The 2018 survey of Jews in Canada should be stirring Canadian Jewish pride and Montreal Jewish pride in particular. New York may have the Yankees, Broadway, more freedom, and no language police – but Montreal’s got the recipe for robust Jewish living. Just as the New York bagel is puffier and pastier, less chewy and less tasty than its Montreal rival – so, too, modern New York Jewry may be louder and more attention-getting, but Jewish life there is less satisfying and sustaining – for Jews as Jews.
Similarly, in Montreal’s ongoing, existential competition with ROC – the Rest of Canada – it did well. True, it often has to share the spotlight with – brace yourselves – Toronto. Still, two things are clear from the new study authored by Keith Neuman, the executive director of the Environics Institute, Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor of York University, and Professor Robert Brym of the University of Toronto.
First, big city Jewish life, especially in MonToronto is richer, fuller, more enveloping, and more viable than anywhere else – collectively overall not necessarily individually, of course. And, here, too, while Toronto has the baseball team and the culture and the many corporate headquarters that fled Quebec, Montreal has the highest percentage of Jews attending Jewish day school – at 54 per cent (43 per cent of Canadian Jews have attended Jewish school – 23 per cent of American Jews have). And Jews in Montreal “are most likely to say they feel very connected” to Judaism – and to their city’s Jewish community.
The two are related, of course. The richness of Montreal Jewish day schools – and, let’s be honest – the rich government subsidies which make the schools more affordable – translate into a richer Jewish experience and community overall.
The survey confirms the cliché “more is more.” All-too-often, modern Jewish life spirals downward, with less literacy, engagement, affiliation, pride. By contrast, the more you put in, the more you get out; the more you learn, the more you do; the more you commit, the more you sustain; and the more you care, the more you and your kids and grandkids care too.
One surprising result:
“The percentage of respondents who think Jews are often the objects of discrimination in Canada ranges from 33 per cent in Montreal and Toronto to 23 per cent in Winnipeg and 22 per cent in Vancouver.” Here the MonToronto equivalence is puzzling because 45 per cent of Quebecers hold a favourable opinion of Judaism, compared to 55 per cent for the rest of Canada.
Beyond noting that both figures are depressingly and unacceptably low, I am guessing that the surprising results stem from the question’s wording. Being “the object of discrimination … often,” is a more toxic phenomenon and a higher bar than being viewed unfavourably.
In a province where the local government wants teachers, police officers and other people in authority to take off the yarmulkes, in a city where Jewish lawyers often have French-Canadian partners take the lead in pleading the cases before so many clearly-biased judges, most Montreal Jews are well aware that they live in one of the least Jew-friendly cities in North America. They also know instinctively how to avoid facing the discrimination directly. Perhaps the Montreal Jewish sense of outrage has been dulled over the years, while Toronto Jews are more likely to get angrier over slighter slights.
Regardless, the challenge in MonToronto and elsewhere remains the same. We have to combat anti-Semitism intensively, while working equally hard on building a positive Judaism – with all the wonderful tools the survey shows of family, community, education, synagogues, organizations, Israel trips, Zionism, pride, ethics and values. Ultimately, we want our kids to be Jewish because they want to be Jewish, not because others won’t fully accept them – or us.