Historians generally describe Jewish life in Spain during the Middle Ages as a “golden age,” but it may not hold a candle to Jewish life in Canada today.
Canadian Jews enjoy freedom, social acceptance, thriving community institutions and high rates of religious observance, all while experiencing relatively modest levels of anti-Semitism.
Being Jewish is not a barrier to involvement in business, medicine, the arts or any other activity, perhaps making this a golden age in the lives of Jews, said Prof. David Koffman, an assistant professor of history at York University in Toronto.
To mark Canada’s sesquicentennial this year, The Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University will hold a two-day symposium on Oct. 22 and 23, titled, “No Better Home for the Jews … than Canada?”
The symposium will take “a wide angle, big picture” look at Canadian Jewish life and consider the progress that has been made in Canada, compared to the United States and Europe, said Koffman, who organized the event.
‘Canadian Jews do not pay that much attention to Canadian Jewish history’
The symposium, which has been a year in the making, will feature presentations by scholars “from a range of disciplines – historians, social scientists and literature and culture specialists,” Koffman said.
Not only will the presenters discuss various aspects of Canadian Jewish life, it is hoped that the event will spur a dialogue within the local Jewish community and with Jewish communities around the world. And despite the scholarly nature of the presenters, the public is invited to attend the symposium, which will be geared toward a public audience, he said.
The story of Canadian Jewry is not widely known around the world and “Canadian Jews do not pay that much attention to Canadian Jewish history,” Koffman said. “It does not get the attention it deserves.”
Prof. Morton Weinfeld of McGill University in Montreal will kick off the symposium on Oct. 22 with the 2017 Henry Crow Lecture and keynote address at the Schulich School of Business.
The next day will see presentations on a broad range of topics, including: immigration to Canada versus the United States; the response of Canadian, American and British Jews to the Balfour Declaration; the 1954 election of Toronto Mayor Nathan Phillips; the experience of growing up Jewish in Hamilton, Ont.; Canada as a Yiddish paradise; and “Jewish Bolsheviks meet Ukrainian Cossacks” in Canada.
“Jews have been a part of the making of Canada since before 1867.… Jews provided the colonies and the new state one of its first test cases for including non-Christians in its conceptions of citizenship, for the establishment of religion and for fundamental state concerns like property rights, eligibility criteria for holding public office, and for public education. The symposium thus looks to expand Canadian sesquicentennial themes to the Jewish “nation-within-a-nation,” Koffman said.
The papers that will be presented will be made into a book of essays called No Better Home, which is expected to be released in the middle of 2018, hopefully to take its place alongside the modest collection of books on Canadian Jewish life, Koffman added.