The value of Jews to Canada today: What would the cost be if the community packed up and left?

Jonathan L. Milevsky is an author and educator. Raphi Zaionz is the founder of mygoals Inc. Both live in Toronto, for the moment. (The latter’s children either have left or are planning to leave Canada.) The column was also discussed as part of the 2024 Great Canadian Seder episode of Bonjour Chai.

Towards the end of the film Schindler’s List, there’s a scene in which the famous non-Jewish philanthropist, who saved over 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, laments that he could have saved even more.

Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, realizes that his possessions—even the smallest ones—could have also played a role.

Today, we sometimes consider whether Canada’s current federal government is bound to experience a similar reckoning.

It’s not because Jewish Canadians face mortal danger at this point—but because our people are gradually harbouring thoughts of leaving this country.

And it’s not because this government would miss the Jews all that much, but because of the potential loss to Canada as a whole.

Historically speaking, quantifying the mistreatment of Jews is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

The decision to welcome Jews, protect them, exile them, or harm them has quite often been influenced by financial considerations. Indeed, as historians have noted, King Edward expelled the Jews in exchange for a tax hike that was widely criticized.

In the 17th century, 30 wealthy families were invited back to Prussia, after the Jews were expelled, because it suited King Fredrick William.

And the participants in the Crusades did so knowing that their debts to the Jews will be absolved, per the orders of Pope Eugene III.

Given how there are financial implications to government policy, let us attempt to break down the financial underside of a potential impact of a mass exodus in 2024.

It would be nearly impossible to measure the value of Jews to the Canadian economy with any precision. But there are some extrapolations that can be made from the available data.

Let’s begin with the fact that the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Canada 2023 was $53,247 in nominal U.S. dollars. Translating this amount to Canadian currency, using the Bank of Canada’s year-end rate of 1.3431, the GDP per capita in 2023 was $71,516.

Given that approximately 335,000 people reported being Jewish in 2021, it would not be unreasonable to multiply this figure by the Jewish population before subtracting that from the Canadian economy. The result, however, would not account for varying age groups and the range of individual contributions to the economy in different fields and across different levels of seniority.

It should also be noted that Jews on average are economically successful across many professions. This trend is found, somewhat stereotypically, in everything from academia to medicine, law and entertainment, and across the spectrum of professional designations in the arts and sciences.

Even if we begin with the assumption that Jews are 25 percent more “successful” in these industries than average Canadians, we can peg the GDP per Jewish Canadian at $89,395. Before aggregating those numbers, we would need to estimate the percentage of how many Jews would leave Canada in light of the challenges we face.

A good indicator for this number is that there are about 35,000 Canadian citizens living in Israel, and nearly 90,000 Canadians—many with family who live there—travel to the country every year.

If that is accurate, there are approximately 370,000 Jewish Canadians in the world in total, of which 9.4 percent currently live in Israel.

So, if just five percent of Jews were to leave, we estimate it would cost the Canadian economy approximately $1.497 billion.

This may not seem like a large number, as Canada’s 2023 GDP is $2.84 trillion CAD, in nominal terms.

But given Jewish success in fields like medicine and law, the economic impact—or what we may call a multiplier effect when taking into account companies, firms, and most importantly, hospitals and clinics, which are already understaffed—the cost for replacing successful and experienced Jewish professionals and entrepreneurs would be substantial.

Some might say that this focuses on the wrong issue, that the Jews should speak for moral clarity in the face of the targeted harassment of our community. But we recognize that governments pursue votes more than anything else, and will do what is in their best interest.

Case in point is the decision to deny new funding for Israeli arms, which is evidently something the government can do with impunity. It is also clear that moral implications, honesty, or even common sense, are simply not part of the equation, since such a decision equates Israel and Hamas in the process—and might hurt Canada’s own interests in the future—but the government proceeded with it anyway.

Since the Holocaust, one can speak of a social contract particularly relating to the Jewish community: there’s a tacit agreement on the part of a given government to keep Jews safe, and on the part of the Jewish community to move past the antisemitism of its given government in that earlier era.

As the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals of today grapple with responding to unprecedented levels of antisemitism in the wake of Oct. 7—accelerating a trend that’s stretched back several years—they would do well to recognize the Jewish impact on the economy, and in the basic industries that keep this country afloat.

So far, it has failed to recognize that its policies have moral implications, even if financial implications have yet to follow.