Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and pleasure to rise today to speak in favour of Bill S-232.
Do hon. members know who invented the telephone? I am sure that most of them do. It was Alexander Graham Bell. However, do they know who made the telephone a workable invention? I am not sure that they do. It was a Jewish Canadian named Emile Berliner, who not only made the telephone workable, but also the microphone and created the first gramophone.
How many members know who the first Canadian world figure skating champion was? In 1891, a Montrealer named Louis Rubenstein travelled to St. Petersburg to compete in the first unofficial world figure skating championship. Instead of welcoming him, Mr. Rubenstein was put in prison by the Russians because he was a Jew, but because he carried a letter from his friend, Governor General Lord Stanley, demanding his safe conduct, the British ambassador intervened, he was allowed to compete, and he won the world championship. He returned to Montreal and created the Amateur Skating Association of Canada. He served out the rest of his life as a city councillor in the city of Montreal. These are but two examples of Jewish Canadians who, for the last 280 years, have contributed to the vibrancy of this country and this continent.
Before talking about what Jews have given Canada, I want to talk about what Canada has given Jews.
As a Jewish Canadian, I cannot begin to express how proud I am that Canada is my country, that Quebec is my province, and that I am a Montrealer.
All three of these identities are interchangeable. All three of these identities have led me and generations of my family before me to prosper.
Jews come from a history of persecution across the world, whether in Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East. Country after country has expelled Jews, has caused them to be ghettoized, and has made them wear symbols to show that they are different. However, our experience in North America, in Canada and the United States, where we arrived as equals, where we arrived and were welcomed, where we arrived and there was freedom of religion, has made Canada what my ancestors called the goldene medina, which means the golden state. That was the United States and Canada. That is why generation after generation of Jews fleeing persecution in the 19th century and 20th century came here, to create our community of more than 400,000 Jewish Canadians who call Canada home today.
I thank Canada for what it has done for me and my community. The reason we love this country and are so patriotic is that it gave us opportunities no other country ever did. Therefore, Jewish Canadian heritage month would not only celebrate the contributions of Jewish Canadians, but for Jewish Canadians it would also celebrate the country that gave us such enormous opportunity.
Contrary to what many people believe, Jewish Canadians were among the earliest immigrants to this country after our indigenous peoples. Even in the history of New France, there were Jews who came here. There was a story of Esther Brandeau who came here dressed as a man and eventually was expelled back to France because she refused to convert to Catholicism, and New France was closed to people who were not Catholic.
Jews were always part of the landscape. In 1740, a gentleman named George Hart settled in Montreal, coming from New England. He was the first Jew to settle in Quebec, not Aaron Hart, who arrived in 1760 with the British army. Quebec, Lower Canada, was the first jurisdiction in the world to grant Jews full political and civil rights in 1832, under the stewardship of Louis-Joseph Papineau.
The Jewish community contributed a great deal to the early days in my city of Montreal. David David was one of the first governors of the Bank of Montreal and sat on the first board. A gentleman named Jesse Joseph was the president of the first Montreal Gas Company, which later became known as the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company, and he created the Montreal Telegraph Company. Moses Hayes was the chief of police in Montreal in the 1850s and 1860s.
In 1871, Henry Nathan of Victoria became the first Jewish Canadian elected to the House of Commons. Jewish Canadians have served with honour in all three political parties over that time. David Barrett was a Jewish New Democrat and premier of British Columbia. Mr. Marshall was a Jewish premier of Newfoundland from the Conservative Party. There has been generation after generation of Jews in all three political parties in this country, including the Liberal Party, people like David Croll and Irwin Cotler. Even today, in my native area of Montreal, we have produced senators Judith Seidman and Marc Gold. We have produced Irwin Cotler, Lawrence Bergman, and David Birnbaum, who served in the House of Commons and the national assembly. Mitchell Brownstein, Bill Steinberg, Russell Copeman have been mayors. Marvin Rotrand was a city councillor. The list goes on. We have been part of the discussion and of the lexicon in this country.
Jews have served honourably in our Armed Forces since the War of 1812.
The Jewish people served during the Patriotes’ Rebellion in 1837. During the First World War, more than 4,000 Jews served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and during the Second World War, more than 20,000 proudly served their country.
During that period of time we have created institutions that have served not only our community but all Canadians well.
It is interesting that people see Jewish Canadians as having only been from the big cities. They see us in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary. However, the first Jewish Canadian wave of immigration was the Sephardic wave in the 1760s, and after that waves of Jews came from Europe and settled small town Canada, creating farming settlements in Saskatchewan and Alberta, like Edenbridge and Wapella, creating corner stores and peddling operations in places like Glace Bay and Yarmouth, in Nova Scotia.
Throughout this country, Jewish Canadians have integrated into their communities and worked alongside their Christian brothers and sisters and later arrivals from other religions to build this country.
In Montreal, many of our institutions, not only Jewish institutions but wider institutions, were created by families like the Bronfmans, the Kolbers, the Reitmans, the Vinebergs, the Segals, the Adams, the Azrielies, the Goodmans, the Bissells, the Martzes, the Goldblooms, the Pascals, the Gewurtzes, the Weiners, the Steinbergs, the Garbers, the Cummings, the Papermans, and the Blacks.
We were joined by a vibrant community that arrived from the Arab countries, a community that endured anti-Semitism after the Second World War. This community settled in Canada, particularly in Quebec and in Montreal. Not only did this community find peace, but it also gave rise to very strong community leaders. They built institutions, not only for the Jewish community, but for all Quebeckers and all Canadians. These are people such as Emile and Aline Malka, Moise Ohana, Sylvain Abitbol, Geneviève Busbib, Marc Kakon, Laurent Amram, Henri and Edmond Elbaz, Betty Elkaim, Jo and Dolly Gabay, Jacques Golbert, Haim Abenhaim, Sidney Elhadad, and many more. There are so many.
This is the 100th anniversary of Federation CJA, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and Federation CJA in Montreal. Federation is our prime organization that gathers all the other Jewish organizations.
I would be remiss if I did not also recognize those community leaders who built our national and Montreal-based organizations, people like Dorothy Reitman, Sheila Kussner, Barbara Seal, Lillian Vineberg, Nancy Rosenfeld, David Cape, Goldie and Shelly Hershon, Susan Laxer, Evan Feldman, David Amiel, Jack and Pascale Hasen, Deborah Corber, Reuben Poupko, Dean Mendel, Gail and Heather Adelson, Karen Laxer, Joel Shalit, Stanley Plotnick, Mark Merson, Sidney Margles, Eta Yudin, Eddy Wiltzer, Gary Shapiro, Monica Bensoussan, and of course the great rabi of Shaar Hashomayim who still serves at age 96, Wilfred Shuchat. In calling all these individual Jews, I want to remind everyone that each of them have made contributions, but the community has made contributions.
I hope in Canadian Jewish heritage month, all Canadians will take the time to learn about their local Jewish communities. In that way, we will be able to fight and eradicate the anti-Semitism that exists. Once we know our neighbours, we are much less prejudiced against them.