One of the synagogues was just a few blocks from my home; and while I am, I confess, one of those Jews who doesn't think all that much about being Jewish, lately that's started to change. With the economy stubbornly refusing to recover and hope in the future practically nonexistent, people are looking around for someone to blame for their problems. Jews are a convenient target. They always have been.
That's why a new book that explores the Canadian Jewish experience couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time. As Alan Davies, a professor of religion at the University of Toronto, explains in his introduction to Antisemitism in Canada, "antisemitism must be brought under microscopic inspection for the sake of the collective good" because "it is an 'early warning system' of dangerous currents in the body politic, much as canaries once warned miners of poisonous fumes in coal mines."
As Davies also explains, Antisemitism in Canada is not intended to be "a comprehensive history" of hatred and prejudice in this country. Nevertheless, this collection of scholarly essays does cover a lot of territoryfrom Quebec to the West, and from pre-Confederation Canada to the 1985 Deschenes Commission on Nazi war criminals.
Although there are lots of things here that many readers will already be acquainted withthe virulence of anti-Semitic rhetoric and feeling in Quebec up until the end of the Second World War, and the tragic official record on immigration during the warthere are surprises, too. I'd never heard of Goldwin Smith (1823-1910), for example. One of the leading Canadian thinkers of his time, he was also "one of the most prominent (Jewhaters) of his day in the English-speaking world." While he may be largely forgotten now, he had an enduring influence on his students, including a future prime minister, Mackenzie King.
One of the most compelling selections in the book is Davies's own essay on "The Keegstra Affair." In addition to providing a thoughtful profile of James Keegstra's Manichean character "haunted, like so many others of his generation by the mystery of evil, [he] was apparently in search of some form of absolute reassurance"Davies includes excerpts from essays (spelling mistakes and all) written by Keegstra's impressionable students. They are nothing short of chilling.
Because of its subject matter, Davies's book is inevitably narrow in focus. Gerald Tutchinsky, a history professor at Queen's University, provides a broader, more three-dimensional view of Canadian Jewish history in Taking Root.
Joel Yanofsky (Books in Canada) -- Books in Canada --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Alan Davies is a professor of Religion at the University of Toronto and is an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada. His other books include How Silent were the Churches? Canadian Protestantism and the Jewish Plight during the Nazi Era (WLU Press) written with Marilyn F. Nefsky, Antisemitism and the Christian Mind and Infected Christianity: A Study of Modern Racism.