Jews in Montreal
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Montreal's Jewish community is one of the oldest and most populous in the country, formerly first but now second to Toronto and numbering about 100,000 according to the 2001 census. The community is quite diverse, and is composed of many different Jewish ethnic divisions that arrived in Canada at different periods of time and under differing circumstances. Predominant in number and cultural influence throughout much of the 20th century were the European Jews (Ashkenazim) who arrived mostly prior to and following World War II; they settled largely along The Main and in Mile End, a life vividly chronicled by Mordecai Richler. There are also substantial French-speaking groups called Mizrahim, originating from former French colonies in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, there were a few Spanish Jews (Sepharadim) and again Ashkenazim who had previously settled in Britain and from there moved to Canada as far back as the 18th century. More recent arrivals include significant numbers of Russian, Argentinian, and French Jews as well as some individual Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews and others. Close to 25% of Montreal's Jewish population have French as their mother tongue. Yiddish is still a living part of the Montreal language mix, amongst for example the substantial Hassidic community.
Demographically smaller as a result of the exodus that came with the instability provoked by Quebec sovereignty movement, Montreal's Jewish community has nevertheless been a leading contributor to the city's cultural landscape and is renowned for its level of charitable giving and its plethora of social service community institutions. Among these are the world-renowned Jewish Public Library of Montreal, Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre and Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.
Jewish culinary contributions have also been a source of pride for Montrealers; two contributions are its smoked meat sandwiches and its distinctive style of bagels. There are many private Jewish schools in Montreal, receiving partial funding of the secular courses in their curriculum from the Quebec government (like most denominational schools in Quebec). Approximately 7,000 children attend Jewish day schools, over 50% of the total Jewish school age population, an extremely high percentage for North American cities.
The Jewish left and secular Jewish culture have flourished in Montreal, producing global intellectuals such as Naomi Klein, Leonard Cohen, Joshua Dolgin, Irving Layton and Gerald Cohen.
"Shearith Israel," a Spanish-Portuguese congregation, opened in 1768; it was the first Jewish congregation in Montreal. The grave of Lazarus David was the oldest Jewish grave in Montreal; it was dated to 1776.
There were about 6,000 Russian Jews in Montreal in 1900. Jews made up 6-7% of Montreal's population in the years 1911-1931.
In 1921 Greater Montreal had 45,802 Jews, with 93.7% of them being in the City of Montreal. In 1931, about 80% of the 60,087 Quebeckers of Jewish origins lived in Montreal. In 1931, 84% of Greater Montreal's Jews lived in Montreal. Between 1921 and 1931 many Jews moved to Outremont and Westmount from Laurier and St. Louis in Montreal.
In 1931, Laurier and St. Michel had the highest Jewish concentrations in the Montreal city limits, with Laurier having 50.9% of its population being Jewish and St. Michel having 38.5% of its population being Jewish. During that year, 23.7% of the population of Outremont was Jewish and 7.3% of the population of Westmount was Jewish.
In 2006, Montreal had more Yiddish speakers than Toronto.
Bernard Spolsky, author of The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History, stated that Yiddish "Yiddish was the dominant language of the Jewish community of Montreal". In 1931 99% of Montreal Jews stated that Yiddish was their mother language. In the 1930s there was a Yiddish language education system and a Yiddish newspaper in Montreal. In 1938, most Jewish households in Montreal primarily used English and often used French and Yiddish. 9% of the Jewish households only used French and 6% only used Yiddish.
In the 20th century, children in Montreal Jewish households mostly read English publications while parents read publications in French and Yiddish.
In the early 20th century, Jewish representatives of the Montreal City Council, the Quebec legislature, and the Canadian parliament originated from Jewish neighborhoods in Montreal. Jewish politicians were often elected federally in the ridings of Cartier, which exclusively elected Jewish MPs for its entire history from 1925 until it was abolished in 1966, and Mount Royal. The riding of Outremont also has a significant Jewish population. Provincially, the ridings of Montréal–Saint-Louis (later Saint-Louis) and D'Arcy-McGee often elected Jewish candidates.
Relations with non-JewsEdit
Charles Dellheim, the author of "Is It Good for the Jews? The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz," wrote that Jews often faced conflict from both the Francophone and Anglophone sectors of Montreal.
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The Montreal government granted Jews the right to choose whether to pay taxes to Protestant schools or Catholic schools, and therefore the right for their children to attend either school system, in 1870. In 1894 the Montreal Protestant School Board agreed to begin funding the Baron de Hirsch School for Jewish Immigrants in exchange for being the school board of choice for Montreal's Jews. Enrollment increased due to subsequent eastern European Jewish immigration.
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