Professor Robert Brym’s new research project conducting a large survey of Canada’s Jews was recently profiled in The Economist. Noting that Jewish leaders in Canada estimate the population of Jews in Canada as about 400,000, making it the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, the article also notes that the Canadian Census is poorly designed to capture accurately both the number of people who identify as Jewish, and the meaning that Jewishness holds for them. Brym and his co-investigators are in the early stages of the research.
Robert Brym is a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto with undergraduate teaching responsibilities at the St. George campus. His research expertise encompasses the sociology of intellectuals, social movements in Canada, Jews in Russia, and collective and state violence in Israel and Palestine.
We have pasted an excerpt of the article below. The full article is available on the Economist’s website here.
Maple leaves and mezuzahs: Understanding Canada’s Jews
In Canada, Jewish identity is hard to measure but still strong
May 14, 2018
by PF and ERASUMS
…many Canadians of Jewish origin sit somewhere on a spectrum between a full embrace of their forebears’ identity and faith, and assimilation into the country’s mainstream culture. On the west coast, in particular, this allows for mix-and-match experimentation that makes the size and profile of the Canadian Jewish community hard to assess.
The most recent Canadian census showed an astonishing decline in the number of self-identified Jews: from 309,650 in 2011 to 143,665 in 2016. That seems like an unbelievable development, but there is in fact, a simple explanation. In both surveys, Statistics Canada, a government agency, asked respondents to give their ethnic or cultural origin and offered a long list of possible answers. “Jewish” was among the suggested options in the first census, but not in the second one. So, presumably, many Jews simply identified themselves by the country where they or their forebears had lived most recently. A campaign has started for a Jewish option in the 2021 census.
Two social scientists, Robert Brym of the University of Toronto and Rhonda Lenton of York University, are now embarking on a wide-ranging study that they hope will provide a more accurate picture. It will ask up to 80 questions about matters such as child-rearing, attitudes to Israel and experience of anti-Semitism. In some ways it will be Canada’s answer to an influential study of American Jews from 2013 that found 22% of self-identified Jews (and 32% of those born after 1980) professed “no religion”.
As with the United States, Canada’s Jewish population began growing in the late 19th century because of pogroms and turmoil in eastern Europe. One stereotype holds that at least in the eastern provinces, Canada’s Jews stayed closer to their old-world roots than American ones. The survey will test that and also look at whether migration to the west is a path out of active Judaism. Mr Brym has said he is prepared to find some extremes of assimilation and religious devotion. Ms Lenton says they want to discover whether, for Jews in general, Canada lives up to its self-image as a mosaic (a land where different groups keep their identity) as opposed to the American “melting-pot” where there is pressure to assimilate.
The survey’s sponsors have also cited more specific concerns. Jewish leaders in Toronto want to know more about recent-ish arrivals from Russia, who were classified as Jewish under the Soviet system but may have little connection to faith; their counterparts in Montreal are concerned about the numbers migrating to the Pacific….