North of the Border

North of the Border
In 361 days our Centennial Trip to Israel will bring 450+ people to Israel -- the vast majority for their first time.We are making one last push as we will cap the trip at 500 people.In just one week, on April 1, the price of the trip will increase by $1,000 per person. Sign up now ! Space is limited. Do not miss this historic opportunity with our community!
Last week, a study of the Canadian Jewish community was released. It was done in a similar fashion to the 2013 Pew Research Center comprehensive survey of American Jews. This survey focused on what it means to be Jewish in Canada today – specifically patterns of Jewish practice, upbringing, and intermarriage; perceptions of anti-Semitism, attitudes toward Israel, and personal and organizational connections that, taken together, constitute the community.
In 1732, the first Jew settled in what is now Canada – an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 287 years, the Canadian Jewish population has grown to number 392,000 (1% of the population) and form the world’s third or fourth largest Jewish community. Of this total, 37,000 are Sephardim, 25,000 born in the Former Soviet Union, and 17,000 born in Israel.
Interestingly, 87% of Jews live in just six metropolitan areas – ½ in Toronto, ¼ in Montreal, 1/6 in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Calgary combined. Vancouver is the fastest growing Jewish community in the country, followed by Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary, while both Montreal and Winnipeg have been declining.
Throughout my career, the common mantra has been Canadian Jewry is one to one-and-a-half generations behind American Jewry. Well, maybe or maybe not. Here are some key findings:
  • For most Canadian Jews today, the basis of Jewish identity is more about culture and ethnicity than religion. Only 33% of Canadians who identify as Jewish consider religion very important in their lives.
  • Most Canadian Jews consider the following to be essential aspects of being Jewish: leading a moral and ethical life, remembering the Holocaust, and celebrating Jewish holidays. Less than 20% of respondents identified observing Jewish law, attending synagogue, and participating in Jewish cultural activities as essential to living a Jewish life.
  • In 1931, Yiddish was considered the “mother tongue” of nearly all Canadian Jews. Less than 10% speak the language today.
  • Six in ten Canadian Jews identify with an established Jewish denomination (Reform, Conservative (the largest), or Orthodox). 10% affiliate with Reconstructionism, Humanistic, Renewal Judaism, and Hasidism. 30% consider themselves “just Jewish.” The “just Jewish” statistic is similar to the United States.
  • 60% report that they (or someone in their household) belong to a synagogue. In Portland we estimate it is 20%-25% and in America overall 30%. Only 17% report attending synagogue services at least once a month.
  • Half the Jews in Canada attended a Jewish day school and did so for an average of nine years. Most Jews in Canada also attended a overnight Jewish summer camp. In America, less than 10% attended a Jewish day school and 16% attended a Jewish overnight camp.
  • Most Canadian Jews have knowledge of the Hebrew language, with 40% reporting they can carry on a conversation in the language.
  • 77% of Jews are married to Jews. But intermarriage rates are growing in younger cohorts. In general, intermarriage is less common in cities with large Jewish marriage pools, but Vancouver is an exception. (Overall, the Canadian intermarriage rate is at 23% while in America it is at 50%.)
  • Despite 40% of Canadian Jews saying they have experienced anti-Semitism in some form in the past five years, they do not see themselves as the most significant target of persecution in the country (more likely for Indigenous Peoples, Muslims, and Blacks). Let’s not forget 70% of Jews in our region have experienced anti-Semitism.
  • Canadian Jews have a very strong connection to Israel. 80% of Canadian Jews have visited Israel at least once, with the average being five times. Plus, 18% of Canadian Jews have lived in Israel for six months or more.
  • Similar to American Jewry, there are a multitude of views about the Israeli government, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and how the country supports Israel.
Perhaps the most important statistic is one that does not get much attention. I raised this when we reviewed the Pew Study about American Jewry several years ago. The question is what percentage of your closest friends are Jewish?
In Canada, over 50% of respondents stated that either all or most of their current friends are Jewish with very few indicating that hardly any or none of them are Jewish. In contrast, for the west coast of the United States (and remember this includes Los Angeles and San Francisco), the Pew Study reported that only 9% of people’s closest friends are Jewish.
We live in a world where “word of mouth” and social media drive most of our decisions. Peer influence is enormous! Thus, if you are not hearing from or being encouraged by your Jewish friends, then you may not be participating in Jewish activities. This may be the greatest challenge for the Jewish people going forward.
Let me close with this story. My son’s high school class is currently learning about the Holocaust (we hope soon it will be required for all public high school students in Oregon). I suggested to his teacher they visit the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education (OJMCHE). Yesterday, I joined 115 students from Mountainside High School (the new high school in Beaverton) for a three hour workshop at the OJMCHE. It was a phenomenal learning experience for the students and for me . The content was engaging, the docents were excellent, and the exhibits very well done ( yasher koach !). I encourage each of you with high school students to encourage their schools to visit the OJMCHE. It is a true gem and wonderful resource for the greater community, especially with our current social climate.
Shabbat shalom. And for those with children in most of our area schools, have a safe and enjoyable spring break.


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