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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2017 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


June 16, 2017  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Join in celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary

By RABBI CARLA FREEDMAN Congregation Beth Israel of Sun City Center

On July 1, my home country of Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday. This occasion marks the establishment of Canada as a nation, via “confederation” of its separate provinces into a national system of government; the British colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were united with “Canada,” which was simultaneously divided into Ontario and Quebec. Since then – July 1, 1867– Canada has grown into 10 provinces and three territories, and occupies the great land mass from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, from the border with the United States up to the Arctic Circle. But most of its 35 million people live just north of the American border.

The Jewish population of Canada today numbers just under 400,000 people. The first Jew came to Quebec in 1760; in 1826, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to afford its Jewish residents full citizenship. The majority of the Canadian Jewish population came from Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1920, as part of the wave of immigration following turmoil in their native lands. They settled in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg, primarily, although, like their American Jewish counterparts, they soon spread out to smaller communities across the country.

Many of those who became Canadians had actually expected to go to “the goldene medina,” the golden place, the United States; but there were often long delays at Ellis Island and ships got diverted to Canadian points of entry. By then, the travel-weary were just grateful to disembark, and besides, the Western Hemisphere was all “America” as far as they were concerned. The earliest arrivals worked and brought their families over after them, and like the American Jewish community, the Canadian enterprise flourished.

Canadian Jews have been well represented in the fields of academia, entertainment, government, science, medicine, law, and all the other spheres where Jews have been prominent in the United States.

The Canadian Jewish community has been more small-c conservative than its American counterpart, however, and even into the 1980s, no Canadian rabbi of any persuasion was allowed to officiate at an intermarriage. The Canadian version of Reform Judaism was slow to take hold outside of Eastern Canada, not coming to the Midwest until the 1960s; its practices even then were much more traditional than those of the movement in the USA.

With the United States, Canada has a shameful record of immigration policies during the Holocaust, which probably bespeaks the influence of our British and French ancestors.

I am often asked why I went to rabbinical school in the United States. The answer is simply that the Canadian Jewish population, at its peak around half a million people, is not large enough to support a seminary. In 1990, I became the first Canadian woman to be ordained a rabbi. Given the small number of congregations there, I have never found a job in Canada when I was available. But I never really feel far from fellow Canadians, here in Florida. One thing Canada, with all its rich resources and cultural diversity, does not have, is the benign and inviting climate of the Sunshine State.

I hope you will celebrate with me on Shabbat, July 1. I have a kippah with a Canadian maple leaf on it, which I will proudly wear all day.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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