Count yourself in on census; many choices of ‘Jewish’

Tick the box.

That’s the advice Canadian Jews are getting on the 2021 census. Invitations to participate in the census are expected to land in mailboxes this week. The package includes instructions on how to complete the form online.

One in four questionnaires will be the long form census, which will ask about ethnicity (Question 23) and religion (Question 30). The short form will inquire about neither.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is urging Jewish Canadians who get the long form to be counted.

CIJA said governments use census information to plan community programs and services related to employment, public transit, schools, hospitals, and more.

Jewish communal agencies also rely on numbers from censuses to make decisions on funding social services, education, and a variety of other needs.

CIJA notes that the last census in 2016 severely undercounted Jews, “impeding the Jewish community’s ability to address important issues, such as anti-Semitism, security, housing, healthcare, and fighting poverty.”

The 2016 census did not ask about religion but about ethnic origins. It found 143,665 Canadians who identified themselves as Jewish by ethnicity.But only five years earlier, the National Household Survey (NHS), enacted as voluntary after the Conservative government did away with the mandatory census, found the number of Jews by ethnicity to be 309,650.

The numbers suggested, impossibly, that in five years, half the country’s Jews had vanished.The problem was that the 2016 census had used flawed methodology.

“Jewish” was not among the choices for ethnic origin listed in the 2016 head count because five years earlier on the NHS, the category did not rank among the 20 most common answers.

The 2016 form instead provided 28 examples of ethnic ancestry, with a space for respondents to write in as many answers as applicable.In 2019, Statistics Canada released a study that explained and corrected the results of the census three years earlier. It said that if the same methodology had been carried over to 2016 from the 2011 NHS, it would have found between 270,000 and 298,000 Jews by ethnicity.

Two years ago, Stats Can said it was testing a new version of the ethnic origin question ahead of the 2021 census that would not include any examples on the questionnaire itself, but instead offer a link to a list of more than 400 origins.

This year’s question on ethnicity reads: “What were the ethnic or cultural origins of this person’s ancestors?”

Ancestors “may have Indigenous origins, or origins that refer to different countries, or other origins that may not refer to different countries.”

From the list of origins, respondents may choose “Jewish,” “Israeli,” “Russian,” “Canadian,” or as many as applicable.

The question on religion is straightforward: “What is this person’s religion?” However, for the first time, respondents have a chance to go deeper. A list of suggested denominations offer the following, apart from just “Jewish” (and only one may be entered): Messianic Jewish; Conservative Jewish; Orthodox Jewish; Haredi Jewish; Hasidic Jewish; Modern Orthodox Jewish; Reform Jewish; Secular Jewish; and Traditional Sephardic Jewish.

More choices encourage more specific responses so that “a much greater number of religions and denominations will be disseminated,” according to a statement from Statistics Canada.

“We are not emphasizing denomination,” said Charles Shahar, a demographer and chief researcher for the census analysis of Jewish communities.

Given the decrease in the numbers of “ethnic” Jews in 2016, “we are more focused on getting people to answer that they are Jewish by religion, ethnicity or both,” said Shahar, who has written a number of reports on the makeup of Canadian Jewry.

He said he’s also interested in the Sephardic community because he plans to write a separate report on it.The 2011 NHS found 329,500 Jews by religion in Canada. Community planners traditionally blend the numbers on religion and ethnicity for a more accurate total.

A study by Jewish Federation of Canada UIA, authored by Shahar and based on the 2011 NHS, found that the Jewish population of Canada a decade ago was 391,665. Jews comprised 1.2 percent of the total Canadian population.

The “Survey of Jews in Canada” conducted separately in 2018, estimated the country’s Jewish population to be 392,000. The Environics Institute, which conducted the study, said at the time that within the next few years, Canada’s Jewish population was expected to exceed 400,000, possibly surpassing the number of Jews in France and making it the third largest Jewish community outside Israel and the United States.

The best is yet to come.

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