Arrival Day

09.07.04

Today is the American Jewish community’s 350th “Arrival Day”, a cultural holiday celebrating the arrival of the first group of Jewish people to North America.

Jonathan’s Blogburst on the subject has a number of thought-provoking posts on the theme of the future of the Jewish community in America. So I figured that today would be a good opportunity to put a few of my own thoughts to paper (or to screen, as it were) on the subject of the Jewish community in Montreal. Most of what I will say in this post is not politically-correct. But if you want political correctness, go read a different blog.

I am a fourth-generation Montrealer, I consider myself thoroughly Canadian… but most definately not thoroughly (or even partially) Quebecoise. Sure, I live in Quebec, but Quebecois is less about location and more about culture… and the Quebecois culture has never been particularly welcoming to Jews – especially anglophone Jews.

From the overt antisemitism of Quebecois figures such as Lionel Groulx, to the WWII conscription crisis and identification of Quebec with fascism, the history of this province is rife with antisemitism. The people here will be extremely offended if you bring it up or call attention to what has become one of Quebec history’s dirty little secrets… as historian Esther Delisle found out the hard way.

Things are changing. Montreal is a truly multicultural city, and many of the barriers faced by Jews until midway through last century have disappeared. But Quebec society – especially outside Montreal – continues to be relatively closed compared to the rest of North America. As Jacques Parizeau’s comments on the evening of the 1995 referendum defeat told us, we will always be considered part of the “money and the ethnic vote” that most Quebecois nationalists feel keep costing them their dream of self-determination. Quebec continues to have the highest rate of antisemitic incidents in Canada. This narrow-minded attitude creeps up now and again, as a reminder that, despite their outward facade, many Quebecois politicians and leaders have not truly overcome this antisemitism. The bottom line is, we will never be “pure laine” enough to truly fit in here. And there’s still a long way to go before that will truly change.

The Montreal Jewish community, too, is changing, though. More anglophone Jews are making the move down the 401 to Toronto, or to the United States, resulting in a shrinking, aging community. Partially compensating for this is the leaps-and-bounds growth of the francophone Sephardic Jewish community, which is young and dynamic and is changing the face of Montreal Jewry.

Antisemitism is coming from new directions now, too. Mirroring the worldwide trend, much of it is originating from the growing Arab and Muslim communities, especially on university campuses where the traditional student Left has adopted the Palestinian cause. Incidents such as last April’s UTT firebombing remind us that we must be ever vigilent.

Despite all of that, I love living here. This is a great community with lots to offer. I’m a proud Canadian and I love my country, and I’m a proud Montrealer and I love my city. We grumble about how small the community is and how everyone knows everyone else, but in a way, that too is kind of nice. With over 90,000 members, the community is certainly still large and vibrant, and is one of the least culturally-assimilated Jewish communities in all of North America (with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox). During community-wide events like the March to Jerusalem or the Yom Ha’atzmaut parades, we can really see the strength of the community, but its backbone are the people who volunteer tirelessly to keep things running and strong.

Happy arrival day to our US neighbours. Today, as all days, I’m very proud of my identity as a Canadian, Montrealer, and Jew.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter 09.07.04 at 9:08 PM

Happy Arrival day.

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2 Hanthala 09.08.04 at 3:48 AM

Its like all racism though Segacs, it goes both ways. Strange too ’cause Jews and frogs were both the “white niggers” of Quebec sweat shops at the same time. Built unions together. Its not all about evil, fascist-leaning, pure-laine obssessed, power-hungry Quebecois. Just as it isn’t true that all Jews feel nothing but contempt for the French-Quebecois.

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3 Josh 09.08.04 at 11:36 PM

‘Hakarat hatov’ or acknowledging the good is commendable.

FWIW, a leading Jewish philantrophic organization’s latest survey finds only 80 000 left in Montreal and shrinking. I also suppose the only hope is the current yound sefaradics who might make more babies(as they traditionally do) then the ashkenzim, but I’m afraid that it’s just a bubble. (The ultra-orthodox are multiplying but they don’t seem to mingle with the rest too well, so your ‘regular’ Jew population is actually contracting even faster.)

Personally, I respect Canada for giving refuge for my grandparents but Canada is not the right place for Jews to be right now. The refuge was temporary. Jews have already proven themselves in North America but now they are in their twilight stage and the time has come to return home and build Israel into the great nation it once was.

Anything else is just hanging on for what?

Disclaimer: I still have a Canadian passport but only use it to enter and leave the great white. I visit all other countries on my Israeli one.

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4 just a guy 09.09.04 at 6:06 AM

Josh, I agree with you. All canadian jews should pack and leave to Israel. That would be great.

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5 Ikram 09.09.04 at 12:53 PM

Happy Arrival Day. My post is up, and my take is a little different.

(FYI — Census reports 90K Jewish-Montreals. Immigration levels are pretty low, but the community is no older than Torontonian or other Canadian Jewish Communities.)

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6 Malia 09.09.04 at 10:25 PM

“Just a guy,”
You should leave and go back to the Middle East where you came from. That would be great!

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7 Neal 09.10.04 at 3:43 AM

I second that

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8 Stewart Clamen 09.10.04 at 11:14 AM

“Today is the American Jewish community’s 350th ‘Arrival Day’, a cultural holiday celebrating the arrival of the first group of Jewish people to North America.”

Only if you mean mainland North America. The Jewish community in the Netherlands Antilles (specifically Curacao) is older.

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