The Paradoxical Success of Canadian Jews. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

Article excerpt

Morton Weinfeld, Like Everyone Else, But Different. The Paradoxical Success of Canadian Jews. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001, 446 pp.

Trying to review this comprehensive and encyclopaedic book on contemporary Jewry in Canada is no mean feat. It is difficult to think of any aspect that its author may have left out and it is impossible to map the full content in this review. With seemingly total command of sources, his own deep involvement in the community and the particular perspective from Montreal to boot, Morton Weinfeld presents us with what might best be described as a demographic ethnography of Canadian Jewry at the turn of the millennium; while it accomplishes far more, it follows in the footsteps, more than sixty years ago, of Louis Rosenberg's classic Canada's Jews, published in 1939.

Clearly, for what the author is trying to accomplish, his consummate demographic skills are particularly useful. We learn that, pessimistic predictions notwithstanding, the Jewish population in Canada has been growing steadily over the past 20 years. In 1991, the numbers stood at somewhere between 356,000 and 406,000 Jews, depending on more or less inclusive, ethnic or religious definitions. (Here we might quibble with him and suggest that, following demographers Sidney Goldstein or Sergio Della Pergola, he might have used still more inclusive parameters, for example, adding to the Jewish periphery ethnically and religiously non-Jewish persons living with Jewish partners and following certain Jewish traditions without, however, being formally converted. No good reason to exclude this group, especially as they must constitute quite significant numbers here as well, in my estimate upping the total figure to over 450,000 "Jews.")

Weinfeld nevertheless discusses in some detail other aspects of the margins of the community. For 100 born Jews by religion, there are another 44 Jews who are either secular, of Jewish ancestry only, or who are Jews by choice, i.e., converts. The latter group alone might be as high as 8 or 10 for every hundred ethno-religiously identified Jews. As far as intermarriage goes, since the late 1970's these rates have been fairly stable at close to 30%, whereas at around 1960, they still stood at around 10% -- an astonishingly rapid jump in only two decades and surprising stability ever since.

The figures about the internal, "sub-ethnic," composition of Canadian Jewry to which Weinfeld addresses himself in detail are telling as well. On top of the largely Eastern European bedrock, based on the massive immigration from around the first World War, the community was significantly shaped by the influx after World War II: approximately 34,000 Jews, mostly survivors, had arrived by about 1952 and more of that group would arrive in the following decade. These 16%, likely more, had a particularly significant impact on the self definition and the habitus of Canadian Jewry at large. Somewhat later on, another 20,000 Jews of entirely different stock would arrive from North Africa, with particularly significant impact on the ethnic constellation in Quebec, between Francophones and a largely anglophone Jewry.

Since the 1980's, finally, approximately 40,000 or 50,000 Jews arrived from the former Soviet Union, and it is estimated that up to 15,000 Israelis have come to Canada as well. While it is pretty apparent that the old Ashkenasic groupings constitute some semblance of a unitary ethnic group, this remains an open question with regard especially to the Israeli, Francophone North African and the Russian emigration. This raises the question, can we actually speak of a unitary Jewish community in any way: in which ways, for example, are the Ethiopian Jewish immigrants part of that Jewish community? …