Canadian Jewish Heritage Month 2023: Celebrating Jewish heritage in Canada
May 3, 2023 – Defence Stories
The month of May is Canadian Jewish Heritage Month, an opportunity to recognize, celebrate, and learn more about the countless contributions Jewish Canadians have made to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces and to the country.
Canadian Jewish Heritage Month was officially recognized by the federal government in March of 2018 after a unanimous vote in the House of Commons. The month of May was chosen because of its meaningfulness to the Jewish community around the world. Notably, it often lines up with Shavuot or the “Feast of Weeks”, which celebrates the spring harvest and commemorates the revelation of the Torah.
Early beginnings of Jewish immigration to Canada
The first known Jews to settle in the land we now call Canada were Samuel Jacobs and Aaron Hart, commissaries attached to the British army during the British conquest of New France in 1760. Before that, Jewish immigration was banned in New France. Hart’s sons were involved in founding the first Canadian Jewish community in Montreal, with the first Canadian synagogue being established in 1768.
The biggest wave of Jewish immigration to Canada came between the end of the 19th century and the end of World War I, when persecution and poverty in Europe forced millions of Jews to find a better life elsewhere. Today, Canada’s Jewish population is approximately 335,000 people, making it the fourth-largest Jewish community in the world.
Honouring Jewish Canadians
During this month, we recognize and honour the bravery and resilience that Jewish communities have shown throughout history. Diversity is one of Canada’s greatest strengths and the participation of Jewish Canadians in our country’s civic life is of tremendous value. This vibrant community has contributed to every aspect of life in Canada, from business and politics to arts and culture, sports, science, and much more.
Sadly, Jewish Canadians have faced and continue to face horrendous acts of racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and violence. Antisemitism is an ongoing problem in our world, and its harmful effects continue to hurt Jewish individuals and communities around the globe. This is a month to reflect on the fact that while progress has been made, Jewish people in Canada continue to face discrimination every day.
For the DND/CAF, this is a month to stand in solidarity with Jewish Defence Team members and reaffirm our goal to eliminate all forms of antisemitism in our workplace, which are unacceptable and morally reprehensible. Let us ensure that all Jewish DT members feel they belong and can contribute meaningfully to operational success.
Let us educate ourselves on the rich history of Judaism and all its unique communities and sub-ethnicities. Let us learn from the lived experiences of Jewish DT members and promote open dialogue regarding any antisemitism they have faced, past or present.
In relation to Canadian Jewish Heritage, there are several resources and organizations available to DT members:
- The Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act is the act respecting Canadian Jewish Heritage Month each year.
- Jewishheritage.ca is the official website for Jewish Heritage Month in Canada.
- Jewish Canadian service in the Second World War from Veterans Affairs Canada provides information on this part of our past.
- Inspiration, Courage, Leadership: Captain (Rabbi) Samuel Cass’ story as a Jewish Chaplain serving during the Second World War.
- Faith at Sea, the story of Captain (Rabbi) Noteh Glogauer, a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain.
- The Defence Team Anti-Racism Resource Hub is a website with guides, tip sheets, and resources to help Defence Team members on their journey to accelerate systemic change within the Department.
- The Jewish Public Servants’ Network offers a forum to discuss issues impacting Jewish public servants and to realize a truly inclusive federal public service.
- Celebrate Jewish Canadians and Jewish identity through a panel discussion with public servants from different Jewish sub-ethnicities and communities during Canadian Jewish Heritage Month 2023 Event: Celebrating the Diversity of Jewish Canadians hosted by the Privy Council Office and Heritage Canada, in collaboration with the Jewish Public Servants’ Network.
- Watch the recording of this year’s Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Ask Me Anything session, Celebrating Jewish Voices in the Public Service.
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