Puneet Varma (Editor)

Canadian Jewish Congress

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Abbreviation  CJC
Extinction  2011
Formation  1919
Canadian Jewish Congress

Type  Organizations based in Canada
Purpose  Advocate and public voice, educator and network
Headquarters  Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) was, for more than 90 years, one of the main lobby groups for the Jewish community in Canada. At its dissolution, the president of the CJC was Mark Freiman. Its past co-presidents were Sylvain Abitbol and Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka and its chief executive officer was Bernie Farber. The CJC was composed of affiliated organizations until 2007 when, as a result of a reorganization through which it became a subsidiary of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), it became an organization of individual members. The CJC disbanded effective July 1, 2011 following a reorganization of the CIJA in which the CJC's former responsibilities were assumed by its parent organization. The Canadian Council subsequently adopted the name Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.


Founding and early history

In 1915, the immediate predecessor to the CJC was formed by the Montreal chapter of Poalei Zion (workers of Zion), a working class Zionist organization. They were soon joined by 13 other organizations, mostly other chapters of Poalei Zion and the Arbeiter Ring in forming the Canadian Jewish Alliance. Despite this show of support, the Canadian Federation of Zionist Societies, run by the influential Clarence de Sola, refused to support any democratic Jewish organization.

Despite the opposition of the Federation, the CJA moved forward with their plan to create a democratic Jewish Congress, they were further pushed ahead with the creation in 1918 of the American Jewish Congress.

In 1919, over 25,000 Jews from across Canada voted for delegates to the first convention of the CJC held in Montreal that March.

Diverse groups including Clarence de Sola's Federation, Poalei Zion, Mizrachi (a religious Zionist organization) and the Arbeiter Ring were present at the convention. While there, they were addressed by the Solicitor General of Canada, and were entertained at Montreal City Hall, where a large Zionist flag was draped over the Mayor's chair.

The main decision at that meeting was the founding of the "Jewish Immigrant Aid Society" to assist Jewish settlers and refugees in Canada. They also passed motions expressing the Jewish community's loyalty to Canada and others declaring their support for the Balfour Declaration. The convention also elected Lyon Cohen, former President of the Montreal Clothing Manufacturers Union, their President.

Despite this auspicious start, the CJC fell into abeyance and was inactive until 1934. With the rise in anti-Semitism and restricted immigration policies in the 1930s, the CJC was re-convened in 1934 and held the Congress' second plenum in Toronto in January. Cohen's friend and close colleague, Samuel William Jacobs, a prominent Jewish leader and Member of Parliament became the revived Congress' first president.

Post–World War II

The CJC was active before and during World War II in lobbying the government (with limited success) to open the borders to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. After the war the CJC organized relief aid for Holocaust survivors who were being detained in Displaced Persons camps. Along with the efforts of Senator Arthur Roebuck and Rabbi Avraham Aharon Price, the CJC helped obtain the release of young, Jewish refugees from internment camps, bringing them to study in Toronto.

The Congress' dominant figure from 1939 to 1962 was its president, Samuel Bronfman who was elected president following Jacobs' death in 1938.

During the Cold War at Bronfman's urging, the CJC expelled the United Jewish Peoples' Order and other "left-leaning" Jewish organizations in 1951. At the time, the UJPO was one of the largest Jewish fraternal organizations in Canada. It would not be readmitted to the CJC until 1995.

During the war between Israel and Lebanon in 1982, former Prime Minister Joe Clark issued a public rebuke to the CJC at its annual policy convention for its stance of unconditionally supporting the State of Israel in that war, regardless of what Israel had been accused of doing. During the speech, Clark was interrupted with heckles from the crowd and approximately 50 people left the room in protest. Near the end of his remarks, the audience began to sing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem.

One of the initiatives sponsored by the CJC was the International Jewish Correspondence (IJC). The goal of the IJC was to link Jews around the world as pen-pals. The organization was founded by Barry Simon in 1978. Simon was a high school maths teacher in Montreal who had been running a general Canadian pen-pal service called Correspondence Canada since 1967. With the rise of the internet in the 1990s, IJC became less active and had folded by 2002. Its letters and administrative files were donated by Simon to the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives. During its existence, IJC received thousands of letters. The organization also provided addresses for Jews living in Arab and Soviet Bloc countries as well as Jewish prisoners who were put in contact with others in the same situation. The correspondents in the archive range in age from seven-year-old school children to retired persons and came from all walks of life. However, the largest proportion of letters came from high school or college students. The majority of the letters are in English, although other languages are represented including French, Hebrew, Spanish and Yiddish. Jewish people from nearly 20 countries participated in the initiative, including those with declining Jewish populations such as Estonia, Morocco and Zimbabwe.

Later history

In its later decades the CJC launched campaigns to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Jewish emigration, to pressure the Canadian government to prosecute Nazi war criminals who had settled in Canada, and to enact and use hate crimes legislation against anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers such as Ernst Zündel. The CJC also worked to promote tolerance and understanding between religious and ethnic groups, promote anti-racist work and other campaigns.

The CJC introduced significant changes to its internal organization in June 2007. The previous system of electing representatives to the Board of Directors was discarded, and a new system was introduced wherein Board members were chosen by indirect elections from "regional Congress representatives" and "delegates from Jewish federations". Congress CEO Bernie Farber supported the change, arguing that it would streamline a complicated process. Others argued that the new system would give disproportionate power to the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA). One individual, described by Canadian Jewish News as a "close observer of Congress", argued that CIJA was "stacking the deck" in a bid to take over the CJC.

In its final years, the CJC was criticized for not being representative of the Jewish community and having an increased emphasis on Israel advocacy despite a diversity of views within the Jewish community on Israel. Abraham Arnold, a longtime CJC activist and a member of the Order of Canada, opined that the CJC "seem to be spending more time in relation to Israel than in relation to anything else", had become increasingly Zionist, and had turned into a "top-down" group that discouraged debate rather than the grassroots organization it once was. Queen's University professor Gerald Tulchinsky who specializes in Jewish Canadian history said that the CJC failed to resonate with a growing number of Jewish Canadians, particularly among those who question Israeli policy towards Palestinians.

The CJC was the Canadian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.


In 2011, the renamed Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) assumed the functions of the CJC after an 18-month restructuring process in which the functions of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canada-Israel Committee, Quebec-Israel Committee, National Jewish Campus Life and the University Outreach Committee were consolidated.

On July 1, 2011, the CJC posted a message on its website declaring that it had halted its activities and that its functions would be assumed by the newly restructured CIJA.

After the process was completed, CJC Ontario region chair Frank Bialystok, claimed that the CJC had not dissolved telling the Canadian Jewish News, "The national executive of Congress is still intact. Mark Freiman is still the president… and I am still chair of Ontario region". He added, "We have no budget so we can’t operate. But we own the name. We own the logo. And only we can decide to fold up. Under the terms of our bylaws, only we can determine our replacements. So technically speaking, until there’s a regional plenary, I’m still the regional chair. And until there’s a national plenary, Mark is still the national president.”


  • Lyon Cohen 1919–1934
  • Samuel William Jacobs 1934–1938
  • Samuel Bronfman 1939–1962
  • Michael Garber 1962–1968
  • Monroe Abbey 1968–1971
  • Sol Kanee 1971–1974
  • Sydney Harris 1974–1977
  • Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut 1977–1980
  • Irwin Cotler 1980–1983
  • Milton E. Harris 1983–1986
  • Dorothy Reitman 1986–1989
  • Les Scheininger 1989–1992
  • Irving Abella 1992–1995
  • Goldie Hershon 1995–1998
  • Moshe Ronen 1998–2001
  • Keith M. Landy 2001–2004
  • Ed Morgan 2004–2007
  • Reuven Bulka and Sylvain Abitbol (co-presidents) 2007–2009
  • Mark Freiman 2009–2011
  • References

    Canadian Jewish Congress Wikipedia