an Anglophone in Quebec. In the Protestant English school, we began to study French and Latin in the third grade and all through high school. At the same time, I attended the Jewish afternoon school, where I was learning to read Hebrew and Yiddish, my 6th and 7th languages.

I hardly ever met a French-speaking person when I was growing up in Montreal in the fifties and sixties. This reality is indicative of what has been called the “two solitudes.” The English and the French communities were segregated on either side of Saint Lawrence Boulevard, now called by its French name, Saint-Laurent. As a high school student, I went to the French section with my friend Milly. We used to visit the Montreal Public Library on Sherbrooke street across from Parc La Fontaine. That was like visiting a foreign country, where only French was spoken.

It’s not as if my parents or I had a lot of contact with the English Protestant community of Montreal. Most of the Bancroft Elementary School students were Jewish immigrants like me. And most of my parents’ social circle were similarly Hungarian Jewish immigrants. For example, here is a picture of my one shared birthday party with my sister, Anita, in 1956 with the whole neighbourhood of children and adults invited.

Abigail at ten years old and Anita Hirsch at eight years old.

Abigail Hirsch’s Birthday Party

Today I participate in French classes and conversations. I even took a French literature class at McGill, but English is my best language. It is my favoured language to speak, read and write. This is understandable since most of my schooling was in English.

Since my childhood, the public school system has been reorganized. Today all public schools are neither Catholic nor Protestant but secular, and the language of instruction is French. The English public school system survives, but only for a privileged group who can claim a native English-Quebec origin, and even this is under threat by the Legault government.

Note that upper-class French-Quebecers try to ensure that their children acquire excellent English, which is only to be expected since the world’s finances and culture are today dominated by the English of the United States. For instance, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, the current leader of the Parti Québécois, graduated from McGill and Oxford University.

It is vital to address immigration and how to best integrate immigrants into Quebec society. However, Legault has been using used the immigrant card as the new scapegoat to gain political support. Does Premier Legault forget who has been saving our collective behinds in hospitals, CHSLDs, and frontline services for the past three years when he considers immigrants and non-francophone Quebecers as a threat to social cohesion?

In reality, the contributions of the Quebec Anglophone community and immigrants should not be undervalued.

Faced with what is happening in Ukraine and Russia and climate disasters everywhere, is it wise to be so divisive? Isn’t there a more welcoming way to introduce French culture to newly arrived immigrants? Isn’t it more beneficial to  Quebec society to focus on how immigrants – the majority of whom have extensive knowledge, training, and worldly life experience, can move to Quebec’s outlying regions where they are sorely needed to fill critical labour shortages and, in turn, demystify immigration for rural Quebecers? And why not focus on other vital issues in our society, like the deplorable state of our health care system and the need to coordinate climate change initiatives?

I fear this stubborn effort to “protect the French language” will harm all of us living in Quebec.