York Centre, Eglinton-Lawrence could be most affected by not moving election date

More details and assessments of the election date and its likely impact on orthodox Jewish voters. Based on the 2011 National Household Survey, Canadian Jews form 5 percent or more of the population in 14 ridings (RM Ridings Jewish 5 percent):

Experts say they will be watching a few key ridings in and around Toronto as they try to gauge how Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Pérrault’s decision not to recommend moving the Oct. 21 election date to accommodate Orthodox and other observant Jewish voters will affect the election outcome.

“The chief electoral officer is an independent official. None of the parties are accountable for the decisions made by his office, so I don’t imagine that there will be much, if any, political fallout,” said Frank Graves, president of Ekos Research, in an email statement to The Hill Times. “The impact for the Liberals and other parties might be if the Jewish vote turnout is dampened by this decision. I am not certain that will be the case, but I don’t think that would be an important factor in the next election, although it might be a modest factor in a few ridings.”

Mr. Graves said in past elections, Jewish Canadians primarily voted Liberal, but “that has not been the case for some time. The Conservatives did quite well with the Jewish vote under Harper, and I am guessing they will continue to do so.”

Mr. Graves added that the Liberals also do “fairly well” and that he is unclear how “a relatively small vote, which does not lean dramatically one way or the other, which may or may not have reduced turnout, will have much impact in October.”

According to data collected over the past six months by Campaign Research, Jewish Canadians favour Liberals over Conservatives, 42 per cent to 36 per cent. This data is not broken down by riding, or whether those polled strictly observe every holiday. A 2018 study titled “2018 Survey of Jews in Canada by the Environics Institute, the University of Toronto, and York University reported Jewish Canadians preferring the Liberals over the Conservatives by 36 per cent to 32 per cent. This data is also not broken down by riding or religiosity.

Eli Yufest, CEO of Campaign Research, and Quito Maggi, CEO of Mainstreet Research, said that statistically, the more religious an individual is, the more likely they are to vote for a Conservative Party. An article published in the Canadian Political Science Review by Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme, a University of Waterloo sociology professor, found that in 2011 “religious citizens were overall more likely to vote Conservative.”

Finding accurate statistics on the number of Jewish Canadians, and their level of religiosity, in a given riding is difficult because the census only asks about religion every 10 years. The 2011 census asked about religion, and reported 309,650 Jewish Canadians. The 2016 census did not, nor was Jewish included as a checkable box in the ethnic origin section. There was, however, a space where respondents could write in ethnicities that weren’t listed. As a result, the 2016 census reported only 143,665 Jewish Canadians, a 53.6 per cent decline in just five years. Though the percentage of Jewish Canadians has been steadily declining since 1991, the rate of decline is much lower than that, according to Statistics Canada.

On July 26, Statistics Canada released a report that sought remedy the errors of the 2016 census. The report estimated that if past response patterns remained consistent, the number of Jewish Canadians would be between 270,000 and 298,000.

Further complicating the effort to accurately count the number of Jewish-Canadians is the 2018 report by the Environics Institute, the University of Toronto, and York University. It estimated there were 392,000 Jewish-Canadians in 2018.

In the report, the authors said because “Canadian Jews constitute only about one percent of the Canadian population, the use of standard survey research methods was not a feasible option given the high costs of using probability sampling to identify and recruit participants.”

To try and produce as accurate a report as possible within the available budget, they surveyed 2,335 individuals online or over the phone between Feb. 10 and Sept. 30, 2018. It focused on Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Winnipeg, the cities with the largest Jewish populations in Canada. The data were weighted according to population, age, gender, and marital status. The study was not fully based on probability sampling, meaning a margin of error cannot be calculated.

The Environics study breaks down the Jewish population by city, not riding, like the census does. The 2011 census reports the five ridings with the largest percentage of Jewish residents as Thornhill (22.04 per cent), Mont-Royal (22.07 per cent), Eglinton-Lawrence (16.87 per cent), York Centre (14.37 per cent), and Toronto-St Paul’s (12.11 per cent).

The 2016 census has the same ridings in the top five, but with lower numbers in a slightly different order. It reports Thornhill (13.4 per cent), Mont-Royal (8.4 per cent), York Centre (7 per cent), Eglinton-Lawrence (6.6 per cent), and Toronto St. Paul’s (4.5 per cent).

Of those five ridings, four are held by Liberals. Thornhill is the only Conservative riding, held since 2008 by Peter Kent. 338 Canada’s Philippe Fournier categorizes Mont-Royal, held by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, as the only truly safe seat. In 2015, Mr. Housefather beat Conservative nominee Robert Libman by just under 14 percentage points, or 5,986 votes. Thornhill and Toronto-St. Paul’s, held since 1997 by Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, are considered likely to stay in Conservative and Liberal hands, respectively.

Despite 338 Canada’s projection, Mr. Maggi said he is going to be watching Thornhill.

“If the Orthodox community votes in substantially lower numbers, given where we see the overall Liberal numbers in Toronto and the GTA right now, that riding could be competitive,” he said.

The 2011 census reported 34,956 Jewish Canadians in Thornhill, while the 2011 census reported 15,025. Mr. Kent won by just under 15 percentage points in 2015, or 13,516 votes.

Mari Canseco, president of Research Co, and Mr. Maggi both said York Centre will be the riding most affected by the decision given the close 2015 election and the number of voters who could be affected.

Liberal incumbent Michael Levitt, who is Jewish, won by just 1,238 votes in 2015, and 338 Canada has it leaning Conservative heading into October. The 2016 census reported 7,270 Jewish Canadian residents, whereas the 2011 census reported 14,551.

Mr. Canseco said the margin of victory in 2015 already meant York-Centre would be competitive in 2019. He hesitated to say if lower turnout in the observant Jewish community would benefit a single party, though, because “it’s tough to try to look at the decision as something that is going to bring down turnout for a specific party and not others, because we just don’t have the data for it.”

The 2018 Quebec provincial election coincided with the same Jewish holiday, Shemini Atzeret. The election was also not moved, and the heavily-Jewish riding of D’Arcy-McGee saw turnout drop by 26 points, from 72 per cent in the 2015 provincial election to just 46.5 per cent in the 2018 election.

338 Canada lists Eglinton-Lawrence as a toss up. In 2015, Liberal Marco Mendicino won Eglinton-Lawrence by 3,490 votes, or 6.25 percentage points. The 2011 census reported that there were 19,903 Jewish Canadians living in the riding, while the 2016 census reported just 7,490.

Mr. Mendicino is running again, and is being challenged by Conservative candidate Chani Ayreh-Bain. Ms. Aryeh-Bain is Orthodox Jewish herself and was one of the lead plaintiffs in the original case that sought to get Elections Canada to move the election date.

Ms. Aryeh-Bain said she was disappointed by Mr. Perrault’s decision, and that she is dedicating a “fair amount of resources to the Orthodox community.”

She said she will focus on informing voters of the various options available to them. Elections Canada also said in a statement that they would be working with Jewish organizations and members of the Jewish community to inform voters of their options. Ms. Areyh-Bain said that even though there are alternative options, it will still be difficult for members of the observant and Orthodox Jewish community to access them.

“The options aren’t great, because the advanced poll days all fall on either the Sabbath or a holiday, or the eve of Sabbath or the eve of a holiday, so they’re really pressed for time,” she said. “The only other option is to vote at a returning office, or use an absentee ballot. It’s really not ideal.”

Mr. Maggi said he didn’t expect the fact that the government did not move the election date could be used as political ammunition against the Liberals.

“It’s important to remember the Jewish community, just like any other community, has other ballot box questions. I don’t think this issue of the election date is going to be the single ballot question. Those people still care about the same things that most of the general population care about, education, health care, the economy and jobs, the environment. Those are much more likely to be ballot box questions for any group, regardless of their ethnicity.”

Source: York Centre, Eglinton-Lawrence could be most affected by not moving election date

Why the federal election might not happen on Oct. 21

One of the challenges in a country as diverse as Canada, is ensuring that election dates do not fall on any religious holiday or otherwise significant date.

Will be interest to see how a judge rules. Does only 17 hours of voting time compared to 60 for most voters present an unreasonable accommodation or not?

Chani Aryeh-Bain had just four days to soak in her victory before the trouble began. On April 14, 2019, the 51-year-old mother of five handily clinched the nomination to run for Parliament under the Conservative banner in her lifelong riding of Eglinton–Lawrence in midtown Toronto. She was so excited, she didn’t take a good look at the election calendar until days later. Nobody on her team did.

“We did not clue into the extent of the disadvantage immediately,” says Ira Walfish, a community activist who volunteered for Aryeh-Bain. Four days after she secured the nomination, Aryeh-Bain crafted a worried email to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Stéphane Perrault, requesting he change the date of the federal election. They hoped for the best, but Walfish remembers the team’s mindset at the time: “This is not gonna go well.”

The solution could have been simple: move Canada’s federal election date to Oct. 28. The problem? The date is currently set for Oct. 21, which is also, in 2019, a somewhat obscure but important Jewish holiday called Shemini Atzeret.

Most non-Jews haven’t heard of Shemini Atzeret. (Many non-religious Jews haven’t, either; even the etymological origins of the Hebrew word “atzeret” are vague.) It is nonetheless a high holy day, following a flurry of the most sacred holidays in Judaism, which together block off huge swaths of September and October in any observant Jew’s calendar.

“Shemini Atzeret is the vacation to recover from the holiday,” writes Carla Naumburg in an article titled “In Which I Finally Figure Out What Shemini Atzeret Is”, published in Kveller, a magazine for Jewish mothers. “To just chill and take it all in, to stop, pause, hold back, and keep in.”

Aryeh-Bain and many of her team members and volunteers, including Walfish, are modern Orthodox Jews—not black-hat Hasidic, but they strictly keep kosher and observe Shabbat and other holidays. Despite Shemini Atzeret’s comical ambiguity, observant Jews are strictly forbidden from working or travelling on the day, and are instead encouraged to reflect and pray. They definitely can’t canvas constituents to vote. Indeed, they can’t even vote.

The holiday’s loose definition is perhaps why Perrault, upon seeing Aryeh-Bain’s email, did not respond with any urgency for three weeks. When he finally did, according to court documents, Perrault called the timing “unfortunate,” but noted Elections Canada did not choose the date and the election was too soon to alter.

That didn’t satisfy Aryeh-Bain, and the broader Jewish community slowly awoke to the problem at hand. Over subsequent months, Jewish leaders, activists and several Liberal MPs—including Aryeh-Bain’s incumbent opponent, Marco Mendicino—all wrote to Perrault, urging him to move the date. Failing that, community organizations hoped for some kind of compromise. Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, wrote in an op-ed in the Toronto Star that they asked Perrault to add another polling day convenient for observant Jews. “Elections Canada has never explained why it did not pursue this least-disruptive course of action,” he wrote.

The only option, after so many letters, was a legal battle. Aryeh-Bain and Walfish mounted a lawsuit against Elections Canada in June, scheduled to be heard in Toronto’s Federal Court this week, on July 16. Elections Canada is not responding to queries about it, but in March, a spokesperson told The Canadian Jewish News that voters can always use advanced polls or apply for special ballots before Oct. 15. Critics argue those measures are insufficient—data suggest 75 per cent of those Canadians who actually vote do so on election day, while three per cent choose convoluted special ballots—while even advanced polls are obscured by the minefield of autumnal Jewish holidays and weekly Shabbat services. While most Canadians will enjoy 60 hours’ worth of voting opportunities this year, observant Jews are limited to just 17.

In their application, Walfish cites a community of 75,000 observant Jews who will be directly affected by the conflicting date, while their evidence includes more than 140 concerned letters written to Elections Canada. Modern Orthodoxy is the second-most prominent sect among self-identified Jewish Canadians after Conservatism, according to a recent report by the Environics Institute; with approximately 350,000 Jews across the country, the impact of the decision could be significant.

“It’s a major problem,” Walfish emphasizes. “This keeps happening. It’s like, hello? Get out a calendar. It’s in the [Canada Elections] Act. Just move the stupid election…. They can move it if they want to. I can’t change the religion.”

Walfish points to the precedents supporting their case. In 2007, Ontario’s provincial election also coincided with Shemini Atzeret—and the government agreed to change that date. Conversely, in Oct. 2018, Elections Quebec declined to compromise after learning that, once again, it coincided with the same holiday.

“The turnout was dramatically affected,” recalls David Tordjman, a modern Orthodox candidate running this year for the Conservative Party in Mount Royal, Que. Tordjman might have even more to lose than Aryeh-Bain: last October, voter turnout in neighbouring D’Arcy-McGee, Quebec’s most densely Jewish riding, plummeted from 72 per cent to 44 per cent, due to overcrowding and hours-long lineups at poorly managed advance polling stations. This year, Tordjman sees the same frustration across social media.

“The issue, at the end of the day, is accessibility,” he says. “All we want is the same capacity and the same amount of time to vote.”

Both Tordjman’s and Aryeh-Bain’s ridings are home to more than 20,000 Jews, according to the 2011 National Household Survey, and both are potentially crumbling Liberal strongholds. Liberal Joe Volpe ran Eglinton–Lawrence for 20 years until Stephen Harper’s future finance minister, Joe Oliver, ousted him in 2011; in 2015, Mendicino narrowly won it back by fewer than 3,500 votes. Mount Royal, once Pierre Trudeau’s stalwart base, was run by legendary Jewish MP Irwin Cotler for 16 years until he resigned, passing the mantle to Liberal Anthony Housefather in 2015.

In 2019, under a simmering froth of negative sentiment toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and newly elected right-leaning provincial governments, both are potentially battleground ridings—especially Eglinton–Lawrence. As it stands, Aryeh-Bain “will be precluded from getting out the vote on the most important day of the election,” the court application states. “In short, she must fight the election with one hand tied behind her back.”

There is a very real chance, if the date remains unchanged, that Shemini Atzeret could decide the riding. If it does, this won’t be the last court battle mounted against the government—if not this election cycle, then perhaps next time an election falls on Shemini Atzeret, which can’t be too far away.

Source: Why the federal election might not happen on Oct. 21

Why Canada’s Jews Are Better [than American Jews]

Interesting take on the recent study of Canadian Jews and the comparison with American Jews, and the greater cohesiveness of the Canadian Jewish community:

It is fitting that a landmark study of Canadian Jews, modeled along the famous 2013 Pew Survey of American Jews, has been met with deafening silence south of the border. Major American outlets including the Jewish Telegraphic Agency(JTA) and The Forward failed to mark the publication of the seminal report with even a single column of commentary. This disregard for the goings on up north is unfortunately common but it is not without costs. If the American Jewish community showed more interest in the “2018 Survey of Jews in Canada,” they could  have learned why Canadian Jews are thriving at a time when their own communities are dividing.

Contrary to the traditional narrative that American Jews are the exemplary diaspora, the study’s authors, Keith Neuman (executive director of the Environics Institute), Rhonda Lenton (president and vice chancellor of York University, and Robert Brym (professor at the University of Toronto), argue that Canadian Jews, in fact, are the model group. “Since World War II, the story of the Jewish diaspora has been dominated by historical events and social processes taking place in the United States and the former Soviet Union. In both cases, community cohesiveness is on the decline. Lost in the dominant narrative is the story of Canadian exceptionalism.” More importantly, Lenton points to findings that in spite of global trends of stagnating nonreligious, secular community members, Canadian Jews are “bucking the trend.”

The resilience of Canadian Jews in sustaining their identity, upbringing, and practice in comparison with their American counterparts, is largely due to their significantly lower intermarriage rates. The study reports that while nearly 50% of American Jews intermarry, the rate in Canada is less than half that, at 23%. Correspondingly, Pew’s 2013 survey found intermarried couples showed lower levels of religiosity and were less likely to keep a Jewish household, and that their offspring were more likely to intermarry.

Downstream from higher intermarriage rates, the study demonstrates that American Jews are half as likely to attend community day school, yeshiva, overnight summer camp, and Sunday or Hebrew school compared with Canadians. While participation rates at communal institutions have dwindled among non-Orthodox American Jews, the same has not been true for Reform and Conservative Jews in Canada. Accordingly, while American and Canadian Jewish youth exhibit similar bar and bat mitzvah levels (50% to 60%, respectively) as well as rates of nonaffiliation (roughly 33%), Canadians are significantly more active in their religious communities. As the survey’s executive summary states, “American Jews are half as likely as Canadian Jews to belong to a synagogue, and even less likely to belong to other types of Jewish organizations. Only one-half have made a financial donation to Jewish organizations and causes (compared with 80% of Canadian Jews), and comparatively few have a preponderance of Jewish friends.” Similar results are seen when it comes to Israel between the two communities. “American Jews have a much weaker connection to Israel than do Canadian Jews,” the report states.

Explaining the relative success Canadian Jews have had withstanding the pressures of assimilation is difficult to pinpoint. An article published in the Canadian Jewish News by the study’s authors argue “Canadian exceptionalism” arose as a consequence of larger historical and social forces. “The United States was settled earlier and has therefore had more time for a national identity to crystallize. Moreover, American national identity was forged in an anti-colonial war–always a great unifier–while Canadian national identity emerged gradually, in tandem with the peaceful evolution of independence from Great Britain.” As a result, American Jews have developed a far stronger national identity and consciousness than Canadians. The authors also point to Zionism’s contentious reception among American Jews in the 20th century, particularly in the Reform movement where Jewish self-determination was seen to be in conflict with American patriotism. In Canada, by comparison, British efforts to accommodate French-speaking elements fostered the growth of ethnic institutions within the country. Pierre Elliot Trudeau (the current prime minister’s father) promoted a tradition of multiculturalism and courted Canadian Jews through political appointment of community members. Elevating multiculturalism as official policy of the Canadian government came with explicit instructions to nurture one’s identity and take pride in ancestry.

It’s not all bad news for American Jews. The Canadian study actually provides some cause for encouragement since it shows that policy can make a difference. American Jewish leaders may not be able to replicate Canadian cultural attitudes and national traditions within their own communities but they can certainly draw lessons from the distinctive experiences of their northern neighbors. Finally, there is the contentious but unavoidable fact that intermarriage plays a critical role in determining whether Jewish communities will flourish into the future. This point may be repeated often but that does not make it any less true: A Jewish upbringing is the fount from which identity flows. New technologies (yes, even, JSwipe) may help foster more Jewish marriages in less-observant communities, but algorithms will never solve the fundamental question of how to build a Jewish communal life that endures—for those answers, perhaps it’s time that American Jews turned to the example set here in Canada.

Source: Why Canada’s Jews Are Better

Young, Canadian and Jewish: The shift from religious to cultural identity

Some interesting insights from the survey in terms of generation, Canada/US comparisons, and the experience of discrimination:

Jewish” used to be considered a religious category. However, for many Jews, that is changing. Increasingly, people who live outside of Israel and identify as Jewish think of themselves as members of an ethnic or cultural group.

For years, researchers have expressed concern that Jewish communities would assimilate and dissipate as religious identification waned. They pointed to intermarriage as an indicator of declining community cohesiveness. For example, they found that in the U.S., half of Jews who are married or in a common law relationship are partnered with non-Jews.

….A recent survey reveals that something different is happening in Canada.

A shift from religious identification toward ethnic and cultural identification is taking place. However, the expected assimilation and dissipation of the community is less evident. The intermarriage rate in Canada is less than half that in the United States.

Last year we conducted a survey based on a representative sample of 2,335 Canadian Jewish adults in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver — home to 84 per cent of the Canadian Jewish population of about 392,000. Several surprises awaited us.

A strong community

The biggest news coming out of the survey is that the Canadian Jewish community remains highly cohesive. A much higher percentage of Canadian Jews than American Jews make financial donations to the Jewish community, send their children to full-time Jewish school, belong to a synagogue or other type of Jewish organisation and are strongly emotionally attached to Israel. Yet a smaller percentage of Canadian Jews than American Jews believes in God or a higher spirit and thinks that Jewishness is solely a matter of religion.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/KounG/3/It is especially among young adults that the religious basis of Jewishness seems to be weakening.

When asked to report whether being Jewish is, for them, mainly a matter of religion, culture or ancestry, young adults are less likely than older adults to choose religion alone.

For these young people, Jewishness is often expressed in their community involvement. Younger Jews are about as active as older Jews on most indicators of community involvement. They are more likely to belong to a Jewish organisation other than a synagogue, light Sabbath candles weekly and donate to Jewish causes.

However, for them, such practices seem to be chiefly a means of achieving conviviality in the family and, beyond that, solidarity with the larger Jewish community.

One interpretation of these findings is that Canadian Jews, particularly young adults, are finding ways of remaining Jewish that are not principally religious. A shift away from religious identification is taking place in other Jewish diaspora communities too, but its replacement by community involvement does not seem to be happening to the same extent.

Canadian exceptionalism?

There are three main reasons why community involvement is substantially stronger in Canada than in the United States.

First, immigration has been proportionately stronger in Canada than in the U.S. since the Second World War. Consequently, 30 per cent of Canadian Jews are immigrants compared to just 14 per cent of American Jews. Canadians therefore tend to have stronger ties to “old country” traditions and languages than do American Jews.

Second, Americans Jews developed a stronger national identity than Canadians did, partly because the U.S. was settled earlier and therefore had more time for a national identity to crystallize. In addition, American national identity was forged in an anti-colonial war (always a great unifier), while Canadian national identity emerged gradually with the peaceful evolution of independence from Great Britain.

Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish homeland, appeared on the scene in the late 19th century. It conflicted with American patriotism, particularly for Reform Jews, members of the country’s largest Jewish denomination. Most Reform Jews thought Jewishness should be based on religion, not a national movement.

Not so in Canada, where the Reform movement was weak. By the beginning of the First World War, Zionism was a core element of Jewish identity for the great majority of Canadian Jews. It thus helped to keep the forces of assimilation at bay. It did so by providing a new basis for Jewish identification that became even more compelling after the Holocaust.

The third main reason for Canadian-Jewish exceptionalism is that, out of political necessity, fostering the growth of ethnic institutions has been Canadian public policy since the British conquest of New France in 1760.

Part of the British strategy for dominating the French population was not to quash French Catholic culture, but to help the conservative Catholic Church maintain religious, educational and cultural control.

Two centuries later, shortly after Canada was proclaimed a bilingual and bicultural country, numerous ethnic groups objected that they, too, deserve official recognition and funding. The era of multiculturalism had arrived. For the past half century, strong state support for ethnic institutions has helped all Canadians, Jews among them, to ward off assimilation.

American and Canadian Jews do not differ in all respects. One similarity is the tendency for older Jews in both countries to be more likely than younger Jews to say that caring for Israel is an essential part of being Jewish.

A similar difference between young and old shows up in both countries when Jews are asked about the legality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Younger Jews are more likely to regard them as illegal by international law. If younger North American Jews are less emotionally attached to Israel than are older members of the community, that may be because they are more likely to disagree with Israel’s policy on the construction of West Bank settlements.

One in three often experience discrimination

Finally, we note a discontinuity of outlook between Canadian Jews and non-Jews.

One in three Canadian Jews believe that Jews often experience discrimination in Canada. In contrast, just one in eight members of the Canadian population at large shares that opinion.

This difference may be due largely to the tendency of non-Jewish Canadians to think of discrimination as mainly a socio-economic phenomenon, while Jewish Canadians tend to think of anti-Jewish discrimination as an ideological matter.

Canadian Jews are not underprivileged. About 80 per cent of Jewish adults between the ages of 25 and 64 have at least a bachelor’s degree. That compares to about 30 per cent of people in that age cohort in the population at large.

However, when Jews think of anti-Jewish discrimination, they have in mind being called offensive names, being snubbed in social settings or being criticised for supporting the existence of a Jewish state.

Of course, we cannot be completely certain of the validity of our findings.

For example, although our generalizations about the relationship between age and community involvement apply across the entire age range, we found it comparatively difficult to recruit 18-to-29-year-old respondents.

It is therefore possible that the youngest cohort in our sample overrepresents highly involved individuals. In that case, the most important relationship we discovered may be a bit weaker than we report. Only more research can discover whether that is the case.

Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation, a civil rights champion, marks 250 years

Some early Canadian history:

The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal was a forerunner of multiculturalism before the word had been invented.

Its members were among the founders of Canada: fur-traders, captains of industry and scholars.

Their struggle for civil rights made Quebec the first place in the British Empire where Jews could hold office.

So how come so few people know its amazing story?

Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year. On Thursday, the synagogue is holding a gala dinner to mark the anniversary.

For Rabbi Avi Finegold, it’s an opportunity for the congregation on St-Kevin St. in Snowdon to celebrate its storied past and contribution to intercultural harmony.

“I like to think multiculturalism and religious pluralism started with us,” Finegold said.

“Diversity starts with our congregation. We represent something much bigger than us,” he said.

Montreal city council passed a resolution marking the anniversary in March and the synagogue is planning other events throughout the year, including a speaker series, travelling exhibition and the commissioning of a new Torah scroll.

Founded in Old Montreal in 1768, the synagogue, also known as Shearith Israel (remnant of Israel), was founded by Quebec’s first Jews — an enterprising group of merchants who arrived with British troops starting in 1759.

Its origins are rooted in the military and religious struggles that shaped the modern world, from the Spanish Inquisition to the age-old rivalry between France and England for world domination.

And its membership would include some of the brightest denizens of Montreal’s elite Square Mile, from streetcar magnate Jesse Joseph, president of the city’s streetcar company, to Clarence de Sola, a leader of Canada’s Zionist movement at the turn of the 20th century.

One of the rare surviving mansions on René Lévesque Blvd., the Judah house at 1980 René-Lévesque W., just west of the ramp to westbound Highway 720, belonged to another congregation member, the prominent lawyer and real-estate owner Frederick Thomas Judah.

Never heard of any of those gents?

Not surprising, because there was something of the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie about Montreal’s Jewish community in its first century of existence.

“It was a community that was quite discreet,” said Éliane Bélec, a doctoral student in history at Université du Québec à Montréal who wrote a 65-page commemorative booklet on the congregation that will be distributed to members.

Unlike the Ashkenazi Jews who poured into Canada from 1880 to 1920, fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, the earlier community (which included Ashkenazi Jews but practised Sephardic rituals) was numerically small, wealthy and assimilated, she noted.

“I think the Spanish and Portuguese, the Sephardic community, was very Westernized while the Ashkenazi who arrived from Europe had their own way of dressing and their own foods,” Bélec said.

During the 1880s, Montreal’s Jewish population rose from 811 to 2,473 and in the 1890s it rose to 6,941, according to Taking Root: the Origins of the Canadian Jewish Community by Gerald Tulchinsky (Brandeis University Press, 1993).

Fast forward to the 1960s, when the arrival of Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and North Africa again changed the Jewish community.

“When we first came in 1970, the congregation was 85 per cent Ashkenazi,” said Norma Joseph, a professor of religion and cultures at Concordia University and the wife of Rabbi Emeritus Howard Joseph, who led the congregation for 40 years.

Within a few years, the membership had become 85 per cent Sephardic, with substantial contingents from Iraq, Lebanon and Morocco, she said.

The couple will be honoured for their long service to the synagogue at Thursday’s gala.

“One of the things my husband excelled at was making the different communities feel welcome and telling them that their own traditions were valuable, wonderful and that we could all live together in our multicultural synagogue,” Joseph said.

“On Rosh Hashanah, we have five different services. We have the main Spanish and Portuguese tradition, we have an Iraqi service, a Moroccan service, a Lebanese service, and an authentic Ashkenazi service.

“When you walk into each one of these services and close your eyes, you think you’re transported back 100 years to the different countries. It’s the most amazing, wonderful feeling,” she said.

For more information on the 250th anniversary, visit thespanish.org/250th-home or call 514-737-3695.

Why Spanish and Portuguese?

When Spain and Portugal expelled the Jews in 1492 and 1497, hundreds of thousands of “conversos,” Jews who had converted to Christianity — often under duress — remained. They now became the main targets for persecution. Over time, some escaped to other parts of Western Europe and returned to the Jewish fold. In Amsterdam, the world’s leading trading city and a centre of religious tolerance, they founded a thriving community, supplemented by the arrival of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. It sent out offshoots to New York (then New Amsterdam) and London, where Spanish and Portuguese Synagogues were founded in 1654 and 1657 respectively. (The New York synagogue credits its founding to 23 Jews who escaped from Brazil after Portugal re-conquered it from the Dutch.)

Hart and Soul

Jews, banned from New France, began arriving in Quebec with the British army from 1759 onward. Among them was Aaron Hart (1724-1800), a sutler who sold provisions to the British troops. A protégé of commander and later governor Frederick Haldimand, Hart founded a dynasty in Trois-Rivières, where he became a successful merchant and landowner. Despite the distance, Hart maintained close ties to the Montreal synagogue.

Fight for rights

In 1807, Hart’s second son, Ezekiel (1770-1843) won a by-election in Trois-Rivières, becoming the first Jew elected to office in the British Empire. But the majority Canadien party (later the Patriotes) refused to let him take his seat in the assembly of Lower Canada because he was a Jew.

In 1832, the assembly passed a motion introduced by newspaper publisher John Neilson extending political rights to Jews, who were still barred from holding office in Britain.


Source: Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation, a civil rights champion, marks 250 years

Liberal Jewish and Muslim MPs condemn imams who called for the death of Jews [and anti-Muslim hate]

Great initiative and statement:

….So right now, the Parliamentary record shows Liberals voting down a motion condemning racism and intolerance even as Conservatives, New Democrats, and Bloc Quebecois MPs, along with the lone Green Party MP, voted in favour of condemning all racism and religious intolerance. (Conservatives, it should be noted, vowed not to vote for M-103 when that motion comes to the floor, preferring, instead the one voted on Tuesday.)

It’s in that context — the reports of the imams calling for death to Jews and the Liberal rejection of a motion condemning, in part, discrimination against Jews —  that a group of Liberal Jewish and Muslim MPs issued this statement Wednesday:

“As Canadians, we rise and fall together. Polarization doesn’t only hurt targeted groups, it hurts all Canadians.

As Parliamentarians, we feel it is our responsibility to rally Canadians around our shared values of human rights, equality and respect for each other. It is our duty to speak out and set an example for Canadians in confronting stereotypes and prejudice, and advancing understanding and education.

We are horrified by reports that two Imams in Montreal and Toronto called for the death of Jews during sermons. We condemn such behaviour and call on the mosques’ administration to take appropriate action.

We are equally troubled by reports of hate notes posted outside identifiable Jewish homes in Toronto this past weekend, as well as deeply concerning accounts from university campuses of Jewish students being targeted and vilified. Anti-Semitism is real and we must stand together against it.

We are also united in condemning Islamophobia and supporting Motion 103. Three weeks ago, six Muslim Canadians were killed during their prayer service at a Quebec mosque. Since the attack, there have been troubling incidents of mosque vandalism and a protest with hateful slogans outside a Toronto mosque. As Parliamentarians we recognize this rise in Anti-Muslim sentiment as Islamophobia.

We respect and defend Canadians’ right to freedom of speech and peaceful protest, and Motion 103 does nothing to change speech laws in Canada, contrary to falsehoods being circulated. We believe the best way to counter hate is through free and open dialogue and as such we also want to exercise our right to speak out against intimidating Canadians, including children, when they’re visiting their place of worship.

Motion 103 sends a message of solidarity to all those affected by religious and other forms of systemic discrimination and calls on the Heritage Committee to study and make recommendations to respond to them.

Religious, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation discrimination is a threat to our diversity and social cohesion. We call on all Canadians to lead by example. Words matter.

The overwhelming majority of Canadians reject guilt by association and stigmatization. That is why we must redouble our efforts to promote education and understanding.

We take pride in the countless Canadian stories of interfaith groups coming together to make our communities better.

We must continue to defend a Canada that is based on our Charter of Rights and Freedoms respecting the rights and responsibilities of all. Diversity is our strength.

Members :
Hon. Jim Carr, Winnipeg South Centre
Hon. Karina Gould, Burlington.
Hon. Ahmed Hussen, York South — Weston
Hon. Maryam Monsef, Peterborough — Kawartha.
Omar Alghabra, Mississauga Centre
Julie Dabrusin, Toronto — Danforth.
Ali Ehsassi, Willowdale.
David Graham, Laurentides — Labelle.
Anthony Housefather, Mount Royal
Majid Jowhari, Richmond Hill.
Iqra Khalid, Mississauga — Erin Mills.
Michael Levitt, York Centre
Yasmin Ratansi, Don Valley East
Dan Ruimy, Pitt Meadows — Maple Ridge.
Marwan Tabbara, Kitchener South — Hespeler
Arif Virani, Parkdale — High Park.
Salma Zahid, Scarborough Centre”

Lessons learned from ‘The Jewish Hour’

Rick Salutin comments on some of the insights from the early Jewish community in Toronto and how they may apply to today’s integration challenges:

That community, in Toronto, is described in a lovely, loving new book by the late Michael Mandel: The Jewish Hour. He focuses on weekly radio shows in Yiddish, in Toronto — in 1938 there were three competing “Jewish Hours” — and on local newspapers from the 1930s to the 1950s. The papers were in Yiddish, but helped integrate their readers by covering Toronto events, unlike the dominant New York Yiddish press, which was devoured here.

By the 1930s, Jews were less than 10 per cent of Toronto — far fewer than the quarter to a third in New York or Warsaw — but still the largest non-British group. You could say they were white, unlike today’s minorities, but in ways they were viewed as non-white. They were assumed to have distinct, identifiable physical traits though they could sometimes “pass,” much like other non-Caucasians. You could also say they shared Canada’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage, but you’d be wrong. Canada was then universally considered a “Christian nation.” As part of the integration of Canadian Jews, the term slowly expanded to Judeo-Christian.

To some degree at least, that process of integration is unstoppable. Mandel’s dad, who was a regular on radio, was known in the Yiddish press as a “showman” — spelled out literally in the 1,000-year-old language of Eastern European Jews. Toronto’s many cantors — leaders in prayer — often crossed over to secular performances, just like Al Jolson in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer.

In return, newcomers made their contributions. The Yiddish papers had no illusions about the rise of Hitler, from the start. They warned Canada. When the war ended, they had no illusions about what would follow: “If we are going to have an era of peace, it is only because humanity is now exhausted and broken — not because it finally realizes the absurdity of the atrocities of war.”

Like every immigrant community, there were fierce internal differences, about which the larger society tends to be oblivious. Instead it tries to homogenize groups, as it now does with Muslims. But there were communist Jews, socialists, Zionists and anti-Zionists, Tories and Liberals, rich versus poor — who attacked each other regularly. The presence of a crisis, such as 9/11 or the Holocaust, sharpens the differences while underlining the need for unity.

The outlets declined as Yiddish did. In 1931, 96 per cent of Jews here called it their first language. By 1951, it was 51 per cent, and 11 per cent in 1981. The papers tried to adapt with English sections: the Star’s memorable theatre critic, Nathan Cohen, edited the English pages for the communist “Vochenblatt.”

Till the end, the voices were eloquent: “That is how it goes in Jewish history, from Moses’s time till the present: the presidents and rich ones commit themselves only when there is an ark” — meaning a secure shelter like Noah’s — “and a place of honour.” You can’t get enough of that kind of journalistic feistiness, in any language.

I know there are different challenges with racialized immigrations, like those of the last 50 years. But I don’t think they’re insuperable, due to both the will of immigrants to join their new society and its urgent need for what they offer.

Source: Lessons learned from ‘The Jewish Hour’ | Toronto Star

New law makes Canadian Jews second-class citizens

A number of Canadian Jews express worries regarding the revocation provisions of C-24 (Citizenship Act), provoking a bit of a debate between Jon Kay and Bernie Farber, the former discounting the arguments, the latter maintaining the possibility that this could occur (think of a dual Canadian-Israeli settler in the West Bank who launches a terrorist attack on Palestinians):

Many Canadians are not aware how far-reaching this law could be. The provisions that could banish dual citizens can also apply to Canadians who might be able to obtain a second citizenship. This would include Canadian-born citizens who are descendants of many countries that grant citizenship to children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren born abroad. Many countries, like Italy, Ireland, and India grant citizenship or easier access to citizenship to members of their diaspora.

Jews are second-class citizens under this law. That’s because the Law of Return gives an almost automatic right of Israeli residency and citizenship to any Jew. Every Canadian with citizenship or a right of citizenship abroad now has conditional rights to be a Canadian. It doesn’t even matter that you or your ancestral family have not lived in Israel for the past 2,000 years. Because a government official could argue that the Law of Return means you won’t be stateless if your Canadian citizenship is taken away, the second-class citizenship law applies to you.

It doesn’t matter that you might never commit one of the serious offences listed as grounds for revocation of citizenship – a list that the Prime Minister has said they will consider expanding. What matters is that all Canadians used to have the same citizenship rights, no matter what their origins.

Now we don’t. Canadians have now been divided into classes of citizens, — those with more rights, and those – overwhelmingly immigrants to Canada and their children and grandchildren – who have fewer rights. Those who can never ever lose their citizenship, and those of us – like Canadian Jews – who now could possibly have our citizenship stripped, according to law. That is not what Canada is about.

Until C-24 is erased from the books, the law now says that some Canadians belong, and some belong here less.

The idea that Jews, and other Canadians, are now covered by this law of banishment certainly casts a bitter taste to our refrain of “next year in Jerusalem.” All citizens should be alarmed that our government is attempting to create different rules for “old stock” Canadians and for the rest of us. That is unworthy of the Canada we love.

Débat dans Mont-Royal: Israël au coeur des échanges

Diaspora politics in action (Mont-Royal is 30.7 percent Canadian Jews):

Les personnes portant la kippa se comptaient par centaines dans la salle remplie à craquer d’une synagogue de Côte-des-Neiges hier soir où elles étaient venues entendre les candidats des trois principaux partis débattre d’économie, de langue et d’Israël.

C’est dans cette circonscription où le scrutin s’est révélé très serré en 2011 que Stephen Harper avait lancé sa campagne il y a un mois, dans l’espoir de conquérir le fief libéral longtemps détenu par le libéral Irwin Cutler.

À tour de rôle, les candidats du Parti libéral et du Parti conservateur, qui portaient tous les deux la kippa, ont croisé le fer sur la question israélienne.

«Je suis fier d’être Juif. Mon entreprise a des bureaux en Israël, j’y suis allé souvent. Je vais me battre pour Israël !», a lancé Anthony Housefather, le candidat libéral et actuel maire de Côte-Saint-Luc.

Sans s’en prendre à son adversaire libéral, le candidat conservateur a concentré ses attaques sur le chef Justin Trudeau, dont la «boussole morale varie avec le vent».

«Israël est certainement devenu un sujet important de cette élection, il n’y a aucun doute. Mais de dire que la position du Parti libéral sur Israël est la même que celle du Parti conservateur de Stephen Harper est vraiment tiré par les cheveux», a-t-il déclaré.

Le candidat conservateur a remis en question l’approche plus nuancée prônée par Justin Trudeau au sujet de la politique étrangère canadienne.

«Qu’est-ce que “nuance” signifie? Est-ce que ça veut dire que le Canada devrait diminuer son soutien à Israël? Est-ce que c’est ça que Justin Trudeau veut?», a-t-il lancé sous les applaudissements.

«L’appui du Parti libéral à l’endroit d’Israël est sans équivoque. Il n’y a aucune hésitation», a répété son vis-à-vis libéral.

Robert Libman a été chaudement applaudi par la foule lorsqu’il a ardemment critiqué l’accord sur le nucléaire de l’Iran, « pays qui veut détruire Israël».

Devant les attaques incessantes contre son chef, le candidat libéral s’est même senti obligé de préciser que le Parti libéral «ne support[ait] pas le régime en Iran».

«L’Iran est la plus grande menace du monde, je vais tout faire pour éviter que l’Iran n’obtienne la bombe nucléaire», s’est-il exclamé, également applaudi par une bonne partie des quelque 500 électeurs.

Le candidat du Nouveau parti démocratique (NPD) Mario Jacinto Rimbao, un membre bien en vue de l’importante communauté philippine de la circonscription s’est toutefois fait chahuter en évoquant la position néodémocrate sur l’accord iranien.

Source: Débat dans Mont-Royal: Israël au coeur des échanges | Louis-Samuel Perron | Élections fédérales

Cohen: Canada’s conversation about Israel brings shouts and insults

Good commentary by Andrew Cohen, reminding us of the diversity of views among Canadian Jews, and how these are muffled by the larger Canadian Jewish organizations:

But many congregants [of Shaar Hashomayim] worry — more than this prime minister can understand — about the country’s future as a democracy, even a Jewish Homeland, if it does not address its settlements in the West Bank. Or if it thinks the solution to Iran is solely military. Many of us hoped this government would raise reservations, as friends do, and as Ari Shavlit does in “My Promised Land,” his ruthlessly honest book.

Bless Rabbi Scheier. But when he hails a prime minister for speaking “truth” but offering nothing but self-comforting notions, when he lavishes praise on a mission of missed opportunity, he should know that he does not speak for me.

What Jews badly need are not stale notions and soothing platitudes, but that refreshing “gale of conversation” which has not yet blown into Canada.

Column: Canada’s conversation about Israel brings shouts and insults.