Canadian and American Jewish Identity

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Religion News Service reported on some surveys in the recent past about demographic and statistical facts about the Canadian Jewish population.

The author of the article joked about “Canadaphilia” or a “longing to be a Canadian… or, to be even more precise, a longing for the way that Canadians practice Judaism.”

This became a pivot point for some commentary on study of Canadian Jewish peoples following a 2013 Pew Research Center study of American Jewish identity. The findings, according to the reporter, were “remarkable.”

The comparisons for the article related to the American Jewish community and the Canadian Jewish community. If we look at, for instance, the rates of intermarriage, 50% of the American Jewish population intermarry.

Whereas, in Canadian society, only 23% of the Jewish community will intermarry. Canadian Jewish peoples will be twice as probably to take part in yeshiva, community day school, overnight summer camp, and a Sunday/Hebrew school.

As reported, “In the United States, participation has dwindled among non-Orthodox American Jews. The same has not been true for Reform and Conservative Jews in Canada. Canadians are significantly more active in their religious communities.”

Canadian Jewish peoples are twice as likely to take part in Synagogue and 80% of Canadian Jewish peoples have donated to a Jewish organization. Indeed, even on the political and sentiment level, Canadian Jewish peoples identify more with Israel than American Jewry.

“Comparatively few American Jews have a preponderance of Jewish friends… In a few years, Canada’s Jewish population may exceed 400,000, making it the largest Jewish community outside of Israel and the United States,” Religion News Service stated.

The author of the article, Jeffrey Salkin, mused about not coveting Canadian Jewish identity because of the implications with the Ten Commandments and coveting, but still coveting the identity nonetheless. Salkin spoke at synagogues in Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.

As a qualitative analysis, he observed a vitality of Jewish life and “sense of togetherness” within a common purpose for the communities. He found the young people’s sense of this “refreshing and inspirational.”

Salkin stated, “To be blunt, the rate of assimilation has been slower among Canadian Jews. There has been a greater appreciation for Jewish ethnicity, which perhaps emerges from a greater sense of diversity in Canadian life itself.”

He went to an exhibit in New York, which was a Jewish Museum. It contained a Lenny Cohen exhibit. In it, he saw the life and times of Leonard Cohen. Salkin could not extricate the understanding of Cohen from Jewish facets of Montreal and Jewish aspects of Montreal from Cohen.

“I would need for my Canadian Jewish friends, communal leaders, and sociologists to analyze why there is such a difference between United States Jewry and Canadian Jewry,” Salked opined, “One answer: the different course of United States history, compared to Canadian history. The United States fought a war against British colonialism, which produced strong American patriotism.”

One of the authors, Professor Rhonda Lenton, of the study argued that this produced a stronger national identity amongst Americans than Canadians. The cohesiveness of the Canadian Jewish communities is something that Salkin wishes American Jewish peoples had as much.

He covets it. And the differences show in the data.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

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Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by Carmine Savarese on Unsplash

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