The four cities that formed the basis for the landmark 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada have a large task before them: digesting mounds of data and formulating programs and policies that address the needs and desires of a changing Jewish community.
The 84-page study, the first of its kind in this country, was released March 12 at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto before dozens of community officials, planners and mavens. TVOntario personality Steve Paikin was the event’s MC, alongside the report’s authors, Prof. Robert Brym of the University of Toronto; sociologist Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor of York University; and Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research, which conducted the study.
As reported in the March 14 issue of The CJN, the survey asked 99 questions of 2,335 individuals in Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver, whose Jewish communities combine to represent 82 per cent of Canada’s Jewish population. Rather than measuring basic demographic facts, it probed the identities, values, opinions and experiences of Canadian Jews.
Closely modelled on an earlier study of U.S. Jews, it found that Canadian Jews had lower levels of assimilation, closer connections to Israel, were less frequently intermarried, were members of synagogues and donated to Jewish charities in higher ratios, had closer ties to their local communities, and were more likely to raise their children as Jews than their American cousins.
The impact of the survey results will vary according to city.
In Toronto, where nearly half of all the country’s Jews live, Adam Minsky, president and CEO of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto said he can’t think of any Jewish community outside Israel that’s in as “fortunate” a position as Canada’s.
Minsky said he’s often heard warnings from his U.S. counterparts that, in one generation, Toronto’s Jewish community will mirror American trends. Some of the survey’s findings reflect “very strong evidence that we’re not on the same path as our cousins south of the border,” Minsky said.
He also noted he was happy to see that 90 per cent of Canadian Jewish males have had a bar mitzvah (the figure was four out of every 10 Jewish women in this country had a bat mitzvah, while eight in 10 of all Canadian Jews aged 18 to 29 had a ceremony performed).
But two of the survey’s findings were “surprising in the negative sense,” he said. In Toronto, one in three Jews aged 18 to 29 said they have felt discrimination by religion, and more than one in four said they were discriminated against as Jews defined by their culture or ethnicity.
“Frankly, it’s much higher than I expected, and that will have implications for how we move forward,” Minsky said.
In a statement to The CJN, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), noted that Jews aged 18 to 29 are twice as likely as the general Jewish population to have been called an anti-Semitic slur in the past year.
“This should redouble our vigilance in combating anti-Semitism, especially on campus and online,” Fogel said.
The other finding that concerned Minsky was that consciously downplaying one’s Jewishness was most prevalent in Toronto, at 41 per cent of respondents.
Minsky said three data points will have “real implications” for funding and planning in Toronto. While he was glad to see that eight in 10 Jews under 45 have visited Israel, “a real concern” is the 20-point spread between younger and older Jews when it comes to the centrality of Israel as a core component of Jewish identity.
“Younger Jews are not seeing Israel as a central part of their Jewish identity. That’s something that we will have to address going forward.”
He said he was also pleased to see “strong evidence” of the impact of Jewish day schools – “a direct correlation” between day school graduates and their focus on cohesiveness and continuity. “That will also impact our investment in that area.”
Finally, Minsky said the number of Jews from the former Soviet Union cited in the study was “significantly less” than had been estimated for Toronto. The figure was thought to be about 50,000 Russian-speaking Jews of a total Jewish population of 200,000. The study found 25,000 Jews born in the former Soviet Union in all of Canada.
It also found that these Jews had lower levels of connection to their local communities than other groups.
“If we are going to grow as a community, these Jews need to want to feel part of the Jewish community and participate in it,” Minsky said. But, he added, the study also suggests ex-Soviet Jews are open to becoming engaged, and see education as a way to do it. “And that will affect the direction we go in the future,” Minsky said.
The audience at the study’s launch also heard from representatives of the Winnipeg and Montreal Jewish communities, which are shrinking according to the survey’s data.
Zachary Minuk of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba said his community needs time to study the results, while Sylvain Abitbol, past president of Federation CJA in Montreal, proudly noted that Montreal is “a very Zionist community,” with the study finding it has the highest number of Jews who feel very connected to Israel.
Canadian Jews “remain staunch Zionists who support a strong Canada-Israel relationship, while having nuanced and divided views on Israeli policy issues, like settlements,” Fogel said.
As the study showed, nearly nine in 10 view “caring for Israel” as either “essential” or “important” to their identity. More than eight in 10 see Canada’s current support for Israel as either “about right” or “not supportive enough.”
Said Fogel: “Some suggest that disagreements over particular Israeli policies are driving Diaspora Jews away from Israel. This study powerfully refutes that notion when it comes to Canada. Canadian Jewry has spoken: Zionism is a core part of our identity, we believe Canadian support for Israel must continue and grow, and the Zionist tent is strong and broad enough to include diverse opinions on Israeli policies. Now more than ever, we must emphasize unity over uniformity.”