Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Jewish Community Studies

The Canadian Jewish Experience

Maintaining Consensus: The Canadian Jewish Polity in the Postwar World, Chapter One

Daniel J. Elazar

A New Force in World Jewry

The Canadian Jewish community today is on the threshhold of becoming a major force in world Jewry as the result of the convergence of two factors that are almost cliches and the addition of a third. The first is that Canadian Jewry is a generation or two behind the American Jewish community. Like most cliches, it reflects a basic truth. Just as American Jewry had a great flowering in the generation immediately after World War II, so has Canadian Jewry begun to flower in the second generation after the war, the generation that began in the mid-1970s and is now reaching its peak. The second cliche relates to that flowering, namely that Canadian Jewry has now come of age. Here, too, the cliche states the truth.

Because Canada is territorially adjacent to the United States, Canadian Jewry has become intertwined with American Jewish institutions as part of a North American "community." Yet at the same time it has preserved certain British and Eastern European models. They are reinforced by the special character of Canada as a bilingual, multicultural society. This combination has made Canadian Jewry a linchpin between American and other diaspora Jewries and even to some extent between the diaspora and Israel. This is the third factor that has yet to be widely recognized.

One of the first ways in which this latter phenomenon has manifested itself is in the institutions of the emerging world Jewish polity. In one manifestation of Canadian Jewry's new role, the Canadian United Israel Appeal, as part of Keren Hayesod, is linked with all the magbiot (fund-raising campaigns for Israel) of the Jewish world other than the United States, while the Canadian Jewish community federations, which actually raise the money, are linked through the Council of Jewish Federations with American Jewry. In the past decade or so, this has led to Canadian Jewish leaders playing a special role in helping the reconstituted Jewish Agency move forward.

As the fourth largest diaspora Jewish community in size in the Free World, exceeded only by the United States, France, and Britain, Canada is one of those with a sufficient critical mass to play a creative role on the Jewish scene. Moreover, while France is limited in its influence by virtue of its language (since English is now the lingua franca of the Jewish world) and its own internal limitations, and British Jewry has ceased to play much of a role on the world scene, in relative influence Canada probably stands next to the United States. Indeed, as Canada becomes more bilingual, Canadian Jewry even has begun to function as a bridge between the Anglophone and Francophone Jewish worlds. All of this must lead the objective observer to conclude that Canadian Jewry is worthy of far more attention than it has received.

This book focuses principally on the first post-war generation from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s: a generation of reconstitution. The generation began with the end of the conflict between the religious and secularist elements in the community, principally because secularism disappeared as an ideological force. It continued with the emergence of the federations or, as they frequently were called in Canada, community councils as the umbrella organizations in the local communities, often in ways that went beyond the parallel trend in the United States. In that different pluralistic environment, federations had to struggle for position, while in Canada the kind of oligopoly that they represented was more acceptable and indeed in the small communities, necessary. Finally there was the countrywide reconstitution which linked the local federations with the Canadian Jewish Congress through the merger of the local CJC chapters with the federations or community councils of the major cities. Toward the end of the generation, the United Israel Appeal and National Budgeting Conference took on new roles -- the former in connection with the representation of Canadian Jewry in the Jewish Agency and the latter in providing a means for allocating funds for countrywide projects on a countrywide basis.

Accompanying these organizational changes was a changing of the guard as well. The generation that took over during the war years passed on its mantle by the early 1970s in community after community and countrywide. By the late 1970s a new generation of leadership was in place.

The Emergence of Canadian Jewry

Canada as a country is strongly influenced by its proximity to the United States. Proximity inevitably leads to comparisons and, more important, to the tendency to lump the two countries into a larger North America. Similarities rather than differences are often stressed and the unique aspects of Canadian life overlooked. In response to this situation, many Canadians are quite self-conscious about their country and its virtues. Thus there is a strong emphasis in public life on things which are genuinely Canadian.

The Jewish community of Canada is in the same situation, yet there are important differences between the Canadian Jewish response to it and the general Canadian response. The Canadian Jewish community is an independent community, with vital institutions and all aspects of Jewish activity present. Jews are well-organized, visible, and effective. They play an active role in Canadian life and in world Jewish affairs. In addition, there are close ties and relationships with the American Jewish community, which is twenty times larger. Factors such as geographical closeness, a common language, the relative sizes of the two communities, and convenience have led to a limited amount of integration. For example, the Council of Jewish Federations includes Canadian as well as American local federations and regularly selects Toronto or Montreal as the sites of its General Assembly. But by and large the Canadian community maintains its own Jewish institutions and organizations and pursues an independent existence.

Jews in Canada are very much aware that the country itself is based on the concept of two founding peoples -- the English and the French. Consequently there is no single Canadian people or Canadian culture. This makes it easier for minority groups, such as the Jews, to maintain a separate identity and even a separate culture; where everyone is a hyphenated Canadian, Jews do not stand out from their fellow countrymen when they include the Jewish as well as the Canadian element in their identity. A reality of Canadian life has been the encouragement of multiple identities, with a major emphasis on ethnic identification in addition to religious identification. This contrasts with the American experience, where religious differences served as the primary means of self-identification until the recent increase in ethnic consciousness.

Although Jews first came to Canada in the eighteenth century, the bulk of the community consists of immigrants who came from Europe during this century or the descendants of such immigrants. The recency of much of the immigration is an important factor in understanding the development of the community. In fact the immigration and the encouragement of ethnic distinctiveness are complementary in terms of creating an environment in which Jews live comfortably as Jews while generally succeeding in efforts to participate fully in all aspects of Canadian society.

Under French rule Jews were banned from New France (as Canada was first called), just as they were from France proper. Only with the British conquest in 1759 could Jews appear openly in that land. Jewish merchants accompanied the conquering British and organized communities in Montreal and Trois Rivieres in the 1760s. Canada was almost entirely avoided by the nineteenth century German and Central European Jewish immigrants because the United States was the land of opportunity and Canada was a backwater. Hence it was the Eastern European Jews who were the real founders of the Canadian Jewish community, at the very end of the nineteenth century.1

Canadian Jews and the Great Frontier

Canada and Canadian Jewry exist by virtue of the great frontier of Europe, which began with the voyages of discovery in the late fifteenth century and persisted until our own time.2 The land frontier opened in the new territories discovered by European explorers was based on rural pursuits, whether agricultural or extractive; it was the classic frontier of the modern epoch. As distinct from earlier colonization experiences, the modern frontier was not a temporary phenomenon that lasted only as long as there was free land. Instead, wherever it took root it generated a chain reaction that, in turn, opened new frontiers.

Vast territories of the modern land frontier, far away from the original bastions of civilization, had to be explored, tamed, and settled. To do this effectively, men invented a new technology that generated an urban-industrial frontier -- a coming together of people in cities not to serve agricultural hinterlands but to concentrate and apply technology so as to create wealth -- ultimately making the agricultural hinterland dependent on them. Early in the nineteenth century, the first signs of this urban-industrial frontier appeared in the United States.3 During that century, it spread in varying degrees to other frontier countries, reflecting in each country the kind of land frontier that preceded it.

Canada followed the classic frontier pattern in part because of its vast continental expanse and in part because of its proximity to the United States where it benefited from a shared North American frontier.4 Canada was a place where the Jews from Eastern Europe had an opportunity to participate in the land frontier. Baron de Hirsch tried to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in the Canadian West, as in Argentina, but they failed. Jews homesteaded on an individual basis, and many more drifted westward to the small towns of the Canadian great plains in what were soon to become the prairie provinces, at the time that they were being settled. Thus the Jews of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta share a land frontier tradition with their Canadian compatriots. Some were there with the first founders of the major cities on the Canadian prairies. Jews were among the primary recorders of the frontier experience in Canadian literature and the arts. While that was happening, Montreal, Toronto, and other cities were becoming the loci of an urban industrial frontier that attracted most of the Jews who came to Canada. Jews made major contributions to that frontier, although limited by the dominance of the old Canadian families and the degree to which Canada developed industrially as a branch of the United States.5

The urban-industrial frontier gave rise to a metropolitan-technological frontier. The completion of the first stage of industrialization -- which gave birth to cities as wealth generators in their own right -- led to new technologies involving the internal combustion engine, telecommunications, and synthetics. These made possible the automobile, the airplane, the telephone, radio and television, and plastics. These technological changes so greatly altered the world lived in and the way they settled that world as to remake it. Metropolitanization became the dominant settlement pattern. People flocked to urban areas, leaving the rural environment to an ever-decreasing minority; but they rebuilt those urban areas as congeries of suburbs -- low density settlements surrounding a central city rather than as separate cities in the old urban style.

These metropolitan regions provided the opportunity for a life style that embodied "rural" amenities such as single-family homes, lawns, and privacy, with the advantage of urban services. The regions were linked internally by roads and telephones and externally by airplanes and the mass media. They rested on a synthetics-plastics base and generated a new range of occupations and a new way of life based on consumption. This contrasts sharply with the great urban agglomerations of the Third World, which do not reflect an advancing frontier but instead modernization with its concomitant miseries, as in nineteenth century Europe, but intensified by the lack of infrastructure.6

Jews were ideally suited for pioneering on the metropolitan frontier, since it was heavily based on communications and Jews have been oriented toward the center of the communications network wherever they have found themselves. Whatever the relationship of different waves of Jewish settlers or generations of Jewish residents to particular frontier stages in the new worlds, where the frontier has existed, it has had a major impact on how Jews have related to the larger society and on how the environment has shaped their institutions and behavior. For the most part, this influence has moved toward integrating Jews as individuals into the life of the larger community and transforming Jewish institutions into expressions of the new synthesis of the Jewish heritage and the new environment.

Louis Hartz, in his important book The Founding of New Societies, has referred to these frontier societies as fragments that broke off from European civilization and had to implant themselves in new soil, pursuing lines of development that reflected their European heritage but were, nevertheless, substantially different because of the transplantation.7 These fragments began their separate development from the point at which they were separated from European civilization, often maintaining patterns common to the civilization they left behind in forms that remained frozen or took radically different directions from those of the original civilization, which continued to undergo adaptations of its own.

If there is any process in this sequence, it is how these fragments of civilization were self-consciously conservative in their earliest stages, as the pioneers of the new settlements tried to retain the only civilization they knew. Then, once rooted, the settlements took off in directions that were possible precisely because the population had become more self-confident and at home. The Jewish settlements in the Western and Southern hemispheres followed this pattern. They began as fragments of different Old World Jewries, making every effort to maintain familiar ways during the period of settling in, and only later began to move toward the more relaxed development of indigenous patterns.

The tendency of Jewish immigrants who tried to remain Jews but were not learned in Jewish matters was to identify their Jewish memories of the "old home" as the sum and substance of Jewishness and to be most fearful of any changes. This tendency was reinforced by their minority status in the new countries. It was reflected in the efforts of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish immigrants to British North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to preserve their Portuguese ritual and organization and eastern European Jewish immigrants to Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries trying to preserve Yiddish as the basis of Jewish life. This need was intensified by the Jewish fear of assimilation into a non-Jewish environment if old moorings were let loose.

Eventually the Jews who immigrated to the countries of the New World had to adapt to their new environments. Despite the common thread of the frontier experience, each of the communities came to differ significantly from the others.

The Canadian situation was particularly complex because the Jews came to a polity founded by two principal fragments -- one French and one English -- neither of which was particularly hospitable to them. Almost all the Jewish immigrants to Canada came from Eastern Europe where they were far removed from either French or English civilization. Few of the founders of the Canadian Jewish community passed through either of Canada's original founding civilizations in the Old World before reaching Canadian shores. Hence they did not come with an acquired cultural patina to help them meld with the local population.

On the other hand, Canadian Jewish institutions emerged directly out of the vitality of Eastern European Jewry to be Canadianised from that starting point, rather than having to introduce that vitality into bland Jewish institutions of the post-Emancipation West. The Jews who founded the Canadian Jewish community were more "Jewish" in the cultural, national, and religious sense than those who founded the American Jewish community. This has had profound consequences on slowing the rate of assimilation within Canadian Jewry and creating an institutional fabric that is more traditional and separatist than its counterpart south of the border. The Jews of Canada have remained a separate and distinctive group. In some respects they are caught between Canada's two founding communities; in other respects they can take advantage of postwar Canada's shift from biculturalism to multiculturalism, as have other European groups such as Italians, Ukrainians, and Germans, who immigrated to Canada and found themselves in the same situation.8

Canada became a multicultural society in the framework of a federal system that, since Confederation in 1867, has seen the provinces grow in strength and increase their political power and sense of identity. One result of this is that Canada has no New York, no city that served as the major magnet for the Jewish immigrants. Jews settled almost equally in Montreal and Toronto, even though the first had some edge until the postwar period. Smaller numbers concentrated in the major cities of other provinces. Thus the combined effect of Canadian federalism and the frontier led to the creation of a multicentered Jewish community resting on two more or less equal anchors with institutions structured accordingly.

This has generated certain anomalies. By and large, the Jewish settlers were more in sympathy with the Protestant English Canadians who were the dominant group, even though the Anglophones rejected them through "genteel" anti-Semitism, which was strong in the last generation of the nineteenth century and the first generation of the twentieth. They were far removed from the Roman Catholic French Canadians, who were equally anti-Semitic but might have sought out the Jews as allies against the English, had the Jews been open to such an alliance. As a result, even the Jews who settled in the province of Quebec chose to assimilate into the Anglophone rather than into the Francophone community, much to the disgust of the French majority. This was to come back to haunt the Jewish community in the 1970s.9

Canadian Jews also remained more traditional than their counterparts in most of the other countries of immigration. Among the modified versions of Eastern European institutions transplanted to Canada was Orthodoxy, to which most Canadian Jews continued to adhere for a long time after their American counterparts had abandoned it. To this day most synagogues in Canada are Orthodox, with the Conservative movement second and closing, and the Reform movement far behind. Ultra-Orthodoxy, however, has probably made fewer inroads in Canada than in other communities like it. There is a growing ultra-Orthodox population, but it is much less influential in religious affairs because mainstream Orthodoxy remains strong, with a solid committed core group as well as Jews who are nominally Orthodox for public purposes.

The Jewish immigrants established an all-embracing representative organization, the Canadian Jewish Congress, by the end of the community's first generation. They also retained Yiddish as a spoken and written language longer than the other English-speaking communities. All this was encouraged by their marginal position in Canadian society, which treated them ambivalently, opening its doors to them as individuals but keeping distance from them as Jews.

Public schooling has been much less a political-cultural norm in Canada than in the United States or France. In Quebec, separate Francophone and Anglophone school systems were recognized as the basis of public education and were tied to the dominant Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The Jews, eager to enter non-Jewish society, rejected the opportunity to establish a parallel Jewish school system and were content with being defined for school purposes as Protestants. Nevertheless, a Jewish day school system developed in Montreal when day schools were confined to the ultra-Orthodox in New York and one or two other cities in the United States. They have been subsidized by the Quebec government since 1969 and attracted many Jewish children. Today the day schools enroll two-thirds of the Jewish school population in that province.

In unilingual Ontario where public schools were the norm, they were also more Protestant without the restraints of separation of church and state as defined in the United States or France. While most Jews took advantage of the public schools, some wanted to give their children more intensive Jewish education. They chose day schools that were not stigmatized as being separatist. Hence Toronto now has a network of Jewish day schools, and every Jewish community in the province has its day school. Public schools were much more likely to be the norm in the prairie provinces and British Columbia, and day schools were longer in taking root. The Jews who settled in those regions established communal Talmud Torahs that provided almost as rigorous a Jewish education through a supplementary educational framework for several generations of children, before shifting to comprehensive all-day education.

The Succession of Generations

Just as humanity puts its changing imprint on space through the continuing frontier, it shapes times through the passage of generations. The generational rhythm that shapes human history reflects the nexus between human biology and civilization that leads to a patterning and repatterning of events at intervals of between twenty-five and forty years -- usually between thirty and thirty-five. During this period the particular population cohort that sets the pace in any civil society reaches maturity, assumes positions of responsibility, and then passes from the scene as a result of death or retirement. Each generation confronts its own set of issues, which emerge from those dealt with in the previous generation. It defines those issues and then deals with them more or less satisfactorily so that new issues emerge from them to confront the next generation.10

Canadian Jewry dates back some 230 years to the second generation of the eighteenth century and the British conquest of French Canada. Because Jews were not allowed to settle in French Canada, they had no share in the French colonial experience there. But because the first of them arrived at what was, in effect, the beginning of a new generation, the Jews easily adjusted to the rhythm of the British colonial experience. They were too few, however, to matter in the mythic aspects of Canadian Jewish history. The few Jewish settlers were mainly from England, a mixture of Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Many stayed for a short while and then returned to England or moved to the United States.

During the next three generations, Canadian Jewry languished in the backwaters of world Jewry. Canada attracted few immigrants as long as the United States was the open land of opportunity. The Jewish community was kept alive by the handful of English Jews who crossed the Atlantic to Canadian shores. As a result, there was a hiatus in the rhythm of the Canadian Jewish community, although the experiences of the Jews who came and remained continued to fit well into the progression of Canadian history. It was only with the beginning of the mass emigration from Eastern Europe in the 1880s, and particularly with the introduction of restrictions on immigration to the United States by the American government at the end of the nineteenth century, that Jews began to seek Canada as an alternative. Fortuitously, the Eastern European influx also came at the beginning of a new generation in Canadian history, one that featured the opening of the West for settlement, so that the Jews fit in harmoniously. Eastern European Jewry simply took over the community; their predecessors had insufficient weight to dictate even the forms of communal life and organization. Thus the Canadian Jewish community is basically a twentieth century phenomenon, founded by Eastern European Jews, who came to an essentially empty land, Jewishly and generally, and founded their institutions from scratch.

Canada, like most other modern Jewish communities, began to suffer from anti-Semitism in the last generation of the nineteenth century. Modern racism took shape in the generation that began in the late 1870s and lasted until World War I, when Western imperialism was at its height. Northern Europeans rejected all others as lesser breeds and created elaborate theories to justify their attitudes. The Western world saw itself as a great civilizing force confronting inferior nonwhite elements. This view became strongest in the Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic countries, whose people saw themselves as the culmination of civilization and even doubted the "whiteness" of the "inferior" peoples of Southern and Eastern Europe including Jews. Even those not swayed by the new anti-Semitism saw the Jews as an Oriental people. It is no wonder that the Jews suffered as a result.11

In their drive for acceptance by non-Jewish society, the Jews more or less accepted this characterization; many tried to remake themselves accordingly. Thus, acculturation was one of their primary goals, even if this meant a level of assimilation beyond that to which they consciously aspired. Their host societies, which welcomed them with greater or lesser willingness, expected them to become fully acculturated if not assimilated.

After World War II, most of the world repudiated racism, and anti-Semitism was also rejected, chiefly because of the Holocaust. Anti-Jewish prejudice underwent a marked decline in Canada. Revelation of the horrors of the Holocaust led to a change in the hearts and minds of those who were moderately afflicted with the virus, forcing those with deeper prejudices to go underground. Today, in a new generation, there are signs that anti-Semitism is growing again, feeding on the ignorance of a generation that does not know the evils of Nazism.

The generation that matured after World War II was also less committed to homogenization. Anticolonialism replaced the white man's burden as the accepted standard, even in the West. The definition of "whiteness" had been expanded even earlier to include all Europeans, and racial barriers between whites and nonwhites were beginning to break down. Even in the more homogeneous societies of the West, a new pluralism was stirring and there was a greater willingness to tolerate differences.

Despite these new openings, Jews have not been as freely admitted to the upper echelons of Canadian society as in the United States. In Quebec the French desire for emancipation from what they perceived to be colonial restraints led to a xenophobia that was reinforced by the tendencies toward anti-Semitism fostered by the traditional Roman Catholic church. Even after the 1960s, when the French Canadians turned secularist with a vengeance, they brought with them much of this anti-Semitic baggage, and many of their intellectuals became strong supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization and vigorously anti-Zionist. "Zionist" rapidly became a code word for "Jew."

In English Canada, the class system, much stronger than that in the United States, maintained the more subtle anti-Semitism of the British elite and hence excluded Jews. This was particularly true in Ontario, the great bastion of Anglo Canada and the country's most powerful province. It was much diluted in the West, where, as in all frontier societies, there was greater opportunity for minorities.

The acceptance of multiculturalism and ethnic pluralism as official Canadian policy during the post-World War II generation offered the Jews an easy way to maintain their identity as Jews once they had acquired the elements of Canadian culture expected of all Canadian citizens. The Jews have been able to take advantage of those opportunities in Canada; yet because they are located in the most important centers of Canadian life, they have a harder time preserving the external manifestations of ethnic separatism to which more isolated groups cling.

Finally, the resurgence of Jewish corporate identity, a major feature of the postwar generation, is as notable in Canada as in the United States. Initiated by the Jews' new pride in and concern for Israel, it was nurtured by the transformation of organic Jewish ties into associational ones, the revival of ethnicity around the world, and a growing consciousness that Jews everywhere confronted common issues. The postwar generation has witnessed the revival of Jewish commitment to a Jewish polity, a commitment evident in Canada as elsewhere.

A Demographic Profile

According to the 1981 Canadian census, there are 296,425 Jews in Canada, an increase of approximately 8 percent since the 1971 census. Under the new method of questioning religious, ethnic, and linguistic attachments used in the census, it is possible that this figure slightly underestimates the actual number. The 1986 American Jewish Yearbook estimates a Jewish population of 310,000.

A considerable body of data about Jews is available because the decennial Canadian census includes separate questions about religion and ethnicity. The major feature to note about the distribution of the Jewish population is that it is concentrated almost exclusively in a few urban areas. About 85 percent of the Jews live in Ontario and Quebec, and most of those (about 75 percent) are in the Toronto and Montreal census metropolitan areas (CMA's). The two largest CMA's, plus Winnipeg and Vancouver, contain 85 percent of the Jewish population, while over 96 percent are accounted for by the top 18 CMAs. Most other Jewish communities in Canada are really quite small. Therefore most of the major aspects of Jewish life are confined to Toronto and Montreal virtually by default.

The Jewish population has grown at a slightly slower rate than the general population over the past fifty years, especially after Jewish immigration tapered off. The low birth rate among Jews would lead one to anticipate that the Jewish percentage of the population will decline further in the future.

One of the interesting aspects of Jewish demography that appeared in the 1971 census was the substantial number of people (over 20,000) who identified ethnically as Jews but did not consider themselves to be Jewish by religion. Thus about 3 percent of ethnic Jews professed no religion and about 4 percent professed various Christian religions. Furthermore, the percentage of ethnic Jews who are not Jews by religion was substantially higher in smaller communities than in the big cities. Samples of the relevant percentages in 1971 included Newfoundland - 38.9 percent, Prince Edward Island - 41.7 percent, British Columbia - 20.2 percent, Guelph - 14.9 percent, Edmonton - 14.9 percent, Saskatoon - 16.2 percent, Kingston - 23.1 percent, Toronto - 5.6 percent, Winnipeg - 5.5 percent, and Montreal - 4.0 percent. Changes in the questions make comparison with 1981 data difficult.

Jewish Population Growth over Time

  1921 1931 1941 1951 1961 1971 1981
By religion 125,445 155,766 168,585 204,836 254,368 276,025 296,425
Percent of total population 1.4 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.4 1.3 1.2

A related matter is intermarriage. Data compiled by the Canadian Jewish Congress from official government sources indicate that in 1972, 15.4 percent of the Jews who wed married non-Jews. Of the 752 Jews who married out of the faith that year, about 60 percent were males. There were 2,065 marriages in which both partners were Jewish.12 Much more alarming trends can be seen among Montreal's Sephardic Jews, whose intermarriage rate is estimated at over 50 percent.

Another problem that the Jewish community must confront is that the Jewish population is measurably older than the general population. In fact, of the 14 ethnic groups listed in the 1971 census, Jews had the lowest percentage in the under 15 age group and the second highest in the over 65 group. This means that the community will have a relatively smaller group of productive people to rely on for personal and financial contributions in the future than it does now. Moreover there will be increasing numbers of aged people who will require Jewish social services, a trend that was apparent by 1981.

A feature of Canadian Jewish life that was significant for a number of years was the proportion of Yiddish-speaking people in the population. This proportion has dropped very sharply over time and will decline even further in the future. In fact, Canadian Jews are overwhelmingly English speaking. The French speakers are almost exclusively North African Jews who have settled in Montreal during the past thirty years. However, it should be noted that many Anglophone Jews also speak French. Already in 1971, the extent of bilingualism in the two official languages was 23.3 percent among Jews, which was higher than for any ethnic group except the French. It has since increased significantly.

Canada's Jews still contain a large percentage of foreign born individuals. As late as 1971, some 37 percent of all Canadian Jews were foreign born. More than half of those 110,000 came to Canada before 1955.

The Activity Spheres of the Canadian Jewish Polity

The Canadian Jewish community, like other Jewish communities, is organized through a mixture of territorially and nonterritorially-based institutions. Local political units are, with some modifications, used as the basis for the organization of local Jewish communities throughout the world. At the same time, the ideological and functional divisions in the Jewish community, real or putative as they may be, also provide significant points for organization, as do particular functions and some common interests, which are then linked to the territorial community through some common mechanisms.

The territorially-based organizations such as the local Jewish federations, originally called community councils, a name which persists in some cases, are invariably the most comprehensive ones, charged with providing direction for the community. The ideological, functional, and interest-based organizations such as the synagogues or the social services agencies generally touch the more personal aspects of Jewish life. These two bases of local communal organization are recognizably distinct as such, but the specific units of organization are usually demarcated much less distinctly.

Because of the nature of the Jewish community, the territorially-based organizations do not necessarily have clear-cut boundaries. This situation is not a particular problem with Jews because Jewish political culture views boundaries from a West Asian rather than an Anglo-American perspective. For Jews, the world is divided into oases and deserts rather than into clear-cut territorial plots. Every oasis has a clear core and a shifting periphery as it fades into the desert at the shifting edge of the watered area, which changes with changes in the internal water supply of the oasis. The desert, in turn, belongs to nobody or everybody. Thus the periphery can expand or contract without significantly changing the character of the core.

Both Jewish law and Jewish political organization are structured in this way. For traditional Jews, law consists of a hard, immutable core (the Torah), surrounded by layers of interpretive applications, each of which becomes bonded to the original over time, expanding the whole corpus. Thus, Jewish culture has come to look upon law as requiring a fixed core of observance with room for interpretation at the peripheries. Jews are bound to but not bounded by their law. Its observance is a personal responsibility reinforced by verying degrees of community expectation and pressure. Both clearly reflect the situation in the land of Israel and the Middle East as a whole.

Anglo-American institutions, on the other hand, took form in well-watered countries, where lands are divided by fixed boundaries that serve as receptacles. Status is determined by who is inside a particular set of boundaries and who is not. Normally, there are no lands outside boundaries in the Anglo-American world. For Anglo-Americans then, the core is far less important than the fixed boundaries.

The components of the Jewish polity follow the Jewish pattern. Even when diaspora Jewish communities are erected in fixed boundary systems, they tend to be fuzzy at the periphery and more clear-cut at the core, particularly in an age of voluntary affiliation. In many respects, the local territorial communities are simply aggregates of Jews in particular cities or, since suburbanization, in the metropolitan areas that embrace the cities that once contained the community.

Much the same pattern prevails with regard to ideologically-based organizations. By and large the ideologies of the late modern epoch have lost their power to attract. Once powerful Zionist movements survive as political parties, vehicles for individuals to obtain leadership positions in the Jewish community, or by performing specific tasks within the community. Organizations representing the non-Zionist secular ideologies hardly survive at all. The "oasis" pattern describes their reality.

The religious movements have fared better, particularly a resurgent Orthodoxy, only to further emphasize the distinction between core and periphery. While the core of Orthodox Judaism has grown extensively, it is still true that, outside of Israel and the United States, relatively few members of Orthodox congregations throughout the world are seriously Orthodox. This is even more true of the Conservative and Reform movements everywhere (except perhaps Israel). They are built around even smaller cores of serious Conservative and Reform Jews with large masses of more casual members attracted to their respective congregations by location, habit, family and friendship patterns, if not by historical or geographic accident. Except for those core groups, congregational members are less interested in their synagogue's ideological affiliation than in how well it serves their personal religious needs.

In the Orthodox camp, where ideology takes traditionally religious forms, ideological groupings have succeeded in maintaining themselves and their ideologies in organized form. Indeed, throughout the world a new ideologically militant Orthodoxy has emerged, using a new network of yeshivot as their nuclei. As yet these represent small if vital minorities within the Jewish people. Their vitality already has given them a weight beyond their numbers, but one would be hard put to say that they have reideologized the community, especially since at present their organizations are nurtured within the larger framework rather than being able to reshape that framework.

For the polity as a whole, ideologically-based organizations have had more success on a worldwide or countrywide basis where the absence of comprehensive territorial institutions has been marked, than on the local plane. All told, however, modernity emphasized the territorial over the nonterritorial elements wherever given half a chance and to reduce ideologically-based organizations to functional specialists responsible for specific tasks.

A major result of this has been to limit the powers of the countrywide organizations in the diaspora and to make the primary locus of decision-making for those communities local. The Canadian Jewish community is something of an exception to this point, combining as it does strong local communities that are heavily involved in maintaining a relatively strong organizational network. What emerges is not a single pyramidal structure, not even one in which the "bottom" rules the "top" as is sometimes suggested on the organization charts. There is no "bottom" or "top" except on a functional basis for specific purposes (if then). This absence of hierarchy is the first element to recognize in examining how Jews make their institutions work.

In the context described above, the institutions and organizations of the Jewish polity group themselves de facto in five major spheres of public activity: (1) religious-congregational, (2) educational-cultural, (3) external relations-defense, (4) communal-welfare, and (5) Israel-world Jewry .

Religious-Congregational Sphere

Contemporary synagogues provide the immediately personal and interpersonal ritual-cum-social functions demanded by the community and, in Canada as in the United States, do so primarily through highly independent individual congregations. The congregations have a monopoly of those functions locally; the North American synagogue confederations and rabbinical associations, seminaries and yeshivot, mostly in the United States, maintain a parallel monopoly of the countrywide community's organized religious and halakhic concerns.

Locally, the congregations may be supplemented by a rabbinical court and a kashrut council, in Canada supported or under the auspices of the local Jewish community federation. In the larger communities there are also Orthodox institutions such as yeshivot or branches of the Lubavitcher movement, that serve (and try to develop) special constituencies. In addition, there may be intercongregational regional organizations and councils of rabbis.

In Canada, the three great North American synagogue confederations of the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements, plus a smaller one for the Reconstructionist movement and various subsidiary leagues within the Orthodox community embrace most of the permanent synagogues. However, because every congregation is independent and self-contained under the law -- the private preserve of its members -- there is no need for it to be a member of any larger body if its members choose not to be. Hence some congregations are independent and others are nominal members of the countrywide bodies. Consequently, the latter have little power aside from that of professional placement. Every congregation, no matter how committed it may be to its movement, hires its own rabbinical staff under its own terms, in what amounts to a free market situation. The controlling power of the individual synagogues in the religious-congregational sphere in Canada means that a large share of Jewish activity -- involving nearly half the total internal expenditure of Canadian Jewry -- is raised and managed outside any broader communal decision-making system.

The religious-congregational sphere is in the curious situation of, on one hand, being a powerful influence on all Jews, yet unable to mobilize many more than half of them at any given time in any formal relationship to religious institutions. Membership in synagogues or congregations is voluntary and if one chooses not to affiliate with some religious body, one is simply not affiliated. Canadian Jewry has a relatively high rate of synagogue affiliation and, over a lifetime, approximately three-quarters of all Canadian Jews will have been affiliated with a synagogue at some time or another.

In pre-modern times, all Jews were doubly bound by halakhah and by the social pressure of the community to be substantially observant. Today the binding force of halakhah on any other than a voluntary basis has mostly disappeared except in Israel, where it has been reduced to the area of personal status. So, too, social pressure no longer prevails except among people who choose to be part of subcommunities of observant Jews. Otherwise, the character and extent of linkage with the religious-congregational sphere is a matter of individual choice, ranging from congregational affiliation to being part of a Jewish community in which the religious dimension is built in. The only issue in which all Jews may be subject to some kind of binding decision-making is in determining Jewishness itself, that is to say, "who is a Jew," where, because of the influence of Israel, the decisions of its authoritative institutions on this question are authoritative for the Jewish world as a whole.

Educational-Cultural Sphere

Although the educational-cultural sphere can be defined clearly, the institutions that function in it are among the most independent in the Jewish world, and, as a result, the sphere is extremely fragmented. This is partly for substantive reasons. Because education is what it is, the principal vehicle for socialization of new generations, it obviously must reflect the range of ideological presuppositions of the current generation. Once the Jewish people ceased to be homogeneous and ideologies of Jewishness began to multiply, so too did the educational vehicles for their expression and transmission.

The institutional divisions of modernity also contributed heavily to further fragmentation even where ideological differences did not come into play. Thus, for example, one can expect differences in educational approach between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, not to speak of the divisions between religious and nonreligious or Zionist and non-Zionist education which emerged during the latter part of the modern epoch. But there are also divisions within each camp based on institutional interests. Even synagogues of the same movement try to maintain their own schools for reasons of institutional self-preservation, which may or may not be valid but are perceived as vital.

There is also an environmental factor of importance. Part of the Jewish drive for emancipation included the drive for the right of entry into the educational systems of the host societies. Thus, for many, Jewish education was relegated to supplementary education and no more. With the decline of emancipationist expectations, there has been a return to the notion of providing comprehensive elementary and secondary education and, to some extent, tertiary education as well, through day schools or yeshivot. Canada has been a leader in this effort.

This has led to the development of two parallel and usually separate systems of Jewish education -- a network of day schools and another of supplementary schools. In Canada, most day schools are integrated within a communal system; even the independent schools receive support from the local community federations. Even so, local boards of Jewish education principally provide technical services and support and some subsidization, but rarely function as the guiding hand of an integrated system. The few exceptions are notable, in both their educational achievements and their professional quality.

Post-secondary Jewish educational opportunities in Canada are limited. Its few traditional yeshivot tend to be on a secondary level and it has no rabbinical seminaries or independent Jewish teacher-training schools. The Jewish studies programs that exist, including teacher training programs at McGill and York Universities, are located in non-Jewish institutions. Most are university-level in name only since they emphasize elementary courses to serve their clientele.

Adult and continuing education is the province of all the aforementioned bodies plus individual synagogues and various organizations serving their members or using adult education to increase membership, for example, Hadassah and B'nai B'rith. The local federations have emphasized leadership development as a form of continuing education.

The difficulties of Jewish educators are increased by the fact that there is no longer a clear-cut understanding of what should be the content and goals of Jewish education. For many synagogue schools and even some day schools, their primary purpose is religious education in the narrowest sense, the transmission of "synagogue skills" to enable the next generation to function within the context of the North American synagogue. In other schools, much of Jewish education is secular in orientation based on an equally limited Hebraism, with language skills monopolizing the Jewish curriculum. There are those schools which emphasize the study of classic rabbinic texts as the be-all and end-all of Jewish study and those whose emphasis is on Jewish history and literature, with a number of variants within each group.

Moreover there are serious conflicts over the amount of time to be allocated to Jewish study. Whether in relation to day schools or supplementary schools, Jewish studies at the post-secondary level or whatever, students and their parents are principally interested in acquiring the general education needed to pursue successful careers and Jewish education is distinctly supplementary. Not only have the hours per week spent in supplementary schools declined, but even in day schools, the amount of time allocated to Jewish subjects in those schools is often quite limited.

Thus Jewish education and Jewish educators are caught in the middle in more ways than one, torn between their aspirations and the tasks thrust upon them, their self-esteem and their status in the larger realm of Jewish life.

Jewish cultural activities are even more fragmented than educational ones, if that is possible. They are also more likely to be privately sponsored and financed. Jewish public support for cultural activities is minimal, to say the least, although Congress is more concerned with supporting cultural activities than are most of its counterparts in other countries. In part this is because of the low level of Jewish culture among diaspora Jews with the possible exception of a few limited circles, and partly because in North America support for cultural activities in general is considered more a matter for private rather than public concern by society as a whole.

Most local support for Jewish culture comes from private foundations or through the synagogues and Jewish community centers, which may sponsor book fairs, art exhibitions, literary evenings, and the like. Countrywide, Congress traditionally has provided support services for cultural activities and some stimulus for them.

External Relations-Defense Sphere

The focus of this sphere has shifted under the changing conditions of Jewish history. For modern Jewry, external relations and defense were confined to representation of Jewish interests before non-Jewish governments and, later, community relations efforts to improve relations with non-Jews. Because the principal common concern of the newly emancipated Jews and later modern Jews in general was to promote good relations with the governments of their host societies, in order to secure full civil and political equality these representative bodies soon became the dominant organizations in their communities. They attracted the highest status leadership (who in any case would have been the ones called on to represent the Jewish community to the non-Jewish world) and set much of the communal tone. The Canadian Jewish Congress (its different name in part reflected the influence of North American thinking) is exceptional in that it took on a broader governance role, especially in the education and cultural sphere, from the first.

Communal-Welfare Sphere

Until the 1970s, the communal-welfare sphere was simply another functional grouping among several in Canada, even though the various Jewish social service and welfare agencies plus the Jewish community centers had confederated within Jewish community councils or federations up to a generation or more earlier. Today, the sphere is the locus of the principal government-like institutions of the Jewish polity and its countrywide and local arenas. Its principal institutions are usually the framing institutions for community organization in each arena, if not the focal points.

The emergence of the communal-welfare institutions in this new capacity was the result of a nearly generation-long struggle in the Jewish community. It reflected the change in Jewish priorities generated in part by the increased integration of Jews into Canadian society but, most importantly, by the rise of Israel. Even earlier, it became apparent that community relations alone could not meet the challenge of anti-Semitism, that it was necessary to provide massive funds for resettling Jewish refugees and rebuilding Eretz Israel as a haven for them. This gave fund-raising an even higher priority than before and strengthened the instrumentalities of the communal-welfare sphere responsible for raising the needed money.

The linchpin of that transformation was an alliance between the Yishuv in Eretz Israel, later carried on and formalized by the state, and the federation movement in North America to give fund-raising the dominant role in pro-Israel activities. David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel and architect of the strategy, made this alliance for both practical and political reasons. Practically, he saw that the Zionists did not have the capability of raising money in the way that the "non-Zionists" did, and Israel needed the massive support that only the latter could provide. Moreover, because United States Zionism was dominated by the General Zionists, a rival political party, he did not object to cutting them out of a potential power base. This was not precisely the case in Canada. There the United Israel Appeal remained part of World Keren Hayesod (established by the WZO in 1920), and the Zionist movement, through the Canadian Zionist Federation, remained a more important communal vehicle in another sphere (see below). The convergence of local and Israeli needs only strengthened the trend to emphasize non-Zionist instrumentalities in the diaspora after the establishment of the state. The community relations organizations could not withstand this new force. Although Canadian Jewry stayed within the Keren Hayesod framework, the boost to the federation movement ultimately had great consequences for it as well.

Parallel to the federations' increased fund-raising role was the development of a Jewish civil service, which found its principal place in the federations and their agencies. The Jewish social welfare institutions were among the first to move from voluntary to professional staffing. Thus, when service apart from social work began to emerge as a communal need, it is not surprising that it was given into the hands of professionals as well as volunteers. The first of these professionals were drawn, for the most part, from the cadres of social workers who had become agency heads in the social service sphere. Others drifted into the field from other professions. All told, a small group of pioneers emerged to build the federation movement and in the process forge a new profession.

As the federations expanded, their need for a civil service grew. During the first half of the postwar generation, members of that civil service were recruited from the aforementioned sources, but in the latter half, schools of Jewish communal service were developed, some independently of the federations, others under federation stimulus, all in the United States, to provide a senior civil service trained specifically for the North American federation world. The result further strengthened the communal-welfare sphere as the locus of the framing institutions of postwar North American Jewry.

All this has enhanced the central role of the federations locally and given them a real claim to being the umbrella organizations of their communities. The key to the growth of the power of the local federations is that they have become the major fund-raising bodies on the North American scene. Even though money and influence are not necessarily correlated on a one-to-one basis, there is unquestionably a relationship between the two. Locally, as agencies become more dependent upon the federation for money, they are more likely to be included in the ambit of federation planning and policy-making.

The Canadian Jewish community had already been brought into the orbit of the American federation movement, and Jewish welfare federations had been established in almost every major Canadian community during the 1930s. Nevertheless, Congress, with its local branches, remained the principal framing institution of Canadian Jewry. Then in the late 1960s and early 1970s, mergers were negotiated between Congress branches and the largest federations. Locally the federations became the principal framing institutions, while Congress retained community relations and cultural functions countrywide.

This led to the strengthening of the United Israel Appeal of Canada as an independent Canadian body. Though remaining formally a part of Keren Hayesod, it began to function more like the United Jewish Appeal because it had the backing of the federations. This was followed by the establishment of the National Budgeting Conference, functioning out of the Canadian office of the Council of Jewish Federations, which is the vehicle for the local federations in Canada to allocate funds for countrywide projects. Canada also followed the American pattern of professionalizing its Jewish civil service with the same results.

"Games" and "Complexes"

Each of the five functional spheres may be considered a "game" in the framework of Jewish life, and the organizations and institutions relating to each, a "complex" surrounding each game. There is an indefinite and fluid number of games, depending on how the "cake" is cut in any particular circumstance; all, however, are based on the five functional spheres. The games may be subdivisions of those spheres or they may link more than one sphere. Thus, for example, the communal-welfare and Israel-world Jewry games are linked at some points into one communal-Israel-world Jewry "supergame." Furthermore, there are hospital games in the communal-welfare framework in which a particular hospital can be a separate game. The contents or boundaries of a particular game-and-complex can and do shift. It is possible for operational purposes to decide that an activity is a game in itself or to treat it as a part of a larger game. All activities in the community can be viewed and analyzed in relation to these games, however delimited.

There is little shifting of participants from sphere to sphere, except where two or more spheres are linked in a supergame. Those serving the Jewish community in professional capacities (rabbis, communal workers, Jewish educators) shift least. Lower echelon volunteers may shift but are rarely involved in more than one sphere or game at a time. Important voluntary leaders can and do shift from game to game with greater ease or are involved in several games at once. In a particular sphere or game there may be considerable overlapping or revolving of leadership.

Because the games and complexes involve local, countrywide, and world-wide "players" simultaneously, they are major vehicles for integrating leadership across all the arenas. There are few countrywide or edah-wide games not based on local leadership wearing other hats, except among the professional charged with daily operating responsibilities. Thus the system of games and complexes reinforces the local basis of Jewish life even as it integrates Jewish activity from hometown to Jerusalem.

The five spheres originally began as relatively separate in their functioning but have since grown together inexorably. This reflects the contemporary human condition in which everything is becoming increasingly dependent on everything else. In an age of growing complexity, the possibility of separating institutions, activity spheres, or jurisdictions has become increasingly limited in every part of the world, and the Jewish people is no exception.

If in particular local and countrywide arenas there remain exceptions to this rule, they are idiosyncratic. The communal-welfare and Israel-world Jewry spheres have come to embrace progressively the external relations-defense and educational-cultural spheres. Some spheres may be more connected with others in the countrywide arena than in some local communities, but all are increasingly connected in every arena. The future, then, requires an approach to Jewish life that is comprehensive and looks for consequences, anticipated and unanticipated, rippling through the system whenever action is undertaken in one or another of the spheres.


1. Louis Rosenberg, "Some Aspects of the Historical Development of the Canadian Jewish Community" and Chronology of Canadian Jewish History (Montreal: Canadian Jewish Congress, 1959); Stuart E. Rosenberg, The Jewish Community in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970-71); B.G. Sack, History of the Jews in Canada, trans. Ralph Novek (Montreal: Harvest House, 1960); A.J. Arnold, "Jewish Pioneer Settlements," The Beaver, (Autumn 1975), pp. 20-26; M.M. Lazar and Sheva Medjuck, "In the Beginning: A Brief History of Jews in Atlantic Canada," Jewish Historical Society of Canada, (Fall 1981), and Jews on the Fringes: The Development of the Jewish Community of Atlantic Canada, Occasional Papers of the International Education Center (Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1983); Jonathan D. Sarna, "Jewish Immigration to North America: The Canadian Experience (1870-1900)," Jewish Journal of Sociology, vol. 28, no. 1 (June 1976), pp. 31-41; Erna Paris, Jews: An Account of Their Experience in Canada (Toronto: Macmillan in Canada, 1980); Harry Gutkin, Journey into Our Heritage: The Story of the Jewish People in the Canadian West (Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1980).

2. For an understanding of that phenomenon, see Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (New York: Holt, 1921); Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Frontier (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952); Ray Allen Billington, America's Frontier Heritage (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966); Louis Hartz, The Founding of New Societies (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964); George Wolfskill and Stanley Palmer, eds., Essays in Frontier in World History (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1983).

3. For a full exposition of this thesis, see Daniel J. Elazar, The Metropolitan Frontier: A Perspective on Change in American Society (New York: General Learning Press, 1973).

4. William Metcalfe, ed., Understanding Canada (New York: New York University, 1982); J.M.S. Careless, ed., Colonists and Canadians (New York: St. Martin's, 1971); D.G. Creighton, A History of Canada: Dominion of the North (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958); H.A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada, rev. ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1956); A.R.M. Lower, Colony to Nation (New York: Longmans, 1958); E.W. McInnis, Canada: A Political and Social History (Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969).

5. Arnold, "Jewish Pioneer Settlements"; Lazar and Medjuck, "In the Beginning" and "Jews on the Fringe"; Paris, Jews; Arthur Chiel, The Jew in Manitoba (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961); Arthur D. Hart, ed., The Jews in Canada: A Complete Record of Canadian Jewry (Toronto: Toronto Jewish Publications, 1926); Stephen Speisman, The Jews of Toronto (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979); Louis Rosenberg, "Some Aspects of the Historical Development of the Canadian Jewish Community"; Joseph Kage, Immigration and Integration in Canada (Montreal: Jewish Immigrant Aid Services, 1966).

6. Elazar, The Metropolitan Frontier and Cities of the Prairie: The Metropolitan Frontier and American Politics (New York: Basic Books, 1970).

7. Hartz, The Founding of New Societies.

8. Morton Weinfeld, William Shaffir, and Irwin Cotler, eds., The Canadian Jewish Mosaic (Toronto: J. Wiley, 1981).

9. Daniel J. Elazar, "The Jews of Quebec and the Canadian Crisis," Tefutsot Yisrael, vol. 15, no. 2 (April-June 1977), pp. 7-11.

10. For a fuller discussion of the generational rhythm, see Daniel J. Elazar, "The Generational Rhythm of American Politics," American Politics Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 1 (January 1978), pp. 55-90 and "Generational Breaks" in Nissan Oren, ed., When Patterns Change: Turning Points in International Politics (New York and Jerusalem: St. Martin's Press and Magnes Press, 1984). For the application of the thesis to Jewish history, see Daniel J. Elazar, The Constitutional Periodization of Jewish History: A Second Look (Jerusalem: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 1979).

11. Max Horkheimer and Samuel H. Flowerman, Studies in Prejudice (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950); Bruno Bettelheim and Morris Janowitz, Dynamics of Prejudice (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950); John Higham, "Social Discrimination against Jews in America, 1830-1930," American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 47, no. 1 (September 1957), pp. 1-33 and Strangers in the Land (New York: Atheneum, 1975); Lee J. Levinger, Anti-Semitism in the United States: Its History and Causes (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1925); Jacob Katz, From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism 1700-1933 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980).

12. "Statistical Data on Intermarriage in Canada," Inter-Office Information (Canadian Jewish Congress), no. 3886, October 16, 1975, p. 1.

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