National responsibilities: Strengthening Jewish life across Canada

Photo : Stephen Shames (JFNA)

Photo : Stephen Shames (JFNA)

Jewish life throughout Canada is an integral part of Jewish life in Montreal, and vice versa, because the Jewish world is interconnected and because our responsibility “for one another” doesn’t end at the city limits. We understand that a vibrant Jewish presence in the rest of Canada helps to build a vibrant Montreal Jewish community.

As one of the largest Jewish communities in the country, Montreal contributes to strengthening smaller communities through an allocation to United Israel Appeal Federations Canada (UIAFC). This support is critical to ensuring services for Jews in need and maintaining the connections that are fundamental for Jewish identity and culture to flourish even where Jews are few in number.

Irina chose to settle in Halifax with her four-year-old son when she came to Canada from Uzbekistan. She was enthusiastic about her new community and was graciously welcomed. She was concerned that other new families might have difficulty integrating, so she took the initiative to prepare her own handbook to help other immigrants.

She did extensive research on the Internet and networked within the Jewish community. And she did it all as a volunteer, while holding a full-time job as an assistant coordinator of a newcomers’ program at the Halifax Y and a part-time job at the Atlantic Jewish Council.

“No one knows everything,” she smiles. “I’m just trying to make our community a little stronger. Many of us are adapting to a different culture, which makes it harder to integrate and make friends. If people want to, they can do it. I hope this book will help them.”

Halifax has recently welcomed 50 new Jewish families.

Based on 2001 census figures, there are more than 20,000 Jews living in small non-federated communities across Canada. That represents about 5% of the total Jewish population of Canada. There are more than 40 small communities that look to UIAFC to help them with fundraising and providing services.

Last month, UIAFC organized a regional small communities’ conference dealing with the challenges of living a Jewish life in a small town. The objectives of the conference were:

• to help foster a feeling of unity and support among those smaller communities;

• to enable these communities to share their wisdom and experiences with one another while adding on more structured tools and resources, enabling them to achieve their personal best;

Seventeen representatives from 10 different regional communities attended the program.

Earlier this year, 40 students from western Canada gathered in Edmonton for a three-day conference to explore strategies and develop tools to promote advocacy and Jewish identity on campus. The goal of the conference was to empower students from the small Hillels by encouraging them to work together to form an informal regional structure. “With sessions ranging from lectures on international law, the conflict in the Middle East from a historical perspective, marketing Israel and building coalitions on campus, the weekend was filled with practical lessons and learning experiences,” said Staci Silverman a student at the University of Alberta.

Federation CJA contributed $2.2 million this year in support of national services.