A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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Immigration History


Despite the obstacles some Jewish immigrants faced in finding a new homeland and starting over in Canada, Jewish society and culture has thrived and flourished here. When Judah Shumiatcher moved to the city of Calgary, for example, he brought with him a Torah scroll - the first one the Jewish community of Calgary had ever seen - and he was welcomed with open arms into the local synagogue.

The synagogue has long been the Jewish house of worship, as well as the centre of the community's social and philanthropic work. In fact, the building of synagogues is often used in the history books as a benchmark, of sorts, for a community's success and progress in putting down roots. Canada's first synagogue, Shearith Israel, was established in Montreal in 1768. Toronto's first synagogue, later called the Holy Blossom Temple, was built in 1856(18).

There are several forms of religious expression in Jewish culture and many degrees of orthodoxy. Judaism is the ancient Jewish religious tradition that goes back thousands of years and pre-dates Christianity. Modern forms of Jewish religious expression include the more secular Yiddish culture, and Zionism, which helped to create the modern state of Israel. For many Jews, Judaism is an expression of a rich cultural tradition, celebrating holidays and building Jewish community(19).

Since the biblical origins of the Jews, and throughout their history of migration and resettlement, religion has been the main cohesive force in protecting and perpetuating Jewish identity. It has been especially important in maintaining their strength of community and identity against persecution and the forever widening generational circles(20).

Most Jewish children in Canada attend public schools, but almost every Jewish community provides facilities for Yiddish and Jewish education. In key urban areas such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg, there are numerous Jewish day schools, some of which are partially funded by provincial governments. A significant number of Jewish children now attend these day schools. Some Canadian universities have developed programs of Judaic studies(21).

Today, Jews are among the most philanthropic contributors to Canadian society, especially in the arts, and play prominent roles in the political and cultural spheres of Canadian life(22).

One of the first Jews to enter Canadian politics was Ezekiel Hart, who was elected to the legislature of Lower Canada, in 1807. Hart could not take his seat, however, because the law of the time demanded that an oath of the Christian faith be taken. This obstacle was removed in 1932, at the same time that Jews were granted the same civil and political rights as other Canadians. It was this kind of progressive and humanistic legislation, 25 years before similar legislation was passed in Britain, that helped shape Canada into a truly sovereign and multi- cultural nation(23).

Since then, Canadian Jews have been represented in all Canadian political parties: Allan Grossman, the first Jew appointed cabinet minister of a provincial government(Progressive Conservative); the late Larry Grossman, the first Jew to be elected leader of an Ontario provincial party, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party; Dave Barrett, the first Jew ever to be elected Premier of a province(British Columbia); Stephen Lewis, the first Jewish leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party; David Lewis, former leader of the National New Democratic Party. Herb Gray was the first Jewish Cabinet minister, David Croll the first Jewish senator(24).

Jews have made deep and profound contributions to Canada and include: Leonard Cohen, Garth Drabinsky, Ed Mirvish, A.M Klein, Irving Layton, Mordecai Richler, Lorne Greene, John Hirsch, Wayne and Shuster, Barbara Frum, Peter C. Newman, the Bronfman family, the Reichmann family and Sam Steinberg(25).

The Shumiatcher family, with roots in Canada going back to the beginning of the century, are truly representative of the Jewish immigrant experience, and the Jewish legacy of being active contributors to Canadian society. Second and third generation Shumiatchers have become poets, writers, filmmakers, architects, lawyers, businessmen, judges, impresarios, musicians and educators. Looking back, Maurice Paperny, grandson of Judah and Chasia Shumiatcher, considers that his family has come a long way."I think that is one of the most phenomenal things about this family," he says. "That they are able to adjust and make their mark in many many fields of endeavour. I think Judah and Chasia would have been very proud of their grandchildren, and even prouder of their great grandchildren, because the seeds have truly scattered."

18,19,20,21,24,25 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

22,23 - A Coat of Many Colours, Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada, by Irving Abella(Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Limited, 1990).

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