Students at Montreals Ghetto Shul enjoy rocking time

MONTREAL– Imagine entering a small apartment where the crowd is so thick that people stand on the stairways and overflow into the bedrooms on the second floor.

It's Friday night and the place is rocking. The dynamism of the shul's spiritual leader, Leibish Hundert, has the men swaying and singing passionately, while the women dance horas on the other side of the room divider.

It's unlike anything most Jewish students in Montreal have ever experienced.

And once the service is finished, the best is yet to come — at least if you're an aficionado of Jewish cooking: Soup, chicken and even a savory old-fashioned cholent are on the menu.

Welcome to the "Ghetto Shul" at Montreal's McGill University.

In the first half of the 20th century, McGill was one of the universities tainted by quotas on Jewish enrollment. All that has changed, of course, and today students of all faiths and nations arrive in the French-speaking capital of North America.

The Ghetto Shul. opened in September 2001, was the brainchild of Tawn Friedman, a former student and program coordinator at Montreal Hillel who had just returned from a Birthright Israel trip. But the idea of a place where Jewish students could experience a sense of spiritual belonging took awhile to percolate.

"The Birthright experience…created in me a desire to give something back," she said.

"Our first Shabbat, we had 80 people. It was incredible. Now we have anywhere from 100 to 150. People have heard about us from as far away as Boston and New York, Toronto and Vancouver."