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surveyBy BERNIE BELLAN
A new study of Canadian Jews, based on telephone and in-person interviews conducted with 2,335 Canadian Jews between February and September 2018, has just been released.

 

 


Conducted by Enivronics Research, in conjunction with the University of Toronto and York University, the survey of Canadian Jews was modeled after a ground-breaking survey of American Jews released by the Pew Research Centre in 2013.
In the introduction to the survey, its authors note that it “provides a comprehensive portrait of what it means to be Jewish in Canada, touching on such areas as identity, practices, and experiences. This survey is benchmarked against comparable research in the USA and shows that Canadian Jews as a whole are distinct from their American counterparts in being more connected to Jewish life, through education, membership in Jewish organizations, friendships, and connections to Israel.”
However, the survey’s authors admit that, as a result of several factors, they cannot consider their survey to be as authoritative as the Pew survey of American Jews. For one, they weren’t nearly as well funded as the authors of the Pew survey. Another problem was how spread out Canada’s Jewish population is. Yet another problem was the unreliability of census data (something I have been writing about myself for years, ever since the publication of the National Household Survey in 2011, which took the place of the long form census.)


Here is what the survey has to say about the problem of identifying just how large Canada’s Jewish population is:
“What is the present Jewish population of Canada? Unfortunately, the size of Canada’s Jewish population cannot be estimated precisely from the most recent census (2016). Only censuses taken in the second year of each decade ask a question on religion. Moreover, unlike previous iterations, the 2016 census did not list “Jewish” as an example of ethnic origin. Because of that change, the number of Canadians declaring Jewish ethnicity on the census dropped 54 percent between 2011 and 2016.”
Two cities in particular come in for special attention in this survey: Montreal and Winnipeg. (In Winnipeg the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba participated in formulating, and paying for, certain questions that were unique to Winnipeg, while in Montreal that community’s Jewish federation paid for questions unique to Montreal’s Jewish community.) Not coincidentally the survey’s authors found that the “Jewish communities in Montreal and Winnipeg are shrinking in size”. (Oy – I wonder what the Jewish Federation is going to have to say about that? For years we’ve been hearing how much Winnipeg’s Jewish population has been growing. I’ve been arguing that the evidence doesn’t back up the Federation’s claims. Evidently the survey authors agree with me.)
While there is much fascinating information to pore over in this very comprehensive survey – and I plan on writing about the survey much more in future issues, certain sections pertaining to Winnipeg’s Jewish community really jumped off the page for me.


Here is an excerpt from a section that describes how many Winnipeg Jews think about leaving Winnipeg:
“In Winnipeg, the survey questions focused on considerations given to leaving the city. One-third (34%) of Jews in Winnipeg say they have thought about moving away from the city at some point in the past few years (this includes 1% who say they have already decided to move). The size of the Winnipeg subsample limits the depth of subgroup analysis, but thinking about moving is most likely to be reported by those 18 to 29 years of age, those with no children, and those with higher levels of education and income.
“Among those who have considered such a move, four in ten say it is very (10%) or somewhat (29%) likely they will leave Winnipeg in the foreseeable future.” Oy again!
Yet, Winnipeg Jews come across as having the highest rate of memberships in a Jewish community centre:
“Almost half (47%) of Canadian Jews report belonging to one or more types of Jewish organizations other than a synagogue or temple, such as a Jewish community centre; this is about 2.5 times the proportion for American Jews (18%). In Canada, such membership is most common in Winnipeg (57%) (emphasis mine)…
“The high membership level in Winnipeg may be attributable in part to the large and well-established Asper Jewish Community Campus in that city.”
“…57 percent of Winnipeggers belong to a Jewish organization other than a synagogue, compared to 48 percent in Montreal, 48 percent in Toronto, and 36 percent in Vancouver. Winnipeg’s first-place ranking on this indicator is probably due to the remarkable success of the Asper Jewish Community Campus, which involves a large proportion of Winnipeg Jews in its many and diverse cultural, educational, and recreational activities.”
Insofar as describing the most traits held most in common by Canadian Jews, the survey notes that Canadian Jews are much like their American counterparts, although fewer Canadian Jews believe in God, and more Canadian Jews express a stronger connection to Israel.


Here is another excerpt from the survey:
“What do Canadian Jews consider to be essential aspects of being Jewish? At the top of the list are leading a moral and ethical life, remembering the Holocaust, and celebrating Jewish holidays; a majority identify each of these as “essential” to what being Jewish means to them. In a second tier, at least four in ten identify as essential such attributes as working for justice and equality in society, caring about Israel, being intellectually curious, being part of a community, and having a good sense of humour. By comparison, no more than one in five places such importance on observing Jewish law, attending synagogue, and participating in Jewish cultural activities.”
One other particularly interesting point of contrast between Canadian and American Jews comes in what the authors describe as the “cohesiveness of the Canadian Jewish community: The cohesiveness of the Canadian Jewish community contrasts with that of the Jewish community in the United States. We know this from previous research—but the magnitude of the difference revealed by this survey is so large that it nonetheless strikes one as remarkable. Intermarriage is far more common in the United States than in Canada, the ability to read or speak Hebrew is much less widespread, visiting Israel is a lot less common, and so on.” (Ed. note: What kind of respectable paper would allow a phrase such as “and so on” to be used?)
Yet, as much as the survey’s authors would argue that Jewish communities in Canada are more “cohesive” than American ones, they also note that “Today, only one in three Canadians who identifies as Jewish considers religion very important in his or her life, and just six in ten say they believe in God or a universal spirit (compared to seven in ten of all Canadians). For most Canadian Jews today, the basis of Jewish identity is less about religion than about culture, ethnicity, or a combination of culture, ethnicity, and religion.
“Consider that one of the most important expressions of Jewish identity involves families getting together over a meal to mark a Jewish holiday. What does this practice mean? For a growing number of Canadian Jews, the practice seems to be chiefly a means of achieving conviviality in the family and, beyond that, solidarity with the larger community. The purely religious significance of the practice is less important than it was in the past.”

To read the full results of the survey, go to survey of canadian jews.

 

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