THE JEW IN CANADA Where does he stand today?

Now celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Jewish settlement, our proudest minority numbers only a quarter million and is likely to decrease. Yet, they’ve given Canada priceless gifts in nearly every field from nuclear physics to TV comedy


THE JEW IN CANADA Where does he stand today?

Now celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Jewish settlement, our proudest minority numbers only a quarter million and is likely to decrease. Yet, they’ve given Canada priceless gifts in nearly every field from nuclear physics to TV comedy


This article originally appeared in the Oct. 24, 1959 issue of Maclean's under the headline: "THE JEW IN CANADA Where does he stand today?"

THIS YEAR, exactly two centuries after the first Jew settled permanently in Canada, Canadian Jewry is celebrating its National Bicentenary. Taking part in a coast-to-coast program of events, this country's quarter of a million Canadians of the Jewish faith may well find themselves wondering just where they've got. Since Aaron Hart came here with Wolfe in 1759 and took up residence, what Jewish gains have been made in status, achievement, numerical strength? What prejudice must the Jew still tight? Where does he stand as a citizen?

Aaron Hart The first Jew to settle in Canada

To these questions Gentiles may add a few of their own. What makes the Jew different? What are his religious beliefs? And why, though Canadian as the rest of us, does he remain distinct and apart?

Fifty years ago the Jew was a stock character with a hooked nose in Canadian vaudeville who got hit on the derby with a length of salami. Today he is respected, often esteemed, sometimes the voice of our conscience, and no modern prime minister would be as politically reckless as Sir John A. Macdonald who called him “the old clo' man." Jews have made contributions out of all proportion to their numbers to Canadian business and trade, art, literature, music, entertainment, medicine, law, science, research and university life.

By standard measures of citizenship they rank very high. Some, particularly newcomers to Canada struggling to get established, live in poverty, but they seldom become public charges. While they occasionally commit crimes, like the rest of us, they are, as a people, remarkably law-abiding and rarely in trouble. They are well to the fore in community effort.

On the other hand a citizen of the Jewish faith can't always live where he wants. He can't join a long list of exclusive clubs. If employed by a Christian firm, he is apt to find his advancement slower than that of the nonJew. Despite his commercial ability and eminence, no Jew is a director of a Canadian insurance company and only one sits on the board of a chartered bank although there are nine such banks in Canada.

Signs like “No Jews allowed” and “Restricted clientele” have disappeared across Canada and discrimination in public places is a thing of the past. Today’s is more subtle and social. A Jew may be invited to cocktails with Christians at an art exhibition or museum opening. He is not so apt to be included in their more intimate gatherings. In some suburbs and country resorts. home-owners band together in refusal to sell to Jews. In others Jews can buy only on certain streets and live in a tree-shaded ghetto.

From nine to five the Jew talks, laughs, eats, drinks, does business with Gentiles. When he closes his office or leaves his place of work he is likely to become a Jew among Jews. Many of Canada’s long-established private clubs are barred to him. If he wants to golf or curl he often has to join a Jewish club for that purpose. A recent decision of the Exchequer Court of Canada allowing club dues as legitimate income-tax deductions points up the fact * hat much modern business is done in social milieus. The Canadian Jew cannot enter some Christian milieus and is willy-nilly confined to his fellows. By tacit agreement he also seems to be excluded from the top echelons of certain big business (banking, insurance, transportation. for instance). Partly through circumstances beyond his control, partly through his own desire to retain racial and religious identity, the Jew in Canada has become highly individualistic, makes his close friends among Jews and prefers to work for himself.


Discrimination takes a variety of forms, nebulous or tangible. The pressures to assimilate are strong enough on Canadian Jews today to make some of them give up the struggle, change their names, and become Christian in everything but blood. That a few renounce Judaism and the great majority would die for it is part of the tragedy and triumph of the Jewish people.

Despite their social segregation more Jews in Canada are marrying Christians than ever before. The rate of intermarriage has tripled since 1926 and reached an all-time high of 14.9 percent of all Jewish unions in 1955, the last year for which figures are available. Jew-Gentile marriages are still on the increase. Add to this a lower Jewish birthrate than that of other Canadians (2.04 children compared to 2.63), a drastic drop in Jewish immigration — six million Jews died under Hitler, three and a half million more are behind the Iron Curtain — and it seems probable our Jewish population has now reached a peak and will decline in the future.

The 1.5 percent of Canadians who are Jews are prominent in the clothing industry, furs, food, pharmacies, optometry, cigar-making, theatres, housing, real estate, almost every branch of our wholesale and retail trade. Many of them started as small proprietors with little capital. Jews operate Canadian retail chains like Reitman’s, Etarn’s. the Sally Shops (lingerie and hosiery). Tip Top Tailors, People's Credit Jewellers, Handy Andy (automotive and tool). A. J. Freiman's is Ottawa's biggest department store. The Steinbergs of Montreal helped popularize modern supermarkets in Canada, the Bennetts of Toronto shopping plazas. The Bronfmans control Canada's largest liquor empire (Distillers Corporation with last year’s sales just under a billion) and invest heavily in real estate and oil (Calgary’s Royalite) and administer a family fortune of several millions. The Hermants built Imperial Optical into the biggest Canadian company of its kind. The Koerners developed the B. C. plywood industry and helped make it international. Jack Diamond founded the B. C. Livestock Association and was Vancouver's 1955 Citizen of the Year. Fred Mendel from Hungary owns large Canadian meat-packing interests with branches in Australia and the Argentine. An art collector, he embellishes his factory dining room in Saskatoon with fine paintings. Canadians of the Jewish faith develop our natural resources. Mining engineer Julius Cohen of Montreal played a leading role in the discovery of Ungava's iron ore. Veteran fur buyer Jack Leve of Sudbury spent twenty-six years in the bush, speaks fluent Ojibway and is one of the biggest buyers of raw pelts in Northern Ontario and Quebec.

In politics Nathan Phillips is Mayor of Toronto. Michael Baig of Moncton. Harry Veiner of Medicine Hat. At the federal level Leon Crestohl is M.P. for Montreal-Cartier. David Croll (former M.P. for Toronto-Spadina) is a senator.


In our military life Air-Commodore I. C. Comblât is among the RCAF top brass. David Golden is Deputy Minister of Defense Production. In athletics Jews have produced Canadian Olympic winners (Moe Herscovitch. Fanny Rosenfeld) and national championship teams. (Montreal's YMHA Basketball. Senior Champions in 1956 with 29 victories, no defeats). Sydney Halter, a Jewish lawyer in Winnipeg, is czar of Canadian football. Samuel Berger is a leading light in Ottawa's football and was last year's president of the Rough Riders. Hyman Herschorn. Montreal notary, fosters Canadian swimming at the Olympics and is a director of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

In Canada 8.6 percent of Jews engage in the professions (compared to 4.2 percent of our total population) and practice as doctors, surgeons, specialists, dentists, notaries, advocates, barristers and Queen’s Counsels. Dr. Reva Gerstein of Toronto is a prominent Canadian psychologist, Dr. Harold Segall of Montreal an outstanding cardiologist. Dr. Alton Gold bloom of Montreal a well-known pediatrician (his national best - seller "Small Patients” comments frankly on anti-Semitism in some Canadian hospital appointments and procedures). Dr. J. Gordin Kaplan of Dalhousie University is a physiologist and well-known writer on radiation hazards; Dr. Sydney Friedman is a professor and chairman of the department of anatomy at the University of British Columbia. Maxwell Cohen teaches law at McGill, Bora Laskin at the University of Toronto. Jewish judges sit on the bench in Canada's major cities. H. Carl Goldenberg of Montreal was a protégé of Mackenzie King and has w'on international fame as Canadian labor mediator. Jacob Pinkelman is chairman of the Province of Ontario’s Labor Relations Board.


Jews stand out in our national arts and culture. John Hirsch is the centre of Winnipeg's flourishing Little Theatre; Oscar Morawetz of Toronto is one of our most promising composers; Louis Applebaum is a Stratford musical director and consultant to the National Film Board. Melissa Hayden is one of this continent's leading ballerinas. Ghitta Caiserman. Moe Rheinblatt, the Rixes (husband and wife) of Toronto. Eric Goldberg, and Louis Muhlstock are prominent contemporary artists. Anna Kahane is a noted Canadian sculptress. The Zacks of Toronto have gathered Canada's finest collection of modern French art. The Bronfmans foster Canadian painting w'ith their Seagram collection. Canadian theatre with their Calvert Drama Festival Aw'ards. Dr. Sigmund Samuel of Toronto gave the Canadiana gallery—mostly paintings and early prints to the Royal Ontario Museum.


Canadians are the richer for Jewish novelists like Henry Kreisel and Mordecai Richler. Jewish poets like Miriam Waddington and Irving Layton. Adele Wiseman and the late Lionel Shapiro won the Governor-General’s Award, poet Abraham M. Klein the Lome Pierce Medal for his distinguished contributions to national literature.

Jewish achievement isn’t new

Jews are prominent in Canada’s entertainment. Jew'ish playwrights like Mac Shoub and M. Charles Cohen, producers like Leo Orenstein, Stan Harris, Harvey Hart, Rupert Caplan, Clifford Solway, blaze new trails in radio and TV. Sydney Newman was formerly a CBC top TV drama producer and is now in British TV, Eva Langbord heads casting. Percy Saltzman enlivens our w-eather broadcasts. Wayne and Shuster are our funniest comedians. Actors Lome Greene and William Shatner carry Canada to Broadway and Hollywood. Lloyd Bochner, Toby Robins, Paul Kligman, Bert Pearl and Sammy Sales need no introduction to Canadian TV viewers or theatre-goers.

If this roster is impressive, Jewish accomplishment in Canada isn't anything new. Since Aaron Hart, Canada’s first Jewish citizen, came as commissary officer with Wolfe's army in 1759 and ended up one of the wealthiest landowners in North America, Jewish Canadians have, by their own efforts, risen like cream to the top. Prior to the English conquest, this country presented attractions to a people with trade in their veins. William of Orange ceded Labrador to a Jewish merchant in Rotterdam who never cashed in. In 1926 his direct descendant created a sensation when he presented the original document to London’s Privy Council. After a long legal battle he finally lost out to Quebec and Newfoundland. Jews in Bordeaux traded with Quebec colonists under the French regime. As early as 1750 Jewish merchants from England had opened shops in the garrison town of Halifax. When British troops were moved to the American colonies, these merchants followed. What made Aaron Hart different was that he was the first Jew to stay.

London-born and a lieutenant with the 60th Royal American Regiment under General Wolfe. Hart established himself in the fur trade at Three Rivers in 1760 and w'as awarded the seigneuries of Bécaneour and Ste. Marguerite, the Fief Marquisat - Dusable. Landed wealth brought loneliness to this bachelor. Marriage presented a dilemma to a Jew among Gentiles. Aaron Hart solved it by a trip to his native London whence he returned with his cousin. Dorothea Judah, for wife. Their eleven children were raised in the strict precepts of Judaism as shown by his letter to a son away from home and unable to return for Passover.


“I hope you will not risk in any danger if you find that you cane not be hear Pesah (Passover). You will acarding to my instrucktions go to New' Yark and keep Pesah . . . You will say as lettle as passeble about your bussiniss to any of the Jues in New Yark note to your Unkils too. You most remain Pesah in a Jues house.’’

Other Jews settled in Canada shortly after the conquest. Miranda, de Cordova. Garcia. David, Moresco. Franks, Solomons. Judah, Joseph, Gomez. Levy, de Fonseca, were early Jewish residents in Montreal; Andrew Hays, Jacob de Maniera, Elias Seixas, Joseph Bindona. in Quebec City. A second generation prospered, witness the sons of Aaron Hart. Benjamin served as Montreal magistrate and Colonel in the War of 1812. Moses (who was to keep Passover and tell his “Unkils" nothing) operated a steamship line and a bank for which he issued his own banknotes. But it was Ezekiel Hart who sparked Jewish tinder by being twice elected to the Lower Canada Legislature as member for Three Rivers and being twice ejected because he could not take his “Oath as a Christian.” There began the long light which ended in 1832 with the passage of the law that became the Magna Charta of Canadian Jews. By it they were “entitled to the full rights and privileges of other subjects of His Majesty and capable of taking, having or enjoying any office or place of trust within this Province.” Similar legislation was not passed in Great Britain until 1858.

In 1831, one hundred and seven Jews lived in Canada. The first Canadian synagogue. built by Montreal's Shearith Israel Congregation in 1777, was the only one for seventy years. Today there are two hundred synagogues across Canada—one hundred and seventy Orthodox, twentyfive Conservative, five Reform — with more in the process of construction.


In the eighties Russia launched a series of pogroms—persecutions of Jews —and this country felt the first impact of Jewish immigration. Newcomers established Jewish farming communities at Wapella, Hirsch and Lipton and homesteaded Oxbow and Edenbridge, all in Saskatchewan. (Today only 0.5 percent of Canadian Jews engage in agriculture compared to 16 percent of Canadians of all origins.) By the turn of this century 16,000 Jews were established in Canada.

Pogroms, persecution and war sent the number of Jews in Canada skyrocketing. Almost 68,000 were admitted from Europe in the first decade of this century, 74,000 in the next. The figures then dropped until 1945-54 when Jews formed four percent (40,672) of our total postwar immigration.

In World War I, 2,584 Jews served Canada; 16,883, or ten percent of their total, served in World War II.

Jews are buried in our military cemeteries from Dieppe to Hong Kong. One of the most tragic casualties was Dr. Louis Slotin, Winnipeg-born-and-educated nuclear physicist and key man in the Manhattan Project. When deadly radiation was accidentally released in a demonstration at Los Alamos laboratories, Slotin threw himself as a shield in front of seven colleagues and tore the mass apart with his hands. A scientist to the end, he dictated his store of nuclear knowledge to a secretary as long as he could and died on May 30, 1946, nine days after the accident.

With so much in common in our past and present, what makes the Jew different from other Canadians? What sets him apart from the Gentile next door? On the surface, very little. Underneath, the deep living tide of his Judaism. Jewish gradations in religious observance range from non-practicing but still Jewish citizens to those strictly orthodox and of the old school. All male Jews are circumcized the eighth day after birth. Most male Jews make their bar-mitzvah in their thirteenth year and formally enter a congregation. The orthodox Jew marries under the canopy (chuppah) and culminates the ceremony by breaking a glass underfoot to commemorate the destruction of Solomon's Temple. Jews are buried according to custom within twenty-four hours of death. If mourners choose to hold shiva they observe a seven-day period of strictest austerity during which Jews traditionally pray morning and night, sit on benches or sawed-down chairs, cover the household mirrors, wear slippers instead of shoes, slit their clothes at the neck to indicate rending and, if men, foreswear shaving.


Many Jewish homes are distinguished by a mezuzah, a small metal or wooden box containing the prayer which begins “Hear, O Israel,” placed near the front door. Jewish housewives light and bless candles at sundown Friday to welcome the Sabbath. Although most Canadian Jews are Orthodox this does not mean that a majority keep orthodox households. Those who do, practice kashryth, the laws concerning kosher food. They eat only meat killed by a shochet, ritual slaughterer, and keep flesh and dairy products separate in their refrigerators and kitchens. The two do not appear together at table and are served on separate sets of dishes. Six hours must elapse before dairy produce can be eaten after meat.


At prayer the old-school Jew wears a skullcap and prayer shawl, the phylacteries bound to his head and left arm. Most modern Jews do not. High Holy Days and festivals are Purim, Passover, Shavuos, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succos and Chanukah, and fall by the Hebrew calendar. Authorities complain of sparse attendance in synagogues during the year and crowds on High Holidays.

The Jewish faith is based on the Torah or Law of Moses as set forth in the first five books of the Old Testament. There is no Jewish hierarchy. Theoretically any male Jew over thirteen can conduct a service or burial. Ordained rabbis do so because they are better qualified to interpret the Law and are acquainted with formal procedure. Any ten male Jews over thirteen years of age can form a Minyan, the required quorum, and establish a congregation. In Orthodox synagogues, women sit in a special raised section apart from the men.

The Jew'’s religion stresses life in this world rather than in the next. The reward of virtue is the good life itself. A Jewish ascetic is a rarity. Charity is not optional but an absolute requirement of faith and Tzedokah, the inalienable right of a Jew* in need to help from his fellow's, is a cardinal precept of Judaism. From this have sprung the innumerable Gemilat Hasodim or Hebrew Free Loan Associations scattered across Canada. Jews of means contribute but do not inquire where the money goes. Any Jew who needs financial aid “for any worthy purpose” may borrow without interest for a definite period or a term set by the small committee which tactfully hears his application in private. Loans rarely exceed $500. Costs of administration are practically nil. Less than half of one percent of money loaned is not repaid in full.

Another unique Jewish institution is Mishpat Hasholem, Judgment of Peace. Rather than air a legitimate grievance against another Jew in the law courts, a Jew can ask that the offender be summoned before a private tribunal consisting usually of a rabbi, a businessman and a lawyer. If a defendant ignores such a summons his conduct is labeled outrageous behavior” by his fellows. Once before the tribunal, he and the plaintiff bind themselves in writing to accept its authority and final decision. When the grievance is thrashed out and judgment rendered, to carry the matter further is practically unheard of.

If institutions like these reflect a desire for a united front among Canadian Jews, so does their generosity to Jewish causes. In the past sixty years Jews in Canada sent $85,000,000 to Israel, some of it in the form of Canadian wheat, lumber, clothing and medical supplies. In the past ten they raised $86,000,000 for Jewish needs at home which included welfare and social services, immigrant aid, community centres, hospitals and synagogues. In 1958 alone, Canadas quarter of a million Jew's conti ibuted $2.750,000 to Israel and $5,500,000 to over-all Jewish Canadian welfare exclusive of building projects.


To correlate local and national effort the Canadian Jewish Congress was formed in 1919. Today it not only administers welfare funds but acts as spokesman, champion and prime mover in Canadian Jewry. CJC maintains headquarters in Montreal and operates a network of committees and agencies across Canada. Some idea of its scope can be gleaned from the fact that it sponsors Jewish art, culture, education, trade unionism; represents Canadian Jews at Ottawa, the United Nations and German War Claims courts; attacks discrimination on every front and is largely responsible for present Fair Employment Practices Acts in six provinces.

Jews differ from other Canadians in their customs, traditions and religious observance. So do Catholics and Protestants, citizens of English, French, Irish, Scandinavian and a score of stocks.

There is, of course, no such thing as a typical Jew any more than there is a typical Canadian. In general, our Jewish fellow-citizens are distinguished by keenness of intellect, love of learning, a good sense of humor and few illusions. They are usually energetic, industrious and creative, and place a high value on human freedom. They are Canadian in their hopes, aspirations, love of family, daily life. They are Jewish in that they are a part of the Jewish nation and world Jewry. A cold wind blowing on a Jew halfway around the globe is a chill breeze on the Jew' in Canada. If there is antiSemitism in this country, Jews will also admit to anti-Gentilism. This is a heritage from their past, evincing itself in exclusiveness and inborn distrust of the stranger.

In the past fifty years Canadian Judaism has undergone tremendous transition. Orthodoxy has slackened. The bearded Jew' has almost disappeared. Women no longer wear wigs and sit behind screens in synagogues. A greater part of the ritual is conducted in English. Entire urban sections devoted to Jewry have vanished in the wake of progress and Jews are suburbanites like the rest of us. While more Jews in Canada are marrying Christians and the Jewish birthrate is declining, Jewish education is on the increase. In 1958. 24.000 Jewish children received special instruction in Hebrew, Yiddish and religion after regular daily attendance at public schools. Private Jew'ish parochial schools have sprung into being. A new Judaism is emerging, indigenous to Canada and characterized by healthy self-criticism, bold experiment and vigorous activity.

Despite the blandishments of assimilation and a probable decrease in their population, no one can doubt Canadian Jews will stay Jewish. Judaism is in their blood. By the beat of their hearts, by their oneness with their brethren and by their own deliberate choice, they will preserve one of the world's oldest religions and continue as Jews to make their rich and unique contribution to our national life.