New year, new citizenship: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on becoming Canadian on the cusp of Rosh Hashanah

Phoebe Maltz Bovy at her citizenship ceremony in September 2023.

After my Canadian citizenship oath ceremony on Wednesday of last week, a fellow new Canadian, a woman maybe in her 60s, told me that this was the happiest day of her life. I asked her where she was from, and she named a Middle Eastern country that is not Israel. She then asked me where I was from and I told her (the U.S.) and—the dreamy tone suddenly gone—she asked why I was bothering with this. She wanted to know why, in effect, I was going from a pony country to a non-pony country. Or, more accurately, from one pony country to another.

What does it mean for an American to become Canadian (while remaining, also, American)? There are practical bureaucratic aspects, like being able to vote, and not needing to renew a permanent residency card. But it does mean feeling a bit out-of-place during the ceremony itself, geared as it is to people who have come to Canada in search of a better life, as versus for whom the move felt not dissimilar to going from one jurisdiction to another in the same country.

It’s hard to overstate how much better OHIP (Ontario universal health care) has been than coverage or lack thereof in the States. But things aren’t that different, all told, and the variation is certainly more stark within each than between, for example, Toronto and New York City. Since we got a Uniqlo it’s effectively the same place.

The ceremony itself, held amidst the car dealerships of Mississauga, was moving, all the same. Judge Wong included “antisemitism” among the forms of bigotry unacceptable in Canada, and I feel compelled, in my duties here, to mention this. It seems extremely possible that I was the only Jew in the room of 90 new citizens with max-one-guest each, something I hadn’t thought about until that part of the proceedings.

We learned about the important Canadian values of repairing all the terrible things Canada has done, and making sure you earn a living to support your family, which you probably already are doing if able, given that OHIP, delightful as it is, does not pay the rent or mortgage. We watched a video where the handsome and available (?) Justin Trudeau welcomed us to Canada in English and the more swoonworthy French. (Wait, now that I’m Canadian, I need to learn what all these politicians’ politics actually are. Imagine!) There was also this sappy but sweet intro-to-Canada welcome video, showing all kinds of quintessential scenes, including taking children sledding, which is, I can attest, pretty central.

I felt a cozy sense of belonging. And then I looked at the Canadian passport application forms, which require another whole level of vetting (being Canadian is not sufficient, who knew? well I do, now) and felt somewhat less Canadian than I had before doing so. But I guess I’m Canadian enough to be able to quickly scramble together three people I’ve known at least two years each to vouch for my identity, plus some alternates.

So here I am, at The Canadian Jewish News, at last, a Canadian Jew myself.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on the website formerly known as Twitter. She also holds forth on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai.