Matthew Rouleau has always felt like a Jewish homebody, but he hasn’t always been Jewish. Through multiple Federation CJA trips to Israel funded by anonymous donors, Matthew learned about the welcoming nature of the Jewish community and decided to convert from Catholicism, going as far as to celebrate an impromptu bar mitzvah on his latest mission.

    His journey of conversion started in 2017 when he met his future wife, Natalie Gore. She had just returned from a Federation CJA Mega-Mission along with 900 other Jewish community members, and she decided she wanted to marry a “hot Israeli guy” – someone who shared her family’s traditional values and customs.

    “I’m the farthest thing from an Israeli guy, but I get the shtick because I grew up with a lot of Jews,” Matthew says, adding that he attended many bar mitzvahs and Jewish weddings as a child. 

    As he spent more time with Natalie he made a conscious effort to integrate himself into her Jewish family, from taking over responsibility for Friday night Shabbat dinners to researching how to host a Passover Seder.

    Matthew was also interested in Jerusalem as a history buff. So in 2019 when he and Natalie found out about Honeymoon Israel, a 10-day trip Federation CJA offers to Montreal couples with a non-Jewish partner, they had to seize the opportunity.

    “From the moment I stepped off the plane, I fell head over heels in love with the land of Israel,” Matthew says. “It was a very moving and powerful trip for me. I was an emotional mess.”

    He was especially stunned by Mount Masada – by the beauty of the desert landscapes, the story of the fortress ruins, and the historical implications of the Torah scrolls being scribed. He desperately wanted to return, but the pandemic cancelled the adult March of the Living event he signed up for.

    It was only after Natalie’s grandmother’s passed away that Matthew first thought about converting. At the 2019 funeral, Natalie told him she wanted to someday lie with her people in a Jewish cemetery, meaning they wouldn’t be buried together. This weighed on Matthew.

    “I didn’t want to spend our lives together to then be separated in death, even if we’re unaware of each other,” he says. “I later had my godson’s first communion at a church up in Mont Tremblant and I (realized) I never had a connection to Catholicism. I started informing myself on what was required to convert to Judaism.” 

    The couple got engaged in April 2022, and although Matthew had already made up his mind about converting months in advance, he waited a few weeks to tell his fiancée.

    The decision was equal parts shocking and exciting for Natalie. She had never talked about conversion or made it a requirement for their relationship. She even went as far as to joke that they wouldn’t care if they were buried together because they would be dead. 

    They signed up for a year of conversion lessons with Rabbi Poupko, who had been an important figure in Natalie’s life since her 20s. Matthew finished the lessons in time for their wedding, which made Natalie’s dream to have Rabbi Poupko officiate the ceremony possible. 

    “The first and the last question the rabbi asks when you say you want to convert is, ‘Are you sure? You know that people hate us.’ because we’re a persecuted people,” Natalie says. “It goes to show how much this man loves me.”

    When Matthew returned to Israel on a Federation CJA mission in May 2024, he did so as a Jew. Israel felt different – like home – but something was still missing. He and Natalie had talked about the possibility of a bar mitzvah before leaving, and he imagined it happening on Masada. That made an organizer’s offer to host a bar mitzvah in their hotel all the more unexpected.

    An anonymous donor bought Matthew a tallit. He also chose to share his bar mitzvah with a soldier whose name he found at the Museum of the Fallen Soldier: Daniel Bezgodov. Before Matthew knew it, he and his fellow mission members were celebrating together as if they had been longtime family friends.

    “Except for the few people I knew before leaving, I didn’t know anybody on the trip. To see how moved these people were – that three days ago were strangers – was just such a touching and special moment,” Matthew says. 

    Natalie’s cousin who went on the mission, Melissa Shriqui, says Matthew’s experiences parallel the journey of conversion taken by her mother. What started off as Matthew’s respect for the complex and unique mixture of Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions in her family turned into adoption and immersion.

    This shone through during the bar mitzvah, and it gave all the mission participants a feeling of hope, Melissa says. “It gave us hope that this can happen, and still does happen. Matthew Rouleau is someone who learned to take on all of what being Jewish means, and became a true symbol of how a proud Jew can be today.”

  • Montreal, QC - May 22, 2024 - The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Federation CJA applaud the arrest and indictment of the alleged perpetrator of the attacks on a Jewish school in the middle of the night on November 12, 2023. This attack represented a disturbing escalation in the violence suffered by Jewish Canadians.
  • Last night’s vote needs to be condemned for what it was
  • A lifeline of hope, healing, and renewal.  (more)
  • Federation CJA Takes Action for Our Students. (more)
  • November 30 marks the annual commemoration. (more)
  • Update on the impact of Federation CJA’s Emergency Fund. (more)
  • Federation CJA and CIJA are aware and deeply concerned about a proposed policy that the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) voted on yesterday in its Fall 2023 referendum entitled “Policy Against Genocide in Palestine”, a policy which has yet to be ratified. 
  • A Message from Steve Sebag. (more)
  • Update on the impact of Federation CJA’s Emergency Fund. (more)
  • Update on the impact of Federation CJA’s Emergency Fund (more)
  • There can be nothing more important than our safety and security here at home. (more)
  • Let's unite as a community to bring our people home. (more)
  • Back to school and High Holiday Safety & Security is Top Priority. (more)
  • We remain committed to ensuring the safety and security of our community. (more)
  • This announcement is a major milestone in the fight against Jew-hatred. (more)
  • We must raise our voices together against antisemitism. (more)
  • We are here to ensure that every member of our community can confidently live their lives safely.  (more)
Shabbat Candlelight
June 21  8:28PM
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