In 2018, Parliament unanimously passed a bill officially designating the month of May as Canadian Jewish Heritage Month. It is a time to celebrate and recognize the cultural, economic, political and social contributions made by the Canadian Jewish community to this nation.
As the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), we’re all about political engagement. So, we relish the opportunity to spotlight some of the political contributions Canadian Jews have made over the years.
There have been many firsts, starting with Ezekiel Hart. Before Canada was even Canada, Hart was elected in 1807 and swore an oath on a Hebrew Bible causing quite the controversy. This ultimately prevented him from taking a seat in the Assembly, despite winning a second election a year later.
Once Canada was formed, Henry Nathan Jr. from BC became the first Jew ever elected to the House of Commons. A century later, David Lewis won the leadership of the NDP, becoming Canada’s first Jewish leader of a major federal party. It took 39 years for someone else to claim this title, with Annamie Paul becoming the leader of the Green Party of Canada just last year. Then there’s Sheila Finestone, the first Jewish woman to be a Cabinet Minister, and one of just five Jewish women to ever serve as a Senator. All of these achievements are part of our history.
But political engagement is not just about running for office. It means volunteering on election campaigns and building relationships with politicians year-round. It’s about networking and being part of the democratic process. Thousands of Jews have been part of this legacy.
A 1938 letter from Jewish Councilman Max Seigler hits home. In it, Seigler advocates on behalf of his community. Recently naturalized Jewish immigrants living in Montreal were eager to participate in politics and to have their voices heard. They wanted to vote, but when they ran into difficulties obtaining Voter ID cards, Seigler stepped in.
Perhaps some of those soon-to-be voters were captured 12 years later in a 1950 photograph of Jewish Montrealers gathered outside a Yiddish newspaper waiting spellbound for election results to be printed. The politically engaged know that feeling well. It’s just that now we’re now sitting rapt in front of our TVs on election night watching the count.
Canadian Jewish political engagement is a Jewish legacy. No matter your party, when you get involved in politics by voting, volunteering, engaging with your elected officials or becoming one yourself, you become a link in the chain of that legacy. At CJPAC, we have been helping to fortify that chain since 2005, and nothing is more fulfilling.
What can you do to keep this going? If you would like to get involved, consider us your political concierge. You can start by visiting us at cjpac.ca and pledge to volunteer in the next federal election. It will be our pleasure to help you become a part of this legacy.