From the Editor: New survey looks at Jewish life in Canada

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

In 2013, the Pew Research Center released “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the results of a comprehensive survey of Jews in the United States covering everything from demographics and religious observance and attitudes, to levels of Jewish education, levels of intermarriage, attitudes toward the State of Israel, domestic politics and much more. Now, Toronto-based Environics Institute for Survey Research, in partnership with the University of Toronto and York University, has released its “2018 Survey of Jews in Canada,” a similar study of Jews in this country.

The survey sampled 2,335 Jews living in four cities – Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Those four cities currently boast Canada’s largest Jewish communities and are home to about 82 per cent of Canada’s estimated Jewish population of 392,000 (about one per cent of the entire Canadian population).

While Ottawa Jews were not sampled, we can reasonably assume that the “national” results are close to what would have been found here. The survey authors did note that the Jewish populations of Ottawa, along with Toronto, Calgary (also not sampled in the survey) and Vancouver are growing, as is the Jewish population of Canada as a whole, while the Jewish populations of Montreal and Winnipeg are declining.

For several years, Ottawa’s Jewish community has been close in size to Winnipeg’s – and with our community continuing to grow while Winnipeg’s continues to decline, I expect Ottawa will soon be Canada’s fourth largest Jewish community.

Asked to define their Jewish identity, almost half of respondents identified one of three main characteristics: culture (22 per cent); ancestry (15 per cent); or religion (12 per cent). The other half of the respondents identified either two of the three characteristics (16 per cent) or all three (33 per cent). The vast majority of respondents said being Jewish was either very important (64 per cent) or somewhat important (27 per cent). Only eight per cent said being Jewish was of little or no importance to them.

More than 60 per cent of Canadian Jews identified with a particular denomination. The largest denomination in Canada is Conservative Judaism at 26 per cent. Orthodoxy and modern Orthodoxy represents 17 per cent of respondents; Reform Judaism is at 16 per cent; and Reconstructionist Judaism at four per cent. A high number, 28 per cent, said they had no denomination or were “just Jewish.”

About 58 per cent of Canadian Jews said they belong to a synagogue – but asked how often they attend services other than for special occasions like bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings or funerals, only about 15 per cent said they attend once or more per week. Another 13 per cent attend once or twice per month. Forty per cent said they attend services a few times per year, while 31 per cent said they seldom or never attend.

Forty-seven per cent of Canadian Jews belong to Jewish organizations other than synagogues (JCCs for example), but fully 80 per cent of Canadian Jews live in households that made contributions to Jewish causes in 2017 – a remarkable level of engagement.

We are also a highly educated community, with 80 per cent of Canadian Jews aged 25 to 64 holding at least a bachelor’s degree – compared to 29 per cent of the Canadian population at large. And with 37 per cent of Canadian Jews holding a post-graduate or professional degree, the study suggests that “it may well be that Canadian Jews form the most highly educated ethnic group in the country.”

In terms of Jewish education, 43 per cent of Canadians attended Jewish day school for all or part of their elementary and high school years while 58 per cent have attended a Jewish overnight summer camp. As well, 67 per cent participated in some other type of Jewish educational program (supplemental schools, teen programs, etc.) while growing up.

While the 2013 Pew survey showed that the intermarriage rate had reached 50 per cent in the United States, it is much lower in Canada. Fully 77 per cent of Jewish Canadians over 18 who are married or in a common-law relationship have a Jewish partner. Perhaps surprisingly, the age group in which both partners are most likely to be Jewish is 18- to 29-year-olds at 84 per cent.

Canadian Jews also report a high level of connection to Israel. Forty-eight per cent say they are very attached and 31 per cent somewhat attached to the Jewish state. Only 11 per cent report being not very attached while eight per cent feel no attachment to Israel. Interestingly, the combined total of very and somewhat attached, 79 per cent, mirrors the proportion of Canadian Jews who have visited Israel at least once.

I’ve only had space in this column to scratch the surface of the results of the 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada. I hope to delve into more in a future column. In the meantime, though, you can visit to read or download the entire survey.