Montreal Jewish Population Steady Amid Tensions Over Quebec Separatism and Proposed Kippah Ban

Community Stays Above 90,000 — Higher Than Thought

By Ron Csillag

Published October 08, 2013.
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(JTA) — Battered and bruised by decades of separatist governments, restrictive language laws and a modern-day exodus, the Jewish community of Quebec may finally have something to celebrate.

A new analysis of figures culled from the 2011 Canadian census, known as the National Household Survey, found that Quebec’s Jewish population had not dipped below the 90,000 threshold as had previously been believed.

Montreal’s Federation CJA had projected a Jewish population in the province of 88,500. The new analysis, which combined the 83,200 Montrealers who said they were Jewish by religion in the NHS with those who said they were Jewish by ethnic origin arrived at a revised figure of approximately 91,000.

“We’re quite pleased,” Charles Shahar, a research coordinator at Federation CJA, told JTA. “We’re closer to 91,000. That seems to be encouraging. It’s a positive figure.”

It’s not quite as steep a decline as the province’s Jewish leaders had feared. Still, the new figure represents a dramatic drop in Quebec’s Jewish population from its peak of 120,00 in 1971.

Once the most populous Jewish community in Canada, Montreal’s Jews have been departing for decades, driven out largely by the antagonism to minority rights espoused by the secessionist Parti Quebecois.

For nearly 40 years, Montreal’s mostly English-speaking Jewish community has endured not only laws mandating French only on signs and in the workplace, but a general distress in the face of what the late Montreal author Mordecai Richler called French Quebec’s “tribalism.”

The latest affront to minorities is the Parti Quebecois’ proposed Charter of Quebec Values, a measure aimed at instituting religious “neutrality” in the public sphere by banning “overt and conspicuous” religious headwear – including turbans, hijabs and yarmulkes – as well as large crosses and crucifixes. Those affected would include civil servants, judges, doctors, nurses, police officers and teachers.

“This is unprecedented for a North American political jurisdiction today,” said McGill University sociology professor Morton Weinfeld. “If you’re an observant Jew, Muslim or Sikh, Quebec may not be the place for you.”

The Parti Quebecois charter has been blasted across Canada as xenophobic, discriminatory and unconstitutional. Both the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec and B’nai Brith Canada have voiced strong opposition and, in a rare move, Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital denounced the proposal.


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