History of the Jews in Canada

Canadian Jews or, alternatively, Jewish Canadians are Canadian citizens who follow Judaism as their religion and/or are ethnically Jewish. Jewish Canadians are a part of the greater Jewish diaspora and form the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, exceeded only by those in Israel, the United States, and France.[2][5][6] As of 2011, Statistics Canada listed 329,500 adherents to the Jewish religion in Canada[7] and 309,650 who claimed Jewish as an ethnicity.[8] One does not necessarily include the other and studies which have attempted to combine the two streams have arrived at figures in excess of 375,000 Jews in Canada.[2][3][4] This total would account for approximately 1.1% of the Canadian population.

The Jewish community in Canada is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants. Other Jewish ethnic divisions are also represented and include Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, and Bene Israel. A number of converts to Judaism make up the Jewish-Canadian community, which manifests a wide range of Jewish cultural traditions and encompasses the full spectrum of Jewish religious observance. Though they are a small minority, they have had an open presence in the country since the first Jewish immigrants arrived with Governor Edward Cornwallis to establish Halifax, Nova Scotia (1749).[9]

Canadian Jews
Juifs canadiens (French)
יהודים קנדים (Hebrew)
Jewish population in the USA and Canada
Canadian and American Jews as % of population by region
Total population
 Canada ~375,000-500,000[1]
1.1% of the Canadian population[2][3][4]
Regions with significant populations
 British Columbia35,000
English (among Ashkenazim) · French (among Sephardim) · Hebrew (as liturgical language, some as mother tongue) · Yiddish (by some as mother tongue and as part of a language revival· and other languages like Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Polish, German and Marathi
Mostly Judaism and Jewish secularism

Early history (1759–1850)

Prior to the British Conquest of New France, there were Jews in Nova Scotia. There were no official Jews in Quebec because when King Louis XIV made Canada officially a province of the Kingdom of France in 1663, he decreed that only Roman Catholics could enter the colony. One exception was Esther Brandeau, a Jewish girl who arrived in 1738 disguised as a boy and remained for a year before being sent back to France after refusing to convert.[10] The earliest subsequent documentation of Jews in Canada are British Army records from the French and Indian War, the North American part of the Seven Years' War. In 1760, General Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst attacked and seized Montreal, winning Canada for the British. Several Jews were members of his regiments, and among his officer corps were five Jews: Samuel Jacobs, Emmanuel de Cordova, Aaron Hart, Hananiel Garcia, and Isaac Miramer.[11]

The most prominent of these five were the business associates Samuel Jacobs and Aaron Hart. In 1759, in his capacity as Commissariat to the British Army on the staff of General Sir Frederick Haldimand, Jacobs was recorded as the first Jewish resident of Quebec, and thus the first Canadian Jew.[12] From 1749, Jacobs had been supplying British army officers at Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1758, he was at Fort Cumberland and the following year he was with Wolfe's army at Quebec.[13] Remaining in Canada, he afterwards became the dominant merchant of the Richelieu valley and Seigneur of Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu.[14] However, as Jacobs married a French Canadian girl and brought his children up as Catholics, he is often overlooked as the first permanent Jewish settler in Canada in favour of Aaron Hart, who married a Jew and brought up his children, or at least his sons, in the Jewish tradition.[13]

Lieutenant Hart first arrived in Canada from New York City as Commissariat to Jeffery Amherst's forces at Montreal in 1760. After his service in the army had ended, he settled at Trois-Rivières. Eventually, he became a very wealthy landowner and a respected community member. He had four sons, Moses, Benjamin, Ezekiel and Alexander, all of whom would become prominent in Montreal and help build the Jewish Community. One of his sons, Ezekiel, was elected to the legislature of Lower Canada in the by-election of April 11, 1807, becoming the first Jew in an official opposition in the British Empire. Ezekiel was expelled from the legislature with his religion a major factor.[15] Sir James Henry Craig, Governor-General of Lower Canada, tried to protect Hart, but the legislature dismissed him in both 1808 and 1809. French Canadians later saw this as an attempt of the British to undermine their role in Canada. Ezekiel was re-elected to the legislature, but Jews were not allowed to hold elected office in Canada until a generation later.

Most of the early Jewish Canadians were either fur traders or served in the British Army troops. A few were merchants or landowners. Although Montreal's Jewish community was small, numbering only around 200, they built the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal, Shearith Israel, the oldest synagogue in Canada in 1768. It remained the only synagogue in Montreal until 1846.[16] Some sources date the actual establishment of synagogue to 1777 on Notre Dame Street.[17]

Revolts and protests soon began calling for responsible government in Canada. The law requiring the oath "on my faith as a Christian" was amended in 1829 to provide for Jews to not take the oath. In 1831, prominent French-Canadian politician Louis-Joseph Papineau sponsored a law which granted full equivalent political rights to Jews, twenty-seven years before anywhere else in the British Empire. In 1832, partly because of the work of Ezekiel Hart, a law was passed that guaranteed Jews the same political rights and freedoms as Christians. In the early 1830s, German Jew Samuel Liebshitz founded Jewsburg (now incorporated as German Mills into Kitchener, Ontario), a village in Upper Canada.[18] By 1850, there were still only 450 Jews living in Canada, mostly concentrated in Montreal.

Abraham Jacob Franks settled at Quebec City in 1767.[19] His son, David Salesby (or Salisbury) Franks, who afterward became head of the Montreal Jewish community, also lived in Quebec prior to 1774. Abraham Joseph, who was long a prominent figure in public affairs in Quebec City, took up his residence there shortly after his father's death in 1832. Quebec City's Jewish population for many years remained very small, and early efforts at organization were fitful and short-lived. A cemetery was acquired in 1853, and a place of worship was opened in a hall in the same year, in which services were held intermittently; but it was not until 1892 that the Jewish population of Quebec City had sufficiently augmented to permit of the permanent establishment of the present synagogue, Beth Israel. The congregation was granted the right of keeping a register in 1897. Other communal institutions were the Quebec Hebrew Sick Benefit Association, the Quebec Hebrew Relief Association for Immigrants, and the Quebec Zionist Society. By 1905, the Jewish population was about 350, in a total population of 68,834.[20]

Growth of the Canadian Jewish community (1850–1939)

Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 06
Congregation Emmanu-El Synagogue (1863) in Victoria, British Columbia, the oldest Synagogue in Canada still in use, and the oldest on the West Coast of North America

With the beginning of the pogroms of Russia in the 1880s, and continuing through the growing anti-Semitism of the early 20th century, millions of Jews began to flee the Pale of Settlement and other areas of Eastern Europe for the West. Although the United States received the overwhelming majority of these immigrants, Canada was also a destination of choice due to Government of Canada and Canadian Pacific Railway efforts to develop Canada after Confederation. Between 1880 and 1930, the Jewish population of Canada grew to over 155,000. At the time, according to the 1901 census of Montreal, only 6861 Jews were residents.[21]

Jewish immigrants brought a tradition of establishing a communal body, called a kehilla to look after the social and welfare needs of their less fortunate. Virtually all of these Jewish refugees were very poor. Wealthy Jewish philanthropists, who had come to Canada much earlier, felt it was their social responsibility to help their fellow Jews get established in this new country. One such man was Abraham de Sola, who founded the Hebrew Philanthropic Society. In Montreal and Toronto, there developed a wide range of communal organizations and groups. Recently arrived immigrant Jews also founded landsmenschaften, guilds of people who came originally from the same village.

Most of these immigrants established communities in the larger cities. Canada’s first ever census, recorded that in 1871 there were 1,115 Jews in Canada; 409 in Montreal, 157 in Toronto, 131 in Hamilton and the rest were dispersed in small communities along the St. Lawrence River. When elected mayor of Alexandria in 1914, George Simon had the double honour of being both the first Jewish mayor in Canada, as well as the youngest mayor in the country at the time. He died suddenly in 1969 while serving his tenth term in office.[22]

A community of about 100 settled in Victoria, British Columbia to open shops to supply prospectors during the Cariboo Gold Rush (and later the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon). This led to the opening of a synagogue in Victoria, British Columbia in 1862. In 1875, B'nai B'rith Canada was formed as a Jewish fraternal organization. When British Columbia sent their delegation to Ottawa to agree on the colony’s entry into Confederation, a Jew, Henry Nathan, Jr., was among them. Nathan eventually became the first Canadian Jewish Member of Parliament.

By 1911, there were Jewish communities in all of Canada's major cities.


Benjamin Hart, businessman, militia officer, and justice of the peace, 1855

The Ward as viewed from Eaton factory

The Ward, Toronto, a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, 1910

Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West

Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West, Toronto, 1911

Dedication of the new Synagogue

Dedication of the new Synagogue, Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Rabbi Joseph Rabin carrying the Torah, 1929

Canadian Jewish Farm School, Georgetown, Ontario (1929)

The Canadian Jewish Farm School in Georgetown, Ontario was established in 1927 and served as a training school for Polish war orphans brought to Canada after the First World War[23]

The Canadian Jewish Congress was founded in 1919 and would be the major representative body of the Canadian Jewish community for 90 years. Much of its work was focussed on lobbying government around issues of immigration, human rights and anti-Semitism. Jewish total population in Canada was 1.8%.

On August 6, 1933 one of the most famous anti-Semitic incidents in Canada took place, known as "the Christie Pits Riot". On that day after a baseball game in Toronto a group of young men using Nazi symbols started a massive melee, arguably the largest in Toronto’s history, on the ground of racial hatred, involving hundreds of men.[24]

Jewish settlement in the West

Graves in Jewish cemetery at Lipton Colony, Saskatchewan
Graves in Jewish cemetery at Lipton Colony, Saskatchewan, 1916

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, through such utopian movements as the Jewish Colonization Association, fifteen Jewish farm colonies were established on the Canadian prairies;[25] However, few of the colonies did very well. This was partly because, the Jews of East European origin were not allowed to own farms in the old country, and thus had little experience in farming. One settlement that did do well was Yid'n Bridge, Saskatchewan, started by South African farmers. Eventually the community grew larger as the South African Jews, who had gone to South Africa from Lithuania invited Jewish families directly from Europe to join them, and the settlement eventually became a town, whose name was later changed to the Anglicized name of Edenbridge.,[25][26][27] The Jewish farming settlement did not last to a second generation, however.[25] Beth Israel Synagogue at Edenbridge is now a designated heritage site. In Alberta, the Little Synagogue on the Prairie is now in the collection of a museum.

At this time, most of the Jewish Canadians in the west were either storekeepers or tradesmen. Many set up shops on the new rail lines, selling goods and supplies to the construction workers, many of whom were also Jewish. Later, because of the railway, some of these homesteads grew into prosperous towns. At this time, Canadian Jews also had important roles in developing the west coast fishing industry, while others worked on building telegraph lines. Some, descended from the earliest Canadian Jews, stayed true to their ancestors as fur trappers. The first major Jewish organization to appear was B'nai B'rith. Till today B'nai B'rith Canada is the community's independent advocacy and social service organization. Also at this time, the Montreal branch of the Workmen's Circle was founded in 1907. This group was an offshoot of the Jewish Labour Bund, an outlawed party in Russia's Pale of Settlement. It was an organization for The Main's radical, non-Communist, non-religious, working class.[28]

Growth and community organization

Jewish general hospital montreal
The Jewish General Hospital opened in Montreal in 1934.

By the outbreak of World War I, there were approximately 100,000 Canadian Jews, of whom three-quarters lived in either Montreal or Toronto. Many of the children of the European refugees started out as peddlers, eventually working their way up to established businesses, such as retailers and wholesalers. Jewish Canadians played an essential role in the development of the Canadian clothing and textile industry. Most worked as labourers in sweatshops; while some owned the manufacturing facilities. Jewish merchants and labourers spread out from the cities to small towns, building synagogues, community centres and schools as they went.

As the population grew, Canadian Jews began to organize themselves as a community despite the presence of dozens of competing sects. The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) was founded in 1919 as the result of the merger of several smaller organizations. The purpose of the CJC was to speak on behalf of the common interests of Jewish Canadians and assist immigrant Jews.

World War II (1939–1945)

Jewish Canadian soldiers during WWII
Jewish soldiers fought in the Canadian military during World War II.

Almost 20,000 Jewish Canadians volunteered to fight for Canada during World War II.

In 1939, Canada turned away the MS St. Louis with 908 Jewish refugees aboard. It went back to Europe where 254 of them died in concentration camps. And overall, Canada only accepted 5,000 Jewish refugees during the 1930s and 1940s in a climate of widespread anti-Semitism.[29] A most striking display of antisemitism occurred with the 1944 Quebec election. The leader of the Union Nationale, Maurice Duplessis appealed to anti-Semitic prejudices in Quebec in a violently anti-Semitic speech by claiming that the Dominion government together with Liberal Premier Adélard Godbout of Quebec had secretly made an agreement with the "International Zionist Brotherhood" to settle 100,000 Jewish refugees left homeless by the Holocaust in Quebec after the war in exchange for the "International Zionist Brotherhood" promising to fund both the federal and provincial Liberal parties.[30] By contrast, Duplessis claimed that he would never take any money from the Jews, and if he were elected Premier, he would stop this plan to bring Jewish refugees to Quebec. Though Duplessis' story about the plan to settle 100, 000 Jewish refugees in Quebec was entirely false, his story was widely believed in Quebec, and ensured he won the election.[30]

In 1945, several organizations merged to form the left-wing United Jewish Peoples' Order which was one of the largest Jewish fraternal organizations in Canada for a number of years.[31][32]

As in the United States, the community's response to news of the Holocaust was muted for decades. Bialystok (2000) argues that in the 1950s the community was "virtually devoid" of discussion. Although one in seven Canadian Jews were survivors and their children, most Canadian Jews "did not want to know what happened, and few survivors had the courage to tell them.' He argues that the main obstacle to discussion was "an inability to comprehend the event. Awareness emerged in the 1960s, however, as the community realized that antisemitism had not disappeared.[33]

Post war (1945–1999)

After the war, Canada liberalized its immigration policy. Roughly 40,000 Holocaust survivors came during the late 1940s, hoping to rebuild their shattered lives. In 1947, the Workmen's Circle and Jewish Labour Committee started a project, spearheaded by Kalmen Kaplansky and Moshe Lewis, to bring Jewish refugees to Montreal in the needle trades, called the Tailors Project.[34] They were able to do this through the federal government's "bulk-labour" program that allowed labour-intensive industries to bring European displaced persons to Canada, in order to fill those jobs.[35] For Lewis' work on this and other projects during this period, the Montreal branch was renamed the Moshe Lewis Branch, after his death in 1950. The Canadian arm of the Jewish Labor Committee also honored him when they established the Moshe Lewis Foundation in 1975.[36]

Since the 1960s a new immigration wave of Jews started to take place. Some South African Jews decided to emigrate to Canada after South Africa became a republic, and was followed by another wave in the late 1970s, which was precipitated by anti-apartheid rioting and civil unrest.[37] The majority of them settled in Ontario, with the largest community in Toronto, followed by those in Hamilton, London and Kingston. Smaller waves of Zimbabwean Jews were also present during this period.

Canadian Jews today

Today the Jewish culture in Canada is maintained by both practising Jews and those who choose not to practise the religion (Secular Jews). Nearly all Jews in Canada speak one of the two official languages, although most speak English over French. However, there seems to be a sharp division between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi community in Quebec. The Ashkenazi overwhelmingly speak English while the Sephardi mostly speak French. There is also an increasing large number who speak Hebrew, other than for religious ceremonies, while a few keep the Yiddish language alive.

Recent surveys of the national Jewish population are unavailable. According to population studies of Toronto and Montreal, 14% and 22% are Orthodox, 37% and 30% are Conservative and 19% and 5% are Reform. The Reform movement is weaker in Canada, especially in Quebec, compared to the United States. This may explain the higher proportion of Canadian Jews who identify as unaffiliated - 30% in Montreal and 28% in Vancouver - than is the case in the United States. As in the United States, regular synagogue attendance is rather low - with less than one-quarter attending synagogue once a month or more.[38] However, Canadian Jews also seem to have lower intermarriage rates than the American Jewish community. Canadian census data should be reviewed with care, because it contains separate categories for religion and for ethnicity. Some Canadians identify themselves as ethnically but not religiously Jewish.

Most of Canada's Jews live in Ontario and Quebec, followed by British Columbia, Manitoba and Alberta. While Toronto is the largest Jewish population centre, Montreal played this role until many English-speaking Jewish Canadians left for Toronto, fearing that Quebec might leave the federation following the rise during the 1970s of nationalist political parties in Quebec, as well as a result of Quebec's Language Law. According to the 2001 census, 164,510 Jews lived in Toronto, 88,765 in Montreal, 17,270 in Vancouver, 12,760 in Winnipeg, 11,325 in Ottawa, 6,530 in Calgary, 3,980 in Edmonton, and 3,855 in Hamilton.[39]

Bens (1)

Ben's Deli was a Montreal icon during the 20th century

Siegels Bagels Granville Island Vancouver

A sign at Siegel's Bagels, Granville Island, Vancouver

Assoc Jewish Senior CJPAC Toronto Mayoral Debate

Association of Jewish Seniors/Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee hosting a Toronto Mayoral candidates' debate, 2010

Schwartz's Charcuterie Hebraique Montreal Quebec

Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen, a popular deli in Montreal

Jewish members Pride Toronto Parade

Jewish members of Toronto Pride 2009 Parade for LGBT pride

The Jewish population is growing rather slowly due to aging and low birth rates. The population of Canadian Jews increased by just 3.5% between 1991 and 2001, despite much immigration from the Former Soviet Union, Israel and other countries.[40] Recently, anti-Semitism has become a growing concern, with reports of anti-semitic incidents increasing sharply in recent years. This includes the well publicized anti-Semitic comments by David Ahenakew and Ernst Zündel. In 2009, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism was established by all four major federal political parties to investigate and combat antisemitism, namely new antisemitism.[41] However, anti-semitism is less of a concern in Canada than it is in most countries with significant Jewish populations. The League for Human Rights of B'nai B'rith monitors the incidents and prepares an annual audit of these events.

Politically, the major Jewish Canadian organizations are the Centre for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) and the more conservative B'nai Brith Canada which both claim to be the voice of the Jewish community. The United Jewish People's Order, once the largest Jewish fraternal organization in Canada, is a left-leaning secular group established in 1927 with current chapters in Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Politically, UJPO opposes the Israeli Occupation and advocate for a two-state solution but focus primarily on Jewish cultural, educational and social justice issues. A smaller organization, Independent Jewish Voices (Canada), characterized as anti-Zionist, argues that the CIJA and B'nai B'rith do not speak for most Canadian Jews. Also, many Canadian Jews simply have no connections to any of these organizations.

Mainstream Jewish community views are expressed in Canadian Jewish News, a moderate weekly. Western Canadian Jewish views are reflected in the Winnipeg-based weekly The Jewish Post & News, as well as the Winnipeg Jewish Review.

The birth rate for Jews in Canada is much higher than that in the United States, with a TFR of 1.91 according to the 2001 Census. This is due to the presence of large numbers of orthodox Jews in Canada.[42] According to the census, the Jewish birth rate and TFR is higher than that of the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox (1.35), Buddhist (1.34), Non-Religious (1.41), and Sikhs (1.9). populations, but slightly lower than that of Hindus (2.05), and Muslims (2.01).

In the 21st century there was an increase of the scope of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada with number of cases of anti-Semitic vandalism and spraying Nazi symbols in August 2013 in Winnipeg and in the greater Toronto area.[43][44]

On February 26, 2014, and for the first time in Canadian history, B'nai Brith Canada led an official delegation of Sephardi community leaders, activists, philanthropists and spiritual leaders from across the country visiting Parliament Hill and meeting with the prime minister, ambassadors and other dignitaries.[45]

Israeli Canadians and Jewish Canadians celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut in Toronto.

Since the beginning of the 21st century Jewish immigration to Canada has continued, increasing in numbers with the passing of the years. With the rise of antisemitic acts in France and weak economic conditions, most of the Jewish newcomers are French Jews who are mainly looking for new economic opportunities (either in Israel or elsewhere, with Canada being one of the top destinations chosen by French Jews to live in, particularly in Quebec).[46] For the same reasons, and due to cultural and linguistic proximity, several members of the Belgian-Jewish community choose Canada as their new home. There are efforts by the Jewish community of Montreal to attract these immigrants and make them feel at home, not only from Belgium and France but from other parts of Europe and the world.[47] There is also some immigration of Argentine Jews and from other parts of Latin America with Argentina being home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America and the third one in the Americas after the United States and Canada itself.[48] However, the weight of French Jewish emigration must be balanced, as it represents between 2,000 and 3,000 people in total per year (Vs a community of ~500,000 people in France) and only a percentage of this couple of thousands go to Canada.

Also, there is a vibrant population of Israeli Jews who emigrate to Canada to study and work. The Israeli Canadian community is growing and it is one of the largest Israeli diaspora groups with an estimate of 30,000 people.[48] A small proportion of Israeli Jews who come to Canada are Ethiopian Jews.


Jewish Canadians by province or territory

Percentage of Jewish population in Canada, 2001 (without Nunavut).

Jewish Canadian population by province and territory in Canada in 2011 according to Statistics Canada and United Jewish Federations of Canada[49]

Province or territory Jews Percentage
 Canada 391,665 1.2%
 Ontario 226,610 1.8%
 Quebec 93,625 1.2%
 British Columbia 35,005 0.8%
 Alberta 15,795 0.4%
 Manitoba 14,345 1.2%
 Nova Scotia 2,910 0.3%
 Saskatchewan 1,905 0.2%
 New Brunswick 860 0.1%
 Newfoundland and Labrador 220 0.0%
 Prince Edward Island 185 0.1%
 Yukon 145 0.4%
 Northwest Territories 40 0.1%
 Nunavut 15 0.1%

Jewish Canadians by city

Jewish Canadian population by city in Canada in 2011 according to Statistics Canada and United Jewish Federations of Canada[49]

City Population Jewish population[50] % Jews
Greater Toronto Area 6,054,191 188,710 3.1
Greater Montreal 3,824,221 90,780 2.4
Calgary 1,096,833 8,335 0.8
Ottawa 883,390 14,010 1.6
Edmonton 812,201 5,550 0.7
Winnipeg 663,617 13,690 2.0
Greater Vancouver 2,313,328 26,255 1.1
Hamilton 519,949 5,110 1.0
Tri-Cities 507,096 2,015 0.4
Halifax 390,096 2,120 0.5
London 366,151 2,675 0.7
Victoria 80,017 2,740 3.4
Windsor 210,891 1,515 0.7

Jewish culture in Canada



Hebrew (עברית) is the liturgical and historical language of the Jews and Judaism and also the language of Jewish Israeli expatriates living in Canada.


Yiddish (יידיש) is the historical and cultural language of Ashkenazi Jews, who make up the majority of the Canadian Jewry and was widely spoken within the Canadian Jewish community up to the middle of the twentieth century.

Montreal had and to some extent still has one of the most thriving Yiddish communities in North America. Yiddish was Montreal's third language (after French and English) for the entire first half of the 20th century. Der Kanader Adler ("The Canadian Eagle", founded by Hirsch Wolofsky), Montreal’s daily Yiddish newspaper, appeared from 1907 to 1988.[51] The Monument National was the centre of Yiddish theatre from 1896 until the construction of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, inaugurated on September 24, 1967, where the established resident theatre, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, remains the only permanent Yiddish theatre in North America. The theatre group also tours Canada, US, Israel, and Europe. 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".[52] 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.[52] 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.[53]



Canadian Jews make up a significant percentage of student body of Canada's leading higher education institutions. For instance at the University of Toronto, Canadian Jews account for 5% of the undergraduate student body, over 5 times the proportion of Jews in Canada.[54]

There are about a dozen day schools in Toronto and Montreal, as well as a number of Yeshivot. In Toronto, around 40% of Jewish children attend Jewish elementary schools and 12% go to Jewish high schools. The figures for Montreal are higher: 60% and 30%, respectively. There are also a few Jewish day schools in the smaller communities. The national average for attendance at Jewish elementary schools (at least) is 55%.[55]

The Jewish community in Canada is amongst the country's most educated groups. As a group, Canadian Jews tend to be better educated and earn more than most Canadians as a whole. Jews have attained high levels of education, increasingly work in higher class managerial and professional occupations and derive higher incomes than the general Canadian population.[56][57]

Three in ten Jews held managerial and professional positions in 1991, compared to one in five Canadians. In Toronto, four out of ten doctors and dentists were Jewish in 1991 and, nationally, four times as many Jews completed graduate degrees as Canadians generally. The levels of educational attainment among Canadian Jews is dramatically higher than for the overall Canadian population. One out of every two Jews in Canada age fifteen and over was either enrolled in university or had completed a BA in 1991. This is in contrast to Canadians as a whole, among whom one in five was attending university or had completed an undergraduate degree. At the graduate level, these differential rates of education are even higher. About one in six Jews (16 per cent) had obtained an MA, M.D., or PhD in 1991. Among Canadians in general, only one in twenty-five (4 per cent) had attained comparable educational levels.[57][58]

Higher rates of educational achievement are particularly pronounced with Canadian Jews in the thirty-five to forty-four age cohort. Nearly one in four Canadians was enrolled in university or had completed a bachelor's degree in 1991 but among Canadian Jews in this age range, two out of three had comparable levels of education.[56][57]

According to Multicultural Canada, 43 percent of Jewish Canadians have a bachelor's degree or higher; the comparable figure for persons of British origin is 19 percent and compared with just 16 percent of the general Canadian population as a whole.[56][57]

Despite comprising a mere one percent of the Canadian population, Jewish Canadians make up a significant percentage of graduates of some of the most prestigious universities in Canada.[54]

Rank University Enrollment for Jewish Students (2006 est.)[59] % of Student body Undergraduate Enrollment
1 University of Toronto 3,000 5% 60,500
2 McGill University 3,500 10% 35,000
3 Queen's University 700 7% 10,350
4 University of British Columbia 800 3% 27,276
5 University of Victoria
Ryerson University
University of Ottawa
Carleton University
6 University of Waterloo
McMaster University
Concordia University
8 Simon Fraser University 400 2% 16,800
9 University of Western Ontario 3,000 10% 30,000
10 York University 4,600 10% 47,000


Before the mass Jewish immigration of the 1880s, the Canadian Jewish community was relatively affluent compared to other ethnic groups in Canada, a distinguishable feature that still continues on to this day. Arguably, Canadian Jews have made a disproportionate contribution to the economic development of Canada throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the 18th and the 19th centuries, upper class Jews tended to be fur traders, merchants, and entrepreneurs. In addition, upper middle class white collar occupations also included bankers, lawyers, and doctors as there was an overwhelmingly definable British economic or corporate elite in Canada, Jews remained well represented.[60]

Building a distinctive occupational profile and an affinity for entrepreneurship and business, Jews were heavily involved in the Canadian garment industry as it was the only business for which they had any training. Furthermore, cultural factors that made the industry somewhat lucrative as Jews could be certain that they would not have to work on the Sabbath or on major holidays if they had Jewish employers as opposed to non Jewish employers and were certain that they were also unlikely to encounter anti-Semitism from co-workers. Jews generally did not exhibit any loyalty and sympathy toward the working class through successive generations. Even within the working class, Canadian Jews tended to be concentrated in the ranks of highly skilled, as opposed to unskilled labor. By the end of World War II, Jews in Canada began to disperse in to the working class in large numbers and attained a disproportionate amount success in a variety of white collar jobs and are cited as opening many new business to help stimulate the Canadian economy.

Sol Encel and Leslie Stein, authors of Continuity, Commitment, and Survival: Jewish communities in the diaspora cite that Jews over the age of the 15 who are in University or completed a bachelor's degree is roughly 40% in Montreal, 50% in Toronto and 57% in Vancouver. Stein also cites that Canadian Jews are statistically over-represented in many fields such as medicine, law, finance careers such as banking and accounting, and human service occupations such as social work and academia.[61]

The Winter 1986 - Winter 1987 Issue of Journal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship cited that despite Jews comprise roughly 1 percent of the Canadian population, they comprised 35% of all entrepreneurs in Quebec and 10% of all technical entrepreneurs in Canada.[62] According to the 1986 census data, about 56 percent of Jewish males, compared to 43 percent among those of British origin, are in select white-collar occupations, such as managerial and administrative positions, the natural sciences, engineering, mathematics, the social sciences, education, medicine and health, the arts, and recreational occupations.[60]


Photo of bronfman
Samuel Bronfman is a member of the Bronfman Canadian Jewish family dynasty.

By any criterion, Canadian Jews have achieved an amount of socioeconomic success that is generally higher compared to the rest of the Canadian population.

Immigrant Jewish males earn $7,000 a year above the Canadian average, higher than any other ethnic and religious group in Canada. Among females, 47 percent are in select white-collar occupations. Immigrant Jewish women earn $3,200 above the national average for women, also the highest for any ethnic group.[60] In modern times, Jews can be numbered among the wealthiest Canadians as they comprise 4% of the Canadian upper class elite despite constituting 1% of the population.[63] Canadian Jews have begun slowly to penetrate those economic sectors that have hitherto been closed to them, concurrently as they are building up wealth in family-owned firms and creating their own family foundations. Prominent Canadian Jewish families such as the Bronfmans, the Belzbergs, and the Reichmanns represent the summit of the extremely affluent segment of high class Jewish society in Canada.[60] Sol Encel and Leslie Stein, authors of Continuity, Commitment, and Survival: Jewish communities in the diaspora write that 22% of Canadian Jews lived in households with an income over $100,000 CAD or more, which was equivalent to the percentage of households in the general population according to StatsCan but was 7.3% higher than Canadian national average according to a University of Alberta study.[64][65] Professional occupations translate into higher incomes for Jews and 38% of Jewish families live in households with an annual income of $75,000 CAD or more.[66][67]

Mark Avrum Ehrlich of The Encyclopedia of the Jewish diaspora: origins, experiences, and culture writes that as Jews find themselves in Canada's contemporary wealthy elite, as 20 percent of the wealthiest Canadians were listed as Jewish. La Griffe du Lion cites the 23% of the top 100 wealthiest Canadians are Jewish.[68][69] In 2004, Nadav ʻAner, author of The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute cited that Canadian Jews are better educated and more financially off than the general population and have high political influences in the Canadian parliament. Jews are twice as likely as non-Jews to get a bachelor's degree and are three times as likely in the aged 25–34 cohort. This translates into a higher standard of living and they are financially better off than overall Canadian population. Canadian Jews are also three times as likely to earn over $75,000 compared to their non-Jewish counterparts.[70]

The 2011 Forbes' list of billionaires in the world listed 24 Canadian billionaires. Among the billionaires listed, 6 out of the 24 or 25% of the Canadian billionaires listed are Jewish (25 times the percentage of Jews in the Canadian population).[70][71] Sol Encel and Leslie Stein, authors of Continuity, Commitment, and Survival: Jewish communities in the diaspora cite 14% of the top 50 richest Canadians are Jewish (14 times the percentage) as have been 31% of Canada's thirty wealthiest families (31 times the percentage), and while constituting only 1.0 percent of the Canadian population, they comprise 8% of the top executives of Canada's most largest and profitable companies.[61]

See also


  1. ^ DellaPergola, Sergio (2013). Dashefsky, Arnold; Sheskin, Ira (eds.). "World Jewish Population, 2013" (pdf). Current Jewish Population Reports. Storrs, Connecticut: North American Jewish Data Bank.
  2. ^ a b Shahar, Charles (2011). "The Jewish Population of Canada - 2011 National Household Survey". Berman Jewish Databank. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Basic Demographics of the Canadian Jewish Community". The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. 2011. Archived from the original on December 2, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Jewish Population of the World". Jewish Virtual Library. 2012. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  5. ^ "JEWISH POPULATION IN THE WORLD AND IN ISRAEL" (PDF). CBS. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2011-11-22.
  6. ^ "The Canadian Jewish Experience". Jcpa.org. 1975-10-16. Retrieved 2011-11-22.
  7. ^ "2011 National Household Survey: Data tables: Religion". Statistics Canada. 2011. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  8. ^ "2011 National Household Survey: Data tables: Ethnic Origin". Statistics Canada. 2011. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  9. ^ Sheldon Godfrey and Judy Godfrey. Search Out the Land" The Jews and the Growth of Equality in British Colonial America, 1740-1867. McGill Queen's University Press. 1997. pp. 76-77;Bell, Winthrop Pickard. The "Foreign Protestants" and the Settlement of Nova Scotia:The History of a piece of arrested British Colonial Policy in the Eighteenth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961
  10. ^ Brandeau, Esther Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  11. ^ Canada's Jews: A Social and Economic Study of Jews in Canada in the 1930s. Louis Rosenberg, Morton Weinfeld. 1993.
  12. ^ Reporter, Janice Arnold, Staff (28 May 2008). "Exhibition celebrates history of Quebec City Jews - The Canadian Jewish News". Cjnews.com. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
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  14. ^ Search Out the Land: The Jews and the Growth of Equality in British Colonial America, 1740-1867. Sheldon Godfrey, 1995
  15. ^ Denis Vaugeois, "Hart, Ezekiel", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003, accessed June 9, 2013, online
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  17. ^ Hinshelwood, N.M. (1903). Montreal and Vicinity: being a history of the old town, a pictorial record of the modern city, its sports and pastimes, and an illustrated description of many charming summer resorts around. Canada: Desbarats & co. by commission of the City of Montreal and the Department of Agriculture. p. 55. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-08-27. Retrieved 2006-09-09.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Kitchener Public Library
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  20. ^ Singer and Adler (1907). The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Funk & Wagnalls. p. 286.
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  22. ^ "Canada's first Jewish mayor dies suddenly". The Ottawa Citizen. 121st Year (403): 15. 1 February 1964.
  23. ^ "Ida Siegel with Edmund Scheuer at the Canadian Jewish Farm School, Georgetown". Ontario Jewish Archives. Retrieved July 1, 2014.
  24. ^ BITONTI, DANIEL (9 August 2013). "Remembering Toronto's Christie Pits Riot". Theglobeandmail.com. Retrieved 18 August 2017 – via The Globe and Mail.
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  26. ^ Goldsborough, Gordon. "MHS Transactions: The Contribution of the Jews to the Opening and Development of the West". Mhs.mb.ca. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
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  28. ^ Smith, p.123
  29. ^ Beswick, Aaron (2013-12-15). "Canada turned away Jewish refugees". Retrieved 2016-11-24.
  30. ^ a b Knowles, Valerie Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-2006, Toronto: Dundun Press, 2007 page 149.
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  64. ^ "2006 Income by Age of Head of Household". Tetrad. Sociology. 2006. Archived from the original on 3 January 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
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  1. ^ Data based on a study by Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI).
  2. ^ Data based on a study by Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI).


Primary sources

  • Jacques J. Lyons and Abraham de Sola, Jewish Calendar with Introductory Essay, Montreal, 1854
  • Le Bas Canada, Quebec, 1857
  • People of Lower Canada, 1860
  • The Star (Montreal), December 30, 1893.

Further reading

  • Abella, Irving. A Coat of Many Colours. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1990.
  • Godfrey, Sheldon and Godfrey, Judith. Search Out the Land. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1995.
  • Jedwab, Jack. Canadian Jews in the 21st Century: Identity and Demography (2010)
  • Leonoff, Cyril. Pioneers, Pedlars and Prayer Shawls: the Jewish Communities in BC and the Yukon. 1978.
  • Smith, Cameron (1989). Unfinished Journey: the Lewis Family. Toronto: Summerhill Press. ISBN 0-929091-04-3.
  • Schreiber. Canada. The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia Rockland, Md.: 2001. ISBN 1-887563-66-0.
  • Tulchinsky, Gerald. Taking Root. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1992.
  • Jewish Agency Report on Canada

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Canada". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

External links

Alexander Harkavy

Alexander Harkavy (Yiddish: אַלכּסנדר האַרקאַווי‎, Russian: Александр Гаркави, Aleksandr Garkavi; May 5, 1863 at Nowogrudok (Yiddish: נאַוואַרעדאָק‎), Minsk guberniya (governorate), Russian Empire (now Navahrudak, Hrodna Voblast, Belarus) - 1939 in New York City) was a Russian-born American writer, lexicographer and linguist.

Beth Israel Synagogue (Edenbridge, Saskatchewan)

Beth Israel Synagogue is a historic Carpenter Gothic style Orthodox synagogue located in Edenbridge in the rural municipality of Willow Creek, near Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada. The Edenbridge Hebrew Colony was founded in 1906 by Jewish immigrants who came from Lithuania via South Africa. Completed in 1908, the synagogue's wooden frame exterior, steep pitched roof and end lancet windows are typical of the plain Carpenter Gothic style buildings built by other religious groups in Saskatchewan and the rest of rural North America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The elegant interior, however, reflects the Eastern European roots of the Orthodox congregation. Today Beth Israel is the "oldest surviving synagogue in Saskatchewan."Beth Israel Synagogue, including its adjacent cemetery, is a municipal heritage site as designated by the Rural Municipality of Willow Creek on September 10, 2003." The plot of land was donated in 1987 to the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.

Congregation Emanu-El (Victoria, British Columbia)

Congregation Emanu-El is a synagogue in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It is the oldest surviving synagogue on Vancouver Island. It can also boast of being the oldest synagogue building on the west coast of North America. Founded by 1859 when the cemetery is known to have been dedicated, in 1863 the congregation built the synagogue that is still in use. It is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The building is a National Historic Site of Canada, and has also been designated as a heritage property under the provincial Local Government Act.

Congregation Schara Tzedeck

Congregation Schara Tzedeck is an Orthodox synagogue in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. A place of worship in Greater Vancouver, it is the oldest synagogue and the largest Orthodox synagogue in the city. Its name is Hebrew for "Gates of Righteousness".

Founded in 1907, it was originally known as "Benei Yehuda" and was located at East Pender Street at Heatley Street in the Strathcona neighbourhood, then the focus of the city's Jewish community. Francis George Gardiner, architect's drawings of the Schara Tzedeck synagogue, circa 1920 are at Vancouver City Archives.Its present rabbi is Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt. Congregation Schara Tzedeck celebrated its centennial in 2007. The congregation has a diverse membership, with many multi-generational families and long-time members. It is located at 3476 Oak Street, Vancouver, BC. Notable members included David Oppenheimer, entrepreneur and second Mayor of Vancouver, who donated the land for the original site.

The synagogue holds daily prayer services, and has numerous educational and social programs for children and youth, men, women, families, and seniors. Examples include weekly adult education classes, youth events, Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes, guest lectures, Shabbat dinners, and holiday programming. A mikveh as well as the office of the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board are located on-site. The Vancouver chapter of NCSY operates out of the synagogue. Congregation Schara Tzedeck is affiliated with the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Edenbridge, Saskatchewan

Edenbridge was a Jewish farming settlement northeast of Melfort.

Its first residents came from Lithuania via South Africa.

The name is an Anglicization of Yid'n Bridge (Jews' Bridge), for a nearby bridge over the Carrot River.

At its peak the Edenbridge Hebrew Colony had about 170 inhabitants, a post office, a school, and a synagogue -- Beth Israel Synagogue.

The settlement is now abandoned.

Esther Brandeau

Esther Brandeau (flor. in Canada 1738–39) was the first Jewish girl to set foot in Canada, or New France, in 1738. She was born c. 1718, probably at Saint-Esprit-lès-Bayonne (near Bayonne), in the diocese of Dax.Around that time, Canada was the only colony of the New World never reported to have been visited by a Jew. Born in France, Brandeau was able to come to New France because she pretended she was a Roman Catholic boy.

Brandeau named herself Jacques La Fargue and became a sailor in Bordeaux, on a ship bound for the port of Quebec. She came to New France upon a ship called the St-Michel and stayed only a year. After a brief masquerade, Esther's religion and gender were both discovered. As a non-Catholic in a legally Catholic country, she was arrested on direction of Intendant Hocquart of New France and taken to the Hôpital Général in Quebec City.

Hocquart initially became under the impression that Brandeau was desirous of converting to Catholicism and remaining in the colony. However, later he wrote to the minister in France that attempts to have her convert to the Roman Catholic faith had failed. She desired to live in Canada as a Jew. The government decided on deportation, and after correspondence with authorities in France, she was sent back to her home in France on a ship named Comte de Matignon at the expense of the State.There are fictional books on Esther: the 2004 novel Esther by Sharon E. McKay and the 2012 novel The Tale-Teller by Susan Glickman.

Ezekiel Hart

Ezekiel Hart (May 15, 1770 – September 16, 1843) was an entrepreneur and politician in British North America. He is often said to be the first Jew to be elected to public office in the British Empire, though this assertion is discredited by the election of Francis Salvador to the South Carolina General Assembly in 1774.He was elected three times by the voters of Trois-Rivières to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada. Some members consistently prevented him from taking his seat by observing that as a Jew, he could not take the oath of office, which included the phrase "on the true faith of a Christian".

History of the Jews in Toronto

The History of the Jews in Toronto refers to the history of the Jewish community of Toronto, Ontario. Jews have resided in Toronto since the early 19th century. Since the 1970s, the city has been home to the largest Jewish population in Canada and become a centre of Jewish Canadian culture. Toronto's Jews have played an important role in the development of the city.

According to the 2001 census, 164,150 Jews lived in Toronto.

History of the Jews in the United Kingdom

For the history of the Jews in the United Kingdom, including the time before the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, see:

History of the Jews in England

History of the Jews in Scotland

History of the Jews in Northern Ireland

History of the Jews in Wales

Irving Abella

Irving Martin Abella (born July 2, 1940) is a Canadian writer, historian and academic.

He specializes in the history of the Jews in Canada and the Canadian labour movement.

Israeli Canadians

Israeli Canadians (Hebrew: יִשְׂרְאֵלִים קָנָדִים, French: les Canadiens Israéliens) are Canadian citizens of Israeli descent or Israel-born people who reside in Canada. According to the 2011 Census there were 15,010 Canadians who claimed full or partial Israeli ancestry, although it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Israelis live in Canada, making it home to one of the largest Israeli diaspora groups in the world.

According to the definition of visible minority used by Statistics Canada, those born in Israel are classified as visible minorities only if they are non-Jewish.

Je me souviens (2002 film)

Je me souviens is a 2002 documentary film about antisemitism and pro-Nazi sympathies in Quebec during the 1930s through post World War II made by Montreal filmmaker Eric Richard Scott. The title of the film is French for I remember, and is the official motto of Quebec. The film was inspired by The Traitor and the Jew (1992-1993), a history of Quebec from 1929-1939, showing the links among antisemitism, nationalism and fascism among Quebec Catholic intellectuals.

Little Synagogue on the Prairie

The Little Synagogue on the Prairie is a small, wooden synagogue originally built in Sibbald, Alberta, just west of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Originally called the Montefiore Institute, it was built in 1913 or 1916 by the Montefiore colony of Jewish immigrants who had settled in Alberta in 1910, named after Sir Moses Montefiore. It is one of the few surviving examples of the small, wooden synagogues that were built by pioneers on the Canadian and American prairie.In the sanctuary, Torah is read to the congregation from the bimah and the Torah scrolls are stored in the aron kodesh on the east wall. The congregation face towards the east, and Jerusalem, in prayer. The ornamentation features symbols such as Stars of David, and natural forms.The synagogue was moved to Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary at a cost of over a million dollars in 2008, becoming the first Jewish house of worship to be housed in a Canadian historic park. About 2,000 people attended the dedication of the synagogue in its new location on June 28, 2009.With an area of approximately 74 square meters, the building was constructed on the farm of Joseph, Fanny and Dov Chetner to serve the approximately 30 Jewish families as a community center, school, and house of worship. After the colony was abandoned in the 1920s, the Canadian government sold the building to a family around 1937 for $200. It was moved to the town of Hanna, Alberta and served as a two-bedroom house for the same family for almost 70 years.

Museum of Jewish Montreal

The Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM) is an online and mobile museum that collects, maps, and presents the history and experiences of the Montreal Jewish community through exhibits, walking tours and through online and mobile technology. It is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was founded in 2010 by Zev Moses, the museum's current director.

Oldest synagogues in Canada

Synagogues may be considered "oldest" based on different criteria, and can be oldest in the sense of oldest surviving building, or oldest in the sense of oldest congregation. Some old synagogue buildings have been in continuous use as synagogues, while others have been converted to other purposes, and others, such as the Touro Synagogue, were shuttered for many decades. Some early established congregations have been in continuous existence, while other early congregations have ceased to exist.

Rouyn-Noranda Synagogue

The Rouyn-Noranda Synagogue is a synagogue located in the city of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, Canada. It was built in 1948 as the Beit Knesset Israel in Hebrew or Kneseth Israel Congregation in English by the Rouyn-Noranda Hebrew Congregation. A first wooden synagogue was built in 1932 before the same place. It was closed as a place of Jewish worship in 1972.

Samuel Bronfman

Samuel Bronfman, (February 27, 1889 – July 10, 1971) was a Canadian businessman and philanthropist. He founded Distillers Corporation Limited, and is a member of the Canadian Jewish Bronfman family.

Syndicat Northcrest v Amselem

Syndicat Northcrest v Amselem [2004] 2 S.C.R. 551 was a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that attempted to define freedom of religion under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although the Supreme Court split on their definition, the majority advocated tolerating a practice where the individual sincerely feels it is connected to religion, regardless of whether the practice is required by a religious authority.

Temple Beth Ora Synagogue (Edmonton)

Temple Beth Ora is a Reform Judaism synagogue located at 12313 105 Avenue in the Westmount neighbourhood in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Founded in 1979 as Beth Ora Synagogue, it is the city's only Reform Synagogue.Over the years, the congregation has occupied several buildings; for many years Temple Beth Ora conducted services in the JCC Building overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. In 2007, TBO moved from the Edmonton JCC to Chesed Shel Emeth, home of Edmonton’s Chevra Kadisha.

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Canadian people
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