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Canadian Parliament to consider Jewish Heritage Month

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Linda Frum

Ontario has one. The United States does too, and if a Conservative senator and a Liberal MP manage to convince their colleagues, Canada too will soon celebrate a national Jewish heritage month.

Last week, Sen. Linda Frum introduced Bill S-232 for first reading. The bill would see the month of May designated as Canadian Jewish Heritage Month. The parliamentary designation would “recognize the important contributions that Jewish Canadians have made to Canada’s social, economic, political and cultural fabric…and…would provide an opportunity to remember, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Jewish Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across the country,” the bill states.

York Centre MP Michael Levitt, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said the proposed legislation “is important because the Canadian Jewish community has a wonderful, deep and rich history in Canada, reaching back to the 1770s when the first settlers arrived.”

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Today, Canada is home to 400,000 Jews, making it the fourth largest Jewish community in the world and one whose members have contributed greatly to the growth of Canada through philanthropy, business, the arts and more, he said.

The legislation would provide a platform for the organized Jewish community to stage events to celebrate the Jewish contribution to Canada and in particular for smaller communities to make their involvement in Canada’s progress known to their neighbours. “This is going to allow voices from across Canada to celebrate,” he said.

Levitt said the bill has received all-party support. Once it passes the Senate, he will introduce it in the House. Levitt is hopeful it can be enacted by May 2017, but that will depend on the extent of other House business.

Meanwhile, Levitt’s House colleagues lined up in support of the bill.

“The Canadian Jewish Community has made immense contributions to our country. I am proud to represent a riding with one of the largest Jewish populations in Canada. I look forward to supporting this legislation, both on behalf of my constituents and the broader Canadian community,” said Conservative MP Peter Kent, who represents Thornhill, Ont.

“Canadian Jewish Heritage Month will be an opportunity for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the role that the Canadian Jewish Community has played across the country. This is an important initiative and I commend my colleagues for their work to bring this to fruition,” said New Democrat MP Randall Garrison, who represents Esquimalt – Saanich – Sooke in British Columbia.

In a news release Frum stated, “As a proud member of Canada’s Jewish community, I am delighted to have the privilege of bringing forward in the Senate an act that will formalize the month of May as a time to celebrate Canadian-Jewish culture and honour the significant contributions made by Canadians of Jewish faith starting from the very earliest days of colonial settlement.”

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The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) welcomed introduction of the bill.

“We applaud Sen. Frum and MP Michael Levitt’s initiative to recognize the important contributions Jewish Canadians have made to our extraordinary country. The creation of Canadian Jewish Heritage Month is particularly timely as Canadians prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. For generations, the Jewish community has been an integral part of Canada, making historic contributions to Canadian democracy, civil society, military service, business, academia, and arts and culture. We encourage parliamentarians to recognize and celebrate Jewish contributions to Canada by supporting Bill S-232,” said CIJA chair David Cape.

The Jewish community is not the first to have a month designated to honour their contribution to Canadian society. June is Italian Heritage Month in Ontario and the period has been marked by street festivals, musical events, speaking engagements and literary readings.

South of the border, President Barack Obama hosted three consecutive White House receptions in honour of Jewish American Heritage Month and in 2015 the president visited Washington’s Adas Israel synagogue to deliver an address, bringing national attention to the event.