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The many Jewish contributions to Canada

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In this special feature of the Canadian Jewish News, we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday by highlighting Jewish contributions to this great country.

We are all fortunate to have found a home in Canada. Our stories began, in many cases, with our ancestors immigrating to Canada to seek better opportunities, to flee from persecution or, as often was the reality, a mixture of both. We arrived in a country that allows us to celebrate our Jewish heritage and live full Jewish lives, while exercising all the rights of Canadian citizenship. This has not often been the story of the Jewish People throughout history and we should acknowledge our good fortune.

But as much as we have received from Canada, Jews have also impacted every aspect of life in our country. This year is an opportunity to celebrate Jewish life in Canada and our individual and communal contributions to its wellbeing.

Historically, Jews in Canada were not initially viewed as equal participants. And so, we collectively schepped nachas for every Jewish “first.” No Canadian Jewish history is complete without reference to Ezekiel Hart, the first Jew to be elected to public office, David Croll, the first Jewish senator, Herb Gray, the first Jewish federal cabinet minister and deputy prime minister, Nathan Phillips, the first Jewish mayor of Toronto; David Lewis, founder of the CCF, predecessor of the NDP, Louis Rasminsky, the first Jewish governor of the Bank of Canada and Bora Laskin, the first Jewish chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Beyond the fields of politics and government, Jews have also excelled in the sciences, the arts, architecture, law, human rights and in every undertaking imaginable. We are all familiar with the Jewish celebrities whose talents have enriched generations: Molly Picon, Leonard Cohen, William Shatner and Drake, to name but a few. Business leaders like Sam Bronfman, Gerry Schwartz, Larry Tanenbaum, Barry Sherman, Joe Rotman, Seymour Schulich, Izzy Asper, Murray Koffler, Peter Munk, Leslie Dan and Joe Lebovic are known as much for their philanthropic leadership, as for their business acumen.

READ: THE CJN’S SPECIAL COVERAGE OF CANADA’S SESQUICENTENNIAL

The stories you will read in this issue are a small sampling of the Jews who have succeeded tremendously in their life’s challenges and have contributed much to the Jewish community and life in Canada. They are the beginning of a much longer list. And the truth is that each of us has stories – not all of them are big, but all of them are important. Together, they weave the fabric of Canadian Jewish life.

Every family has a story. I am blessed to have had parents who, individually and as a couple, were deeply committed to enhancing the lives of all around them by providing jobs, counselling, financial assistance and leadership in both business and philanthropy, within the Jewish community and beyond. Their generation broke barriers and opened doors, so that we would all benefit.

But it was their parents who fought the truly life-threatening battle: crossing continents and the Atlantic Ocean as young teens, often travelling alone, speaking only Yiddish, with no apparent skills, little education and no certainty of any kind, to make a living and to pursue a new life in Canada. Those early immigrants established our synagogues and schools, our hospitals and our funeral homes across this country. They created the foundation for our future security as a Jewish community in Canada. They contributed to the creation of this great nation.

All of these stories are equally important. The Canadian Jewish News has recorded Jewish life across Canada for almost half of Canada’s 150 years. And as we celebrate this country’s sesquicentennial, it is our hope to document the stories of Canadian Jewry, throughout time, across the full span of Canada’s geography, across disciplines and across the religious spectrum, from personal experiences of individual despair or triumph, to the stories of public import.

With that in mind, we welcome your submissions about your own Canadian-Jewish stories. And we commit to posting representative excerpts online or in print for the rest of this 150th year.

Please join The CJN in celebrating Canada’s 150th year.