Canadian Jewry

Canada's multicultural society has shaped its Jewish community.

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The Unique Community of Montreal

The Montreal Jewish community has been defined by writer Howard Roiter as "one of the last collective Jewish experiences surviving in North America." The Jews of Montreal form a unique community, quite distinct from Canadian Jewry as a whole and from Toronto Jews in particular. While Toronto has a larger population of Jews, and the Jewish community there is more affluent, the Montreal community has a stronger cultural and institutional life.

Contributing to the unique nature of the Montreal Jewish community are, in poet Irving Layton's words, the "three solitudes." "You had three ghettoes, you had three peoples, the Anglos, the French Canadians and the Jews and they peered at each other over these walls." The sense of uncertainty regarding the place of Quebec in Canada, and French Canadians' preoccupation with survival within Anglophone society, brought the issues of language and culture to the foreground of national consciousness, strengthening the ethnic or cultural dimension of Montreal Jewish identity.

Anti-Semitism: Should Canadian Jews Be Concerned?

The Jews of Canada have been confronted with anti-Semitism since the community's inception. Anti-Semitism was manifested in quotas, discrimination in employment, education and public facilities (such as restaurants, clubs, and hospitals), and restrictions in land purchases. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, anti-Semitism in Canada has been linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict and to anti-Israeli sentiments, linking Israel and Jews, Zionism and Judaism.

As anti-Semitic incidents have increased over the past few years, they have become a growing concern for Canadian Jews. These incidents are closely monitored and documented by the League of Human Rights of B'nai Brith. Despite this trend, according to Morton Weinfeld's sociological analysis, Canada is a very good place for Jews. "At the moment, by conventional measures, anti-Semitism is not a very strong force in Canada... But Jewish history teaches Jews to always have their radar on high."

Cultural Negotiations

Canadian Jews have been referred to as "cultural negotiators." Weinfeld notes that in many ways they have been successful in achieving the twin goals of multiculturalism, "on the one hand, participating in Canadian life in all its dimensions: education, occupation, politics, culture; and on the other hand, retaining a fairly strong sense of their own identity and culture." This is a complex balancing act, requiring reconciliation between traditional practices and modern attitudes.

Canadian Jews embody both Judaism and Jewishness--the religious and the ethnic-cultural components that comprise Jewish life--continuing to renew Judaism and impact Jewish culture, continuity and community, while contributing to Canadian society as a whole.

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Sharonne Cohen

Sharonne Cohen is an Israeli-Canadian writer, editor, translator, and teacher. She currently lives in Montreal.