Québec Needs More Jews

with 34 comments

Quebec Jews

If English is good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.

-Apocryphal quote attributed to, among many, Texas governor Miriam Ferguson and South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond.

How about Moses? Did he speak English?

A recent poll by the Association for Canadian Studies revealed that 41% of Quebecers felt Jews did not “want to participate fully in society” and 35% felt that Jews had not “made an important contribution to society.” In the rest of Canada, 72% felt Jews wanted to participate in society and only 10% did not feel they made an important contribution to society.

As usual, these results were explained as being either symptomatic of Québec’s cultural insecurity or further proof of the rampant anti-semitism simmering just beneath the surface of Québec society. In any case, Jack Jedwab, the executive director of the ACS, was quoted in the Canadian Jewish News saying that these results “do not support the idea that Quebec has had successful intercultural programming.”

But what if these results simply reflected a fact? What if many Québec Jews did not want to participate in Québec society and what if their contribution to this society was, if not minor, less important than their contribution to other cultures?

The question that the ACS did not ask is: Do you wish Jews took a more active role in Québec society and culture?

Considering the considerable influence of people of Jewish decent in academia, arts, culture, literature and business, there are worse things that could happen to Québec than having a few Jews who have some allegiance to that small pocket of French-speakers shoveling away 400 cm of snow at the top-right of the North American map.

Québec, whether you like it or not, is a society that recognizes itself through the French language. Most of Québec’s Jews speak another language. This means that Jewish people are not as visible in Quebec‘s editorial pages, movies and television as their numbers on the streets of Montréal would suggest.

Hence, the simplistic conclusion that Jews do not want to participate in Québec society. They are here + they don’t participate = they don’t want to participate.

Of course you can’t generalize! Phyllis Lambert and Julius Gray’s contribution to Québec goes way beyond the “Anglo” or the “Jewish” community. David Levine gained moderate notoriety as the Parti québécois’ most famous Jew. But the fact is that from Leonard Cohen to Mordecai Richler, the Steinbergs to the Bromfmans, the majority of Québec’s Jews have defined themselves as Anglophone Jews.

It’s hard to make an important contribution to a society that defines itself almost exclusively by the use of the French language… in English.

Around 20% of Québec’s Jews are Sephardic Francophones but unlike the traditional community they are mostly from a recent wave of immigration and they have yet to establish their place in either Québec or Montreal’s Jewish institutions.

In the rest of Canada all Jews speak the same language as the rest of Canadians. In Québec, Jews and the French-speaking majority often don’t even go to the same schools!

This situation has it’s roots in the refusal of the Catholic Church to admit Jewish kids to Catholic schools in the past.

The fact is that the doors of Québec’s French-language public schools have been fully open to all confessions since 1977 and it’s Montreal’s Jewish leaders that have been at the front lines of the battle to preserve a separate English language public school network.

In 2005 they even briefly convinced the Liberal government to fund a parallel network of straight-out Jewish public schools until public outcry forced them to back down.

This segregation feeds the vicious of cycle of ignorance and distrust and that benefits no one. The people of Québec – old stock and new immigrants alike – are denied the opportunity to know and build relationships with Jewish-Quebecers for reasons that have nothing to do with religion, only with language.

Worse, French-Quebecers are estranged from a Diaspora that is very Francophone and Francophile, and from that other small country with the blue and white flag that knows a thing or two about independence, being a minority culture and protecting an endangered language.

Written by angryfrenchguy

March 17, 2008 at 10:27 pm

34 Responses

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  1. AngryFrenchGuy writes:

    “Québec, whether you like it or not, is a society that recognizes itself through the French language. ”

    Uh, no, the majority ethnic group of Quebec society — francophones de souche — recognizes itself through a folk language, the French language. The rest of us recognize ourselves through the prism of freedom, which is to say whatever language we want (which is usually English).

    The importance of the French language to non-francophone-de-souche is, to a very large extent, a function of the hate law/race law Bill 101 that imposed the French language on us.

    I was part of a large and significant minority that lived and continue to live in freely chosen languages other than the imposed imperialistic colonialist language known as French.

    Although I no longer live in Quebec (although I hope to return some day to live) I, for one, liked my ghetto and my one of the two famous solitudes. For example, I was blissfully unaware of Celine “Je ne suis pas anglophone” Dion until she started to appear on English television and radio. Even though he married an anglophone and lived in NDG for most of his life, there are very few anglos who know who that “mon pays ce n’est pas une pays, c’est l’hiver” poet/singer is (I can’t even remember his name offhand because of my ghetto mentality).

    And that’s the way I like it.

    And if you don’t, too fucking bad.

    The Quebec I know and love is an English Quebec, an ethnic Quebec. Most neighbourhoods I lived in were 50% French and 50% English. And we all got along.

    And when I say “English” I mean, of course, English and ethnic because the English side always included the Italians, Jews, Greeks, anglos and everyone else. We, the English, accepted everyone … including the francophone-de-souche (why do you think our humble host from NDG speaks such good English?).

    Whenever you have to FORCE a language or culture on a people, that language or culture ceases to be a legitimate language or culture.

    Just as there is no Canadian culture (as a result of imposed Canadian content laws) so also there is no French Quebec culture. They are both false cultures.

    Cultures of the oppressor.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 18, 2008 at 11:08 am

  2. Some facts:

    Up until the Arab countries started kicking Jews out of their countries about 50 years ago, 99% of the Jews in Quebec (almost all in Montreal) were English-speaking Askkenazi (generally speaking, Jews whose parents or grandparents originated from European countries such as Poland, Germany, and Russia). Then in the ’60s, the Sephardim from Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries started to arrive in Quebec. Their mother tongues were usually French or, if Arabic, had French as a second language.

    I am not sure of my figures but I believe that about 30% of all Jews in Quebec today have French as both their mother tongue and their language spoken at home. If they assimilate into the anglophone community they are doing it out of free choice, not because of some misguided belief on the part of AngryFrenchGuy that it is caused by segregation.

    There is, of course, segregation in Quebec but it is the opposite of what AngryFrenchGuy would have you believe (I’ll deal with that in the next post).

    Tony Kondaks

    March 18, 2008 at 11:18 am

  3. AngryFrenchGuy references Quebec’s public education system as a form of “segregation” on the side of the anglophones…that the anglos and the Jews want to maintain a system of segregation away from the francophones and the francophone educational system.

    Yes, there is segregation, as AngryFrenchGuy suggests. But it is the the francophones who are creating the segregation, it is self-imposed, and, indeed, it is the francophones that are the ones that are segregated from the rest of us.

    Without going into the details of how the law works (we’ve done that ad infinitum already on this site), the language of education provisions of the hate law/race law Bill 101 segregate the rights of Quebecers into two separate civil rights classifications:

    1) those that can freely choose to attend either French or English publicly-funded schools; or

    2) those who are forced to attend ONLY French publicly-funded schools.

    The vast majority of anglo-Quebecers belong to civil rights classification group #1; the vast majority of francophone-Quebecers and immigrants belong to civil rights classification group #2.

    If francophones like AngryFrenchGuy don’t want to be segregated, they shouldn’t support laws and political parties, such as the Liberals and the PQ, that impose such laws. And they shouldn’t support Bill 101; they should support Jean-Jacques Bertrand’s Bill 63 which established the principle of freedom of choice in language of education.

    So tell me: who’s segregating who?

    Tony Kondaks

    March 18, 2008 at 11:27 am

  4. Tony Kondaks: the error of your argumentation is when you are saying that elsewhere in the world people have the right to speak any language or to go in the school of the language they want.

    That’s simply false. Think about it.

    Vive le Quebec Libre.

    quebecois separatiste

    March 18, 2008 at 12:42 pm

  5. quebecois separatiste:

    Where did I say that “elsewhere in the world people have the right to speak any language or to go in the school of the language they want”?

    Freedom of choice and free speech are ideals that I would very much like to see everywhere in the world but, unfortunately, they aren’t. There are too many despotic regimes in the world where freedom is the wish, not the reality.

    But Quebec isn’t a third world country and shouldn’t act like one. So let’s get rid of the hate law/race law that is Bill 101 and start acting like a responsible, civilized, modern nation instead of a bunch of cry-babies that can’t live without compaining at the teat of Mother Canada.

    Oh, and by the way, a Quebec with a Bill 101 will never, ever become an independent nation. Only a free, mature Quebec which treats all its citizens equally will become that nation that it is.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 18, 2008 at 1:37 pm

  6. Hey Tony, I’m bored with your “hate/race law” comments that are increasing in frequency as you are realizing that you are fighting for the dark side of the force.

    Tone it down or justify it, or I will be obliged to replace those comments with “I am Gay”.

    AngryFrenchGuy is not a democracy.


    March 18, 2008 at 3:21 pm

  7. AngryFrenchGuy:

    No, I won’t tone it down.

    I’ll use the language and rhetoric that I find appropriate whenever and however I want to.

    If you want to censor me, I have no control over that. But I suggest that if you use the “I am gay” replacement for words, that you may just be in trouble with certain gay rights groups who will find the injection of imposed sexual orientation upon a poster without his or her permission quite objectionable.

    Better to just stick with the more honest “censored”.

    And if you censor me too much, I will then decide whether I want to participate on your forum any longer (which is, perhaps, something that you will look forward to, I don’t know).

    Bottom line? You are irritated by the label because you probably see the truth in it and can’t handle it (“You can’t handle the truth!”).

    Or why else would you be bothered by it?

    Tony Kondaks

    March 18, 2008 at 4:33 pm

  8. I don’t get it. Really. This entire post is based on the fact that a percentage of Quebecois feel that Jews don’t want to fully participate in society. So who cares? Since when to we judge a minority group based on what the uneducated and uninformed opinion of the majority is?

    Has anyone bothered to ask Jewish Quebecers what they think? Ummm. They are still here. Most of their child are fluently bilingual. Most of them also leave and take their skills, bilingualism and education down the 401 or into the States precisely because of the ignorance that is all around them.

    Case in point. We are Jewish. My wife is a French Jew, born in Paris. At her office, her colleagues just cannot reconcile the fact that she’s French an a Jew. I mean, in their opinion, it’s impossible because she speaks French as her first language, so gosh, she can’t be Jewish.

    Come on. These are the same people who know we’re not Christian, but can’t understand why we don’t have a Christmas tree or give Christmas gifts.

    So I ask you. With an attitude like that, it’s no wonder that 4 out of 10 Quebecers feel we don’t participate in society. It’s because they equate our not participating in many of their religious and cultural celebrations as “not participating”.

    Four out of 10? Big deal. This is a tired, old topic. Let’s move on to something more worthwhile. Like while we have the worst roads, third-world health care, crumbling bridges, underfunded and third-rate public schools, and public transit that is generally 25 years behind every other city in Canada. And for this stupidity, we pay the highest taxes in North America. People don’t laugh at Quebec because it’s French. They laugh because our public service and administrators at all levels are incompetent and couldn’t hold a job anywhere else. Now there’s something that would make a French guy and and English guy “angry”. No?


    March 19, 2008 at 12:03 am

  9. Well put Adam!

    Alex F

    March 19, 2008 at 12:43 am

  10. let’s all be angry together.

    and there was gnashing of teeth.


    March 19, 2008 at 2:27 am

  11. Hey Adam,

    Thanks for beautifully illustrating my point: the fact that jews and other Quebecers are totally ignorant about each other because they almost never have any opportunity to study/live/work together.

    I agree, the fact that your wife’s colleages have a hard time comprehending that your wife can be French and Jewish is astonishing! How can it be that the first French-speaking Jew these people meet comes from Paris when there’s been Jews in the French speaking part of Canada for hundreds of years?! It proves what I said: the structures and institutions built by Francophone and Jewish communities encourage ignorance and that only serves the interests of the said elites.

    “It’s because they equate our not participating in many of their religious and cultural celebrations as “not participating”.” Looks like ignorance goes both ways, Adam. Quebec Catholics have almost unilateraly stoppped practicing religion since 1966. The fact that you consider cultural celebrations as “theirs” and not “yours” speaks volumes. You do not consider Quebec culture as yours to claim and transform, but somebody elses.

    I will not speculate on who’s to blame for that situation, but all around us we see Quebec identity being transformed by Haïtians and North Africans who didn’t wait for an invitation to stake a claim to Québec. Rapper Sans Pression didn’t ask the Hérouxville’s city council for permission when he wrote: “On viens d’icitte, on reste icitte, on reste vrai. Purs nordiques du Québec”.

    “This is a tired, old topic. Let’s move on to something more worthwhile. Like while we have the worst roads, third-world health care, crumbling bridges, underfunded and third-rate public schools, and public transit that is generally 25 years behind every other city in Canada. And for this stupidity, we pay the highest taxes in North America. People don’t laugh at Quebec because it’s French. They laugh because our public service and administrators at all levels are incompetent and couldn’t hold a job anywhere else.”

    Speaking of tired… The little rant you’ve just copy/pasted out of the Gazette is the only thing we’ve been hearing from Jewish community leaders for the last 25 years.

    Got any ideas? Solutions? Anything you want to share with your fellow citizens with a little letter to La Presse?

    Maybe that’s what people mean by participating…


    March 19, 2008 at 9:11 am

  12. AngryFrenchGuy wrote:

    “Speaking of tired… The little rant you’ve just copy/pasted out of the Gazette is the only thing we’ve been hearing from Jewish community leaders for the last 25 years.”

    Oh, really?

    I’m not sure which prism you’ve been looking at the world through for the past 25 years but, for the life of me, I cannot fathom how anyone can read a newspaper for such a long period of time and keep a toteboard in their heads which scores what the leaders of a particular ethic group have been saying.

    Tony Kondaks

    March 19, 2008 at 9:33 am

  13. It’s not that hard with the Gazette, Tony. They say so little…


    March 19, 2008 at 9:49 am

  14. I don’t know for sure, but I think that a lot of Quebec’s Jewish population, though it be mostly Anglophone, may for some time have had a better command of and keener appreciation for the French language and its culture than some Québecois may think. One example might be the late Judge Harry Batshaw of the Superior Court of Québec, who was educated at the Sorbonne, among other places. It so happens that one of Judge Batshaw’s children–who moved to the US–is a friend of my parents, and it is through this connection that our family acquired a link with the Francophone areas–including Québec–which continues to this day.


    March 19, 2008 at 3:06 pm

  15. You can also add Alan B. Gold, former chief justice of the Québec Superior Court.

    The Civil Law system is a great example of an area where Anglos and Francos work together, more often than not in French.

    I also feel that the Jewish people I know are at least as francophile, if not more, than the average Anglo.

    But Montreal’s institutions, hospitals and schools are designed in a way that keeps Jews and Francophones of parrallel tracks most of the time.

    If Montreal’s Jewish community feels strongly about English and it’s Anglo identity, hey, who am I to contradict them?

    But please, when it comes to surveys like the ones made by Mr. Jedwab, let’s be honest and recognize that the distance between Francos and Jews is the result of language, not religion or anti-semitism.


    March 19, 2008 at 3:31 pm

  16. AngryFrenchGuy wonders why anglophone Jews don’t want to integrate into his milieu.

    Well, one of the reasons is that he frowns upon their accomplishments.

    This is what he had to say about ALL anglophones (which includes 80% of all Jews, according to his own figures) and their effect upon the Quebec economy on this blog on March 9, 2008 at 2:13 pm:

    “Haïtians and Africans who have been living in Québec for centuries (remember Champlain’s African translator?) have definitely had a more positive impact in QUÉBEC economy than the Anglos who created wealth for THEMSELVES in Québec during the same period. ”

    Disproportionately more than others, Jews start and maintain their own businesses. This creates jobs for Quebecers of all stripes as well as wealth for Quebec in general. Disproportionately, more taxes are generated by businesspeople which goes to the Quebec Treasury to benefit everyone.

    So, out of one side of his mouth, AngryFrenchGuy tells us “Quebec needs more Jews” and, out of the other side, he tells us that they are leaches and usurpers who create wealth for themselves.

    Gee, I wonder why they don’t want to have anything to do with him!

    Tony Kondaks

    March 19, 2008 at 7:43 pm

  17. agf,

    why is everything so black and white for you? whatever happened to the complex nature of society? supporting a perspective with a few facts could lead people to accuse you of sophistry.

    we’re talking about civil, economic and political liberties. the freedom of individuals to pursue what they want, when they want and how they want (as long as that means “not” stepping on anyones toes.)

    why is it so important that people be told what to do? free and open societies flourish – heavily regulated societies stagnate.


    March 19, 2008 at 9:10 pm

  18. Tell me Johnny, who did I tell to do what?


    March 19, 2008 at 9:42 pm

  19. @Tony,

    With friends like Angry, Jews don’t need enemies or do they?

    Tym Machine

    March 19, 2008 at 10:17 pm

  20. I would suggest that the distance between Franco and Jewish Quebecers exists partly because of language and partly also because of differing political agendas of their leaderships, both current and historic.

    Be that as be may, I for one can’t help but notice some recent crosscultural currents. For instance, I don’t know if anyone has ever asked Jean-François Pauzé about this, but I am pretty sure I detect a lot of influence of Klezmer (traditional Eastern European Jewish) music in two of his compositions, “8 Secondes” and “La Reine,” which he wrote for his rock group, Les Cowboys Fringants. A friend of mine who has also listened to these songs agrees with me completely.


    March 19, 2008 at 10:31 pm

  21. I wouldn’t call it inlfluence. I’d say these song ARE klezmer-pop.


    March 19, 2008 at 10:54 pm

  22. agf,

    first you lament the perception of a disconnect.
    1) montreal has a multitude of communities – typical of most large cities in north america. what’s your point? is it:
    Québec, whether you like it or not, is a society that YOU, agf recognize through the French language?
    second you reinforce it by suggesting jews get with quebec’s new and improved godless culture programme and buy a channukah bush. perhaps we could reach out even further and try to incorporate the sharia sanctioned menorah.
    2) again – let’s all be angry together. we can call it the culture of anger and celebrate every day. once a year we can have xmas. no thanks i’m goyish and i’ll celebrate christmas.
    third you insist a segregation exists and it is merely a language problem.
    fourth you accuse jews of being on the front lines of defending a separate english school board.
    4) perhaps you could elaborate on why they are under attack. perhaps you could elaborate on why english school board schools are not equally open – notwithstanding the legality of 101.
    fifth you state that certain institutions in montreal are designed to create disconnects. designed?
    5) these institutions did not spring up yesterday – they evolved over many years from great humanitarian traditions.
    and sixth you draw some specious analogy between quebec and israel with coloured flags and and commonality re language and independence.
    6) the day katushas fall from the sky originating from brossard or laval is the day i’ll buy that one.
    in a previous post March 19, 2008 at 9:10 pm
    i asked
    “why is it so important that people be told what to do?”

    angryfrenchguy at 9:42 pm
    Tell me Johnny, who did I tell to do what?

    no offense intended georges – this question is rhetorical – it seems these days people look around and define problems where problems do not exist and conversely turn their eyes away from real problems that do exist. i understand that in an ideal world (country) we wouldn’t be debating. montreal is not perfect and never will be. i just wanted to underline the idea that most people are not interested in being told how to get there.

    when it comes to language in quebec – you’re stuck with an english minority and i’m stuck with a french majority. no problemo. the way i see it – it’s not something that needs fixing or that could be fixed by force of law or popular sentiment. it’s just life. i like to think of it as freedom of association, and it’s just one of many.


    March 20, 2008 at 2:46 am

  23. Hi again Angry…

    A fair response to me on your part. But a few points..

    I too wonder how my wife can be the first Jew they have had contact with in Quebec. Nevertheless, it’s true.

    My last “rant” was not from the Gazette, which I don’t read. I genuinely feel that way, having lived in 2 other provinces. It continues to amaze me how people believe that the health and education systems in Quebec are as good as or even superior to what they have elsewhere. My experience in Ontario was the opposite. Pretty good healthcare; good doctors (and you can still get a family doctor there), and you don’t pay for blood tests if you go to a private clinic. I could go on about the school system here, after having children in the Ontario system and here — believe me, at least in English, the Quebec Public system is just horrid.

    Everything else I said is pretty accurate – even if you disagree with my opinion about priorities. It’s truly sad that Quebecers allow their government to provide overpriced, third-rate services and simply don’t seem to get upset, but God help us if a customer can’t get service in French in a store. That is worth getting upset about.

    But I’m doing my part. My children go to French schools (not immersion) and even though my command of the language is passable (I NEVER have told a Francophone to speak English to me, and make every effort to speak French, even on the West Island), I’m not from here so didn’t learn it from an early age. Still, it get the feeling that I’m treated as an outsider, and I think that really is part of the problem. As an Anglo who wasn’t born in Quebec, I feel excluded, and it tends to go beyond language.

    Still like it here despite the silliness…


    March 20, 2008 at 9:13 pm

  24. Sorry – forgot to comment on your remark that French Catholics stopped practicing religion in 1966…

    They certainly consider to erect Xmas trees and celebrate Xmas, even if they don’t go to church. I think that part of your post was reaching just a bit, no? And they can’t understand why WE don’t put a Xmas trees.


    March 20, 2008 at 9:19 pm

  25. There you go Adam. That’s a couple of hundred Québécois who will grow up hearing your kids speak with a Québec accent and who will not think it is odd that someone can be Québécois and Jewish.

    Then, when your kid pleads his case for better roads or better health care or less taxes, that’s a few others who will not feel they are being lectured by someone from outside, but by one of their own.

    About the roads… I drove trucks all year and if Quebecers went beyond Ontario and New York State they’d know ours are bad, but still not the worse. Try Michigan. Or anything off the Interstate.

    And I just don’t understand what your trying to say about christmas trees. Try again.

    But thanks for an open mind. Your point of view is certainly constructive and interesting.


    March 20, 2008 at 10:27 pm

  26. For an area that is bone-crackingly cold and snowy for four months of the year, and cold and wet for another four months, Québec has up to this point had remarkable luck–or is it the residue of design–in keeping its infrastructure together. Just last year, 13 people were killed in Minnesota–an area with a climate similar to Québec’s–when a bridge went out from under a bunch of cars during rush hour. This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened in the US. I suggest that while there is certainly room for improvement in infrastructure maintenance in Québec, you could be doing worse, too.


    March 21, 2008 at 7:38 am

  27. “Oh, and by the way, a Quebec with a Bill 101 will never, ever become an independent nation. Only a free, mature Quebec which treats all its citizens equally will become that nation that it is.”

    Well, amongst one, we have nazi Germany of the 1930s, communist countries and islamo-fascists ones which are far beyond maturity but still are nations.

    But I get your point, it just depends what kind of nation Quebec wants to be.

    Tym Machine

    March 26, 2008 at 9:12 pm

  28. Agf, I couldn’t help noticing your whine to Kondaks about his calling Bill 101 a hate/race law :”Tone it down or justify it, or I will be obliged to replace those comments with ‘I am Gay’.”
    Do you think that’s funny? Harmless? I thought your blog might be a forum for intelligent discussion, but when you resort to tactics meant to demean, you come off as a bigot.

    fed-up montrealer

    April 20, 2008 at 3:21 pm

  29. And you don’t get that the Jews contributed enormously to Montreal. You whine that they did not get involved in “Quebec society” read, francophone. Well duh! The Quebecois were even more anti-semitic than the anglos!
    The other thing you don’t get is that the Quebecois shut everyone out, no matter how hard they try. And yet you bleat that we should try harder. Why? We still won’t get the jobs or other benefits you get.
    I’m with Kondaks, only I still live here. Why hell can’t you just get secure about yourselves and leave us alone!
    You’re an anachronism, agf. You once had legitimate complaints about the “English,” but now the Quebecois run everything, so what’s the beef?

    fed-up montrealer

    April 20, 2008 at 3:32 pm

  30. Hey fedup,

    I understand you like Tony, you are just like him. You comment on posts you haven’t read with arguments that have been debunked months ago.

    But welcome. Just like Tony you’re making me look good!


    April 20, 2008 at 4:33 pm

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