are Canadians More "Jewish" Than Americans?

By Miriam Perl

Are Canadians More “Jewish” Than Americans?

Which community has been deemed the “model Diaspora community”?

American Jews appear to have lost that title in favour of Canadians. 

Read on to discover what’s behind this interesting finding.

Americans are no longer the model Diaspora community says, Gil Troy, a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, and author of The Zionist Ideas, Vision for the Homeland—Then, Now, Tomorrow. Apparently, that accolade, says Mr. Troy, would be a more fitting moniker for the Canadian Jewish community, in light of The Environics Institute’s Survey of Jews in Canada. This study cites some interesting differences between American and Canadian Jewry: Canadians Jewry has lower intermarriage rates, higher Jewish education and literacy rates, greater love for Israel, and more pride in being Jewish.

Why is that? Mr. Troy suggests that perhaps it’s the “culture of criticism” surrounding Israel, one that is more pronounced in Canada, when compared to the U.S. As a result of Canada’s hostility to Israel, Canadian Jews feel more like the “other,” which in turn leads them to retreat to the safety of their own particularistic communities.

The author continues with a most interesting prescription: Jews should not find cohesion out of fear or crisis; they should embrace Judaism wholeheartedly. They should become active members of their communities and engage in Jewish life because it offers something that is enriching and positive.  As Mr. Troy has put it so aptly, Jews “should live Jewish, not Jew-ish” by “putting Jewish life and Israel at the centre of life.”

Torah High Agrees

Torah High, NCSY Canada’s Jewish supplementary school, agrees wholeheartedly. Jewish teens in Canada comprise the demographic that has become most alienated from Jewish life and Israel. Torah High is passionate about teaching its students to develop a positive relationship to themselves, communities, and Israel with its many courses and experiential opportunities.  

Teens learn about Israel both in class and on its TJJ summer trip, NCSY’s flagship summer trip that has brought hundreds of teens to Israel.

One TJJ participant had this to say:

I am extremely thankful to have experienced my true heritage with a trip to Israel. I have learned so much about myself and the people of my past. I feel like a changed person who is more connected with my past and the culture I was raised in.

Teens begin to develop a positive connection to their heritage and Israel in the classroom. With regard to shifting teens’ relationship to and perception of Israel, the school’s March of the Living course and Stand With Us seminars teach teens about the history of Israel, how the state was reborn (not born) out of the catastrophe of the Holocaust, and how to respond to Israel’s critics. 

One Torah High students had this to say after travelling on the March of the Living with Torah High:

I have no words to describe the last month because to me there are no words in the English language eloquent enough to describe this trip. Walking through ashes, destruction, and sorrow somehow highlighted the rebuilding, love, and joy around me in Israel.

It is clear that Canada’s teens need to balance their lives with authentic and meaningful Jewish learning and experiences that respects and understand where they are coming from. Torah High is one avenue, which has proven to be a powerful and positive force in the lives of many hundreds of Canadian teens, who have gone on to become active members and leaders of their communities.

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