About Jew or Juif?: Jews, French Canadians, and Anglo-Canadians, 1759-1914
American Jews have long perceived the Canadian-Jewish community as a particularly vital and thriving part of Diaspora. Michael Brown's landmark study offers an unusual perspective on the origins of Canadian-Jewish assimilation in Anglo-Canada and the fear and insecurity that Canadian Jews experienced under the French Canadians.
Canadian-Jewish history begins with British roots. England, in the minds of Canadian Jews, has always been a benevolent and secure refuge, a mother country tolerant of Jewish sentiment in her "Anglo-Saxon daughter states." The ancestors of Abraham De Sola, Canada's first ordained rabbi and a noted writer, had fled from the Inquisition first to England and then to Canada. Canada was attractive to Jewish immigrants because it is a "democratic" country. Its economic potential, empty spaces, and social fluidity represented, like the country on its southern border, a real land opportunity. While Canadian Jews have at times been wary of their American-Jewish brethren, they saw in American-Jewish society a paradigm of all that was dynamic, liberal, and progressive. Canadian Jews thus grew very British and also very American, boasting of their dual loyalty. However, the Jews have been traditionally ambivalent toward France. Under the ancient regime, France had been an unpleasant environment for Jews. In contrast to Britain, France did not permit Jews or other non-Catholics to immigrate to Canada. In general, Jews had an easier time with Protestants that with Catholics - especially since Canadian Catholics felt obliged to preserve the Catholic nature of society.
Brown shows how the "presence of Jews and the toleration of Judaism presented a threat to Catholic hegemony." Jews never comfortably integrated into French Canada. Only in Montreal, where the language of government and business was English, did Jews feel comfortable living with the French. As the Jewish population of Canada grew, so did the number of important institutions established to look after their religious and social needs. Many were associations analogous to those of Anglo-Canadian gentiles. All served to contribute to autonomous Jewish life in Montreal, in Toronto, and elsewhere in Canada. In many ways, Jews eventually developed into a third national group - never quite losing their sense of insecurity and feelings of being on the outside. Though today's Canadian Jews are an integral part of the Canadian mosaic, the rise of French-Canadian nationalism has revived their previous insecurities. Brown's book provides a clear understanding of the ambiguity that Canadian Jews and competing population groups with differing values, traditions, and agendas.
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