Bonnie Klein-Tasman, who lives in Milwaukee and grew up in Montreal, said that as a kid her parents wanted to make sure she understood “there were people who weren’t Jewish in the world.”
It might seem like a strange objective, considering Jews represent just 1.1 percent of the Canadian population.
But some say Jewish communities in Canada are more cohesive than in much of the United States, making Judaism in Wisconsin a different kind of experience.
Klein-Tasman said she primarily interacted with other Jews in her youth. She’s not unusual: in a 2018 survey of Canadian Jews from the Environics Institute for Survey Research, more than half reported that either all or most of their friends were Jewish.
The same survey found that Canadian Jews are more likely to raise their kids Jewish, read or speak Hebrew, and visit Israel than their American counterparts.
“For a lot of Jewish people in Montreal, they might go through much of their lives interacting mainly with other Jewish people,” Klein-Tasman said.
Since she attended a Jewish day school, her parents had her attend a French-speaking summer camp in Quebec to learn more about other cultures.
America is often referred to as a melting pot: a fusion of different cultures that integrate into one. In Canada, the metaphor is instead a “mosaic” — a system of multiculturalism that encourages the retention of culture rather than assimilation.
Noah Chertkoff, senior rabbi at Congregation Shalom in Fox Point, who grew up in Toronto, said Canadians place less emphasis than Americans on national identity.
“In the United States, when people immigrated, there was a desire and a push for their primary identity to be American — and then for their religious and socio-ethnic backgrounds to be secondary,” Chertkoff said. “In Canada, the positioning is a little bit different.”
Canadian Jews are more likely than their American counterparts to have had a primarily Jewish education. The same 2018 survey found that close to half of Canadian Jews have attended a Jewish day school or Yeshiva.
Higher attendance at Jewish schools may lead to some Canadian Jews’ proficiency in Hebrew. Klein-Tasman knows English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish. She said the more “multilingual environment” in Canada, with both English and French as official languages, made it easier to learn many languages.
Orthodox Jews may have a different experience. Sherman Park resident Rabbi Hillel Brody, director of community outreach at Yeshiva Elementary School, lived in Vancouver for about 13 years. He said he didn’t think Jews in Canada were necessarily more connected to their religious identity.
“That may be just because I’m Orthodox and a rabbi,” Brody said. “So, my Jewish identity is very much who I am and very present in my life, both personal and professional, no matter where I am.”
Bayside resident Becca Guralnick, who grew up in Winnipeg, said she wasn’t sure if Canada’s Jews were more cohesive, but that Canadians do have a respect for the retention of culture distinct from the U.S.
“In Canada, immigrants tend to come and retain their values,” Guralnick said. “And other Canadians embrace the fact that and love the fact that we have a multicultural society.”