Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 5 Judaism and Antisemitism Through the Ages


Ask yourself:

  • Why do you think the Canadian government designated May as National Jewish Heritage Month?
  • What do you already know about Jews? Which of your views are positive or negative? Why?
  • What would you guess is the population of Jews in Canada? In the world?
  • Why is antisemitism the oldest hatred in history?



A form of racism related to the discrimination, persecution or irrational hatred of Jews, resulting from their cultural, linguistic and religious differences; blaming the Jews for everything from economic conditions to epidemics and natural disasters.

The term “antisemitism” was first used by Wilhelm Marr (a German theorist, 1819–1904) to express the hatred towards Jews that was at the heart of his political philosophy. Some people confuse the issue by claiming that antisemitism is really hatred of “Semites;” the term “Semite” comes from Semitic languages, which include both Hebrew and Arabic. Removing the hyphen from the term focuses the reader on the original meaning.


One cannot begin to examine antisemitism unless one has an understanding of Judaism.

Does Judaism refer to a religion or a race? It can be both simultaneously. Jews consider themselves a People. Judaism is a monotheistic religion which originated over 5000 years ago. According to the Jewish calendar, we are now in the year 5779. That means that Judaism is well over 5000 years old. It started with Abraham, known as the founder of Judaism, and developed further through the next thousand years with Moses and King David. This is all documented in both the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament) and the Christian and Islamic scriptures.

Main beliefs:
  • Worship only one god who has made a special “covenant” (agreement) with them
  • The Messiah has not come yet; Jews are still praying he will come
  • Worship takes place in a synagogue with a rabbi as the leader
  • A person is considered to be Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish
Sects in Judaism

Over the years, Jews have formed groups within Judaism. This is the same as Christianity and Islam having many groups, e.g.: Catholics, Orthodox Greeks, Anglicans, Protestants, Lutherans, and Pentecostals, Sunnis, Shiites etc.

Orthodox Judaism – observe all the rules; what is written in the sacred books is the word of the divine; must have a Jewish mother or convert to Judaism (a long and difficult process). What has been done for hundreds of years, is remarkably unchanged. Very male dominated; only males can have a bar mitzvah (coming of age ceremony), read from the Torah (entire body of Jewish teachings), or be a rabbi. An Orthodox man is not allowed to touch a woman other than his own wife, not even to shake hands. Marriage with a matchmaker, somewhat arranged (only a few dates to meet), dates are chaperoned and no touching or holding hands allowed. Married women must cover their hair, usually with a wig or headscarf. Men and women pray separately in the synagogue. Men always wear a kippa (head cap) and other religious garb, even outside of synagogue.

Hassidic Jews – ultra-Orthodox and follow all the rules; a closed community who isolate themselves; essentially speak only Yiddish and Hebrew; recognizable by black hats, black suits, beards and sideburns grown out. Lebovich/Lubavitch are a sect of Hassidic Jews who are out there proselytizing; trying to recruit or convert Jews to become more Orthodox.

Reform Judaism – started in the 1800s, this movement aims to combine scientific theories with what is known through faith. They reject many of the rules as “man-made” and are more concerned with how Jews relate to others and the planet, than following all the rules and traditions. It doesn’t matter to Reform Jews if your mother or father are Jewish; either one makes you Jewish if you are raised as a Jew.

Conservative Judaism – started in 1913. Conservative Jews are the middle road between Orthodox and Reform movements; observe many of the rules but makes some compromises for modern times. The rule is you must have a Jewish mother or convert (the process is not as long or as difficult as Orthodox rules.) In the 1960s when feminism grew, women were considered the equal of men. Many Conservative congregations have female rabbis and women are leaders in every way.

Jewish Population

In the world: Before the Second World War, the peak was approximately 18 million.
Currently, there are approximately 14.7 million Jews, about one fifth of 1% of the world’s population. (Total world population in June 2018 was 7,630,036,500). Four-fifths of Jews live in two countries: United States (41%) and Israel (43%).

Contrast this with 2,173,180,000 Christians (31% of world population); 1,598,510,000 Muslims (23%); 1,126,500,000 No Religious affiliation (16%); 1,033,080,000 Hindus (15%)
(According to 2010 study by Pew Forum)

In Canada: Currently there are approximately 400,000 Jews, about 1.2% of the population, with the largest numbers living in Toronto and Montreal. (Total population of Canada 37 million - June 2018)

Note: Exact numbers of Jews are difficult to deduce in many countries due to intermarriage, conversions, those who are non-practicing and those who may not identify as Jewish on a census. The exception is Israel with about 6.5 million Jews of a total population of 8,842,000 (April 2018).

BELOW: As registered in 2013 by the Jewish Data Bank - Table shows the breakdown per country as a percentage of a total population of 14 million Jews in the world.

CountryCore Jewish Population% of total Jewish population of approx. 14 million
Country Core Jewish Population % of total
Israel 6,014,300 43.4%
United States 5,425,000 39.2%
France 478,000 3.5%
Canada 380,000 2.7%
United Kingdom 290,000 2.1%
Russian Federation 190,000 1.4%
Argentina 181,500 1.3%
Germany 118,000 0.9%
Australia 112,500 0.8%
Brazil 95,200 0.7%

Jewish Data Bank 2013

Different categories of Jews:

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews represent the two main subcultures or categories of European Jews. All Jews share the same basic beliefs but there are some differences in culture, prayers, Hebrew pronunciation, tunes and other practices. Traditions and foods differ based on differences in climate and produce where they lived.

Ashkenazi Jews - the Jews of France, Germany and Eastern Europe, and their descendants. The word is derived from the Hebrew “Ashkenaz” which is used to refer to Germany. During the 8th and 9th centuries they originally followed trade routes and ended up in the interior of Europe. Today they comprise approximately 70% to 80% of all Jews in the world (formerly 90% before the Holocaust and the Second World War) with the majority in North America.

Sephardic Jews - the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants. The Hebrew word “Sepharad” refers to Spain. There was less segregation and oppression in the Islamic lands where Sephardic Judaism developed thousands of years ago. Historically, they were wealthier and better educated possibly due to being less persecuted than Ashkenazi Jews, particularly in the 10th to 12th centuries, known as the “Golden Age”.

Other categories of Jews are the Falasha Mura – Ethiopian Jews (a black African tribe, most of whom were rescued and brought to Israel around 1989, and now a population of over 120,000), Yemenite and other Middle Eastern groups called the Mizrahi as well as some Asian Jews (Eastern European Jews fled to Shanghai in the Second World War). Jews have spread throughout the Diaspora (in the world outside Israel) and settled almost anywhere you can think of … even in the Arctic.

Hassidic Ashkenazi Jews praying from the Torah enlarge image
Hassidic Ashkenazi Jews praying from the Torah

Source: dailyholybiblereading.com

Synagogue - the place of worship for Jews. The rabbi leads the service from a central podium called the Bima (like a pulpit) and the Cantor or Hazzan sings the prayer songs. The Torah scrolls are kept in the Ark, a box or wall niche covered with curtains, and are removed when used in prayer. The congregation faces the Ark. In Orthodox synagogues men and women sit separately so that the women and children don't distract the men from prayer. Women sit either on an upper balcony or on the same level with a curtain or divider separating them. Conservative and Reform synagogues allow mixed seating and also welcome non-Jews to attend services, especially for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. (Everyone, including members entering their own synagogues, requires a security check at the door, a sad necessity these days.)

Articles of prayer:

The Kippah – round cloth head covering (also called yarmulke) worn at all times by Orthodox Jewish men and by all Jewish men, Conservative and Reform, inside the synagogue

The Tallit – fringed prayer shawl to remind one of the 10 Commandments, to aid in reverence for God and create a prayerful spirit during worship

The Tefillin – parchment scrolls in a small box, worn on the arm and head by men during weekday morning prayers. The Torah commands Jewish men to bind tefillin onto their head and upper arm every weekday, in fulfillment of the verse (Deuteronomy. 6:8), “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.”

Jewish funerals and mourning - Jewish law states that Jews must be buried within 48 hours after death. The body is never left alone until internment and respect for the dead body is extremely important. To prepare the body for burial, it is thoroughly cleaned and wrapped in a simple shroud, so that poor and rich people receive the same honour in death. Cremation is not allowed, organs removed only to save a life, and autopsies permitted only if the local law dictates it. The body must come into contact with the earth, so if a coffin is used, holes are drilled in them. Open caskets are forbidden. Flowers are not given to mourners. Immediate family members express their grief by tearing their clothing.

The first seven days of mourning are called Shiva (shiva in Hebrew means seven) and are spent in prayer with visitors coming to the home of the family. Mirrors in the home are covered. Traditionally, mourners sit on the floor or low stools, do no work and do nothing for comfort or pleasure for the week. Depending on level of observance of the immediate family, the next period of mourning is for 30 days and if mourning a parent, the final period would be for a full year. Mourners might attend morning services at the synagogue every day for the eleven months to recite the mourners’ prayer. When the year is up, that is when the tombstone is revealed, called an unveiling ceremony. When visiting the gravesite, for some it is a custom to place small stones on the grave.

The Jewish Bible and Texts

The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanakh and includes the same books as the Christian Bible’s Old Testament, though in a different order. At a deeper level, the Hebrew Bible consists of 24 sacred texts including the 5 books of the Torah, plus the Prophets and the Writings (19).

The Torah provides all the laws for Jews to follow in the 5 books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Every Torah in every synagogue is handwritten, and there’s a specific section every day of the calendar that is read or chanted out loud during worship at a synagogue or a temple. For the observant Jew, there is a rule for just about everything.

Torah cover salvaged from the Berlin New Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis November 9, 1938 known as Kristallnacht enlarge image
Torah cover salvaged from the Berlin New Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis November 9, 1938 known as Kristallnacht

Credit: Nicole Miller

The Talmud (written 3rd – 5th Centuries CE) is a collection of teachings and commentaries on Jewish Law that was created later. Divided in two sections, it includes the Mishna, that explains the Jewish code of law originally passed down orally, and the Gemara that includes the interpretations of thousands of rabbis and the 613 commandments. Central to Judaism is the constant interpretation, discussion, debate, examination, and critical inquiry. An important commentary on the Mishnah is the 13 Principles of Faith by Maimonides, a Sephardic Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar, 1135-1204 from Córdoba, Spain (formerly the Almoravid Empire).

The Hebrew Calendar

Based on moon or lunar cycles instead of sun cycles and seven days of the week, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday, the Sabbath. Each Hebrew month corresponds approximately to the lunar month, whether 29 or 30 days, and one year has 12 or 13 months. The length of the Hebrew year varies in numbers of day: 353, 354, 355, 383, 384 or 385 days. Standard years have 12 months with 354 days and leap years have 13 months with 384 days. This is the official calendar of Israel. The world was supposedly created on a Saturday night, on October 6th, the year 3761 BCE (Before Christian Common Era.) This calendar is also used to determine religious observances such as the reading of the Torah portions, daily Psalm readings and Jewish holidays and festivals.

Jewish Holidays

Jewish holidays include many annual big holidays determined by the Torah, as well as small holidays instituted by rabbis and generally tied to historical events.

1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb – Jews praying in Synagogue on Yom Kippur enlarge image
1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb – Jews praying in Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Source: Tel Aviv Museum of Art

The High Holy Days:

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year starts the calendar and literally “Rosh” means Head of the Year

Yom Kippur – this the day of Atonement. Jews fast from sundown to sundown while praying for forgiveness from God. Goals are:

  • to make up with the people you have offended or hurt
  • to acknowledge and confess to sins committed willingly or unwillingly
  • to make amends with the Divine; to atone for your sins
  • to plan to do better within the next year; wipe the slate clean
Three Pilgrimage Festivals
Passover: Cartoon of Moses leading the Jews through the desert. enlarge image
Passover: Cartoon of Moses leading the Jews through the desert.

Image source: http://christianfunnypictures.com/2016

A c. 1900 CE oil painting by Gebhard Fugel depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. enlarge image
A c. 1900 CE oil painting by Gebhard Fugel depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai.

Image source: https://www.ancient.eu/image/5741/

Passover – An important holiday to commemorate and tell the story of how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt after centuries of enslavement. At the Passover family dinner called a Seder, families get together to retell the story reading from a Haggadah. When the Jews fled Egypt there was no time for the bread to rise so they had to resort to eating unleavened flat bread (matzah). Therefore, for 8 days during Passover, Jews eat only matzah and other unleavened food, like their ancestors.


Israelites – The religious narrative and the archaeological findings are not the same when defining the tribe of Israelites or Twelve Tribes of Israel. According to modern archaeology, the Israelites branched out from the indigenous Canaanite people living in the Southern Levant, Syria, ancient Israel and the Transjordan region. They took over the region as the monotheistic religion dominated and not by force. Abraham is commonly considered to be “the First Jew” although in the bible the descendants of one specific tribe of Israel, Judah was “Yehudah” in Hebrew or Jew, in English. That term “Yehudi” became used to refer to all Israelites. Modern Jews and Samaritans trace their ancestry back to the ethnic stock of the Israelites, with two exceptions, the priestly orders of the Kohanim (Cohen) and Levites (Levy).

Palestine – derived from the Egyptian and Hebrew word “peleshet”.
After the First World War the territory of present-day Israel and present-day Jordan was placed under British Mandate. The name “Palestine” was applied to the entire area and the inhabitants, including Jews who were all called Palestinians by the international press until Israel’s independence in 1948. Years later, Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were called Palestinians. The word Palestine does not appear in the Koran. It appears at least 250 times in the Jewish Tanakh as “peleshet.” You are encouraged to do further research about the history of the name.

Sukkot – Commemorates the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years and the miraculous protection of God before arriving in the Holy Land. It also celebrates the harvest time. To celebrate Sukkot, for a week observant Jews eat all meals in an outdoor booth or “sukkah” with leaves and branches as a roof.

Shavuot – Moses gets the Ten Commandments/Torah

Menorah, jelly doughnuts and other things for children – chocolate coins and spinning tops for games. enlarge image
Menorah, jelly doughnuts and other things for children – chocolate coins and spinning tops for games.

Photo source: Shutterstock and www.mozi.co.il

Chanukah – The Festival of Lights lasting for 8 days and commemorating the miracle of the oil in the temple. The Hebrew word means “dedication” and celebrates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the second century BCE, the Syrian Greeks who occupied the Holy Land, tried to destroy their culture and traditions and desecrated the Temple. A small group of Jews led by Judah the Maccabee (the “Hammer”) were able to defeat the huge army that vastly outnumbered them and reclaimed the Holy Temple. For the Temple’s candelabra or menorah, there was only enough holy oil to keep it lit for a day but it miraculously stayed burning for 8 days. Chanukah was a very minor holiday until the 20th century when it became commercialized since it falls in December around Christmas. A candelabra with 9 flames, called a menorah, is lit for 8 nights with the “attendant” candle or shamash used to light the 8 candles. During this holiday, foods cooked in oil such as latkes and doughnuts are eaten to celebrate the miracle of the oil.

Action 1  

Do >

Food and culture

Think about the food you eat and what it means to you. On various holidays, we all eat certain traditional foods. Each time we celebrate a holiday, or a special occasion like a wedding, we eat these foods. Which holidays (cultural or otherwise) do you love because of the food you get to eat? Do you have a favourite holiday food? How does food play a role in bringing cultures together? Are there spiritual beliefs around the food you eat for special occasions?

Create a collage depicting your favourite holiday foods and what they mean to you. Find images in magazines or online and print them in colour. Exhibit them in the classroom and take turns explaining your collages. Do your choices have religious or spiritual significance? Are they cultural or relating to a specific country?

What do all Jews have in common?

Generalizations and assumptions cannot be made about any group of people, including Jews. Due to persecution throughout their history, Jews have often had to flee their homelands to settle in foreign countries, usually called the Diaspora. As a result, there are Jews throughout the world and they do not look the same or have the same traditions or culture.

  • Education has always been very important to Jews, including the education of women so they can teach their children.
  • Family is central to Jewish life. Observant Jews do not believe in birth control.
  • All Jews worry about antisemitism. Playwright David Mamet wrote: “There are two kinds of places in the world: places where Jews cannot go, and places where Jews cannot stay.”
Do all Jews look alike? Can you name the celebrity? enlarge image
Do all Jews look alike? Can you name the celebrity?

Sources: hiphop.dx, A&E biography, Facebook, Getty Images, StarTrek.net, biography.com, Toronto Star, variety.com, Time.com

Bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl enlarge image
Bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl

Photo source: Temple Emanu-El, Atlanta https://templeemanuelatlanta.org/celebrate/barbat-mitzvah/ and http://www.rabbijk.com/bar---bat-mitzvahs.html

Most Jews, even the least observant, follow these 3 traditions:

1. Circumcision of male newborns (called a “bris” or “brit millah”) – to symbolize the covenant with God.

2. Bar mitzvah – any time after the 13th birthday, boys are considered an adult for religious purposes and must take responsibility for their own actions. During the ceremony, they lead a service in a synagogue. For girls it is called a Bat mitzvah and can happen any time after they turn 12, but is not mandatory in all communities.

3. Jewish weddings – sign a marriage contract called a “ketubah” and the groom smashes a glass under his heel to symbolize and remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Items needed for prayer on the Sabbath: candles, wine, challah and prayer book enlarge image
Items needed for prayer on the Sabbath: candles, wine, challah and prayer book

Photo source: www.jewishakron.org

The Sabbath (Saturday, not Sunday) according to the Old Testament in the Bible

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. Exodus 20:8-11

One day of rest when you are not allowed to work, travel, or handle money and must spend time at the synagogue praying and learning. It starts with the first star on Friday evening and ends about 24 hours later. On Friday nights traditional Jews might just say the prayer for the candles, the wine and the bread and may or may not attend synagogue services that evening or on Saturday. Generally, only Orthodox Jews follow the strict rules: They attend services on Friday night, Saturday morning and late afternoon before the Sabbath ends. Once the Sabbath starts, you are not allowed to do anything even considered to be work such as lighting a candle (turning on a light switch), making a meal, driving and another thousand things that are forbidden, including no cell phone use. For example, turning the oven on is considered work so stoves have a Sabbath setting to turn it on and off, or keep pre-prepared meals on a hot plate. Elevators in Israel even have a setting over the Sabbath. They stop on every floor so you don’t have to do labour by pushing buttons. The exceptions are child care or health issues.

What does Kosher mean?
Kosher and non-kosher meat and seafood enlarge image
Kosher and non-kosher meat and seafood

Image source: freepik.com

  • Strict rules about what you eat. Separating meat, dairy and pareve (neither meat nor dairy)
  • Rules on how to slaughter animals
  • Forbidden foods: pork and all products from pigs, shellfish (bottom-feeding)

Being Kosher

Three categories: meat, dairy and pareve (neither meat nor dairy).
Items designated “Meat” must meet the following requirements to be considered kosher (See in the Bible - Deuteronomy 14:3-10):

  • Kosher meat must come from an animal that chews its cud and has split hooves. Cows, sheep and goats are kosher; pigs, camels, rabbits, kangaroos, horses and fox are not.
  • Kosher fowl are identified by a universally accepted tradition and include the domesticated species of chickens, Cornish hens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The Torah names the species of fowl that are forbidden, including all predatory and scavenger birds.
  • Animal and fowl must be slaughtered with precision and examined by a skilled shochet who is extensively trained in the rituals of kosher slaughtering.
  • Permissible portions of the animal and fowl must be properly prepared (and soaked to remove any trace of blood) before cooking.
  • All utensils used in slaughtering, cleaning, preparing and packaging must be kosher.
  • Fish are allowed but not shellfish of any kind – lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels etc. since bottom-feeders eat garbage.

In recent polls, less than one-quarter of Diaspora Jews (outside of Israel) keep kosher. In Israel, where kosher food is readily available, approximately 63% of Jews keep kosher at home. All Orthodox Jews keep kosher at home and divide their kitchen into dairy and meat sections including separating dishes and cooking utensils. They will not eat in restaurants unless they are designated as kosher. They strive to follow every law of observance.


  • A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
  • A person or thing that conforms to a widely held but oversimplified image of the class or type to which they belong: don’t treat anyone as a stereotype.

Source: Oxford Dictionary

Action 2  

Do >

What are some of the stereotypes of Jews and money?


  • Jews are greedy and cheap
  • All Jews are rich

(The same accusations have been made toward Chinese people and Mennonites)

The danger is that these stereotypes have been used to justify persecutions, unlike the other groups. Can sweeping generalizations be applied to groups of people? We grow up seeing, hearing, and eventually believing things about certain groups of people. Sometimes, we don’t even question where this information comes from and simply believe the opinions to be facts. Most stereotypes are false and come from a place of fear and judgment. Many stereotypes exist about Jewish people. List the ones you’ve heard and may even believe to be true:

Positive StereotypesNegative Stereotypes
Positive Stereotypes Negative Stereotypes
Jewish people are funny Jewish people are cheap

Print and keep this list and revisit it to add or remove stereotypes as you learn about Judaism and the history of the Jewish people.

Are all Jews rich?


Jewish law states that 10% of your income must go to charity. Maimonides listed his famous Eight Levels of Giving (in order of most to least preferred):

1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.

2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.

3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.

4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.

5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.

6. Giving adequately after being asked.

7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.

8. Giving "in sadness" (giving out of pity): It is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need (as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation). Other translations say "Giving unwillingly."

Jews and money

Biblical laws about moneylending:

Forbids taking or giving interest to a fellow Jew (“your brother”) including money, food or “any thing”. Strict interpretation in the Talmud means it is forbidden to even greet someone from whom you have borrowed. Historically, it was also forbidden to lend money to a fellow Jew but allowed lending money on interest to a “stranger”.

During the Middle Ages moneylending to Gentiles (non-Jews) proved to be very profitable and became widespread though at first, it was restricted to scholars and only allowed by rabbis when absolutely necessary. In order to pay their very high taxes, moneylending became more acceptable over time. In times of persecution, however, this proved to be a big risk. For example, during the Third Crusade starting in England, in York, a number of local nobles, who were in heavy debt to the Jews, seized the opportunity to rid themselves of their burden by slaughtering the Jewish community. They could do bad things with a good conscience while justifying it as doing God’s work.

Although moneylending was forbidden by the Church, in the late 12th C and early 13th C, the penalties for Christian lending on interest were often overlooked by churches, monasteries, bishops and the popes. For example, Italian merchants lent money on interest in France and Germany, usually at higher rates than the Jews.

Action 3  

Discuss >

Charitable giving

In a small group discuss what you’ve just learned about Tzedakah. Is there a reason that one form of giving is more honourable than another? Do you have a giving practice in your religion or culture? Is it similar or different than Tzedakah? Explain the rules and reasons supporting your religion’s giving practice. If you don’t have a giving practice, is there anything you do to give back to your community? Why do you believe this practice is important to cultural/religious groups or society in general?

A few major Canadian Jewish philanthropists who have made donations to huge causes:

Peter Munk and wife Melanie – charitable foundation has donated approximately $300 million to organizations for health, education and global reputation of Canadians. Education: The Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto; the Peter Munk Centre for Free Enterprise Education at the Fraser Insitute; Health: Toronto General Hospital – the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre; the Melanie Munk Chair in Cardiovascular Surgery at UHN.

Seymour Schulich major philanthropist – Universities: York - Schulich School of Business; Western Ontario – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry; Calgary – Schulich School of Engineering; Dalhousie – Schulich School of Law and Faculty of Computer Science; McGill – Schulich School of Music; and Nipissing – Schulich School of Education. Health: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre – Schulich Heart Centre as well as others outside of Canada.

Larry and Judy Tanenbaum (Maple Leaf sports and Entertainment)– charitable foundation has donated millions to Montreal Neurological institute, Tanenbaum Open Science Institute in conjunction with McGill U., Mount Sinai Hospital Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Centre, University of Toronto and other charitable initiatives.

Joseph Rotman (d. 2015) – donated more than $90 million to education, health and the arts: Rotman School of Management, U of Toronto; Rotman Institute of Philosophy - engaging Science, U. of Western Ontario; Canadian Institutes of Health Research; MaRS (Medical and Related Sciences) Discovery District; Canada Council for the Arts; Art Gallery of Ontario. Joseph said, “My father taught me that the most powerful way to inspire others to give is for them to see people giving in their community.”

Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman – Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, Indigo Love of Reading Foundation, Toronto International Foundation – a few of 74 organizations to which they donate.

Mitchell Goldhar - $1 million to Canadian Sports Concussion Project; children’s charities.

Harvey and Elise Kalles – donations to Make a Wish Canada, Wellspring (programs for Canadians with cancer) and other causes.

Isadore and Rosalie Sharp – Founder and Chairman Four Seasons Hotels – started and is director of the Terry Fox Run; major donors to the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, the Ontario College of Art and Design, Mount Sinai Hospital.

Ed Mirvish (d. 2007) – University of Waterloo, Camp Oochigeas, United Way and others. Christmas turkey giveaway until 2015.

Dani Reiss – Canada Goose CEO and President; Polar Bears International PBI – a nonprofit dedicated to worldwide conservation of the polar bear habitat; Canada Goose Resource Centres – popup centres for providing free materials for traditional Inuit workers to create clothing for their community.

Tikkun Olam – This means literally “heal or fix the world”, also key to Jewish values. It is the place where mysticism meets activism. It is a very powerful and optimistic world view, because it means each one of us can do something to improve things. Instead of being passive and giving up hope, you can be active and make change happen. Every person, even a child, can be master of their own world.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman who lived in Eastern Europe in the 18thC taught that our mission on earth is not to get to heaven but to bring heaven down to earth. Follow this teaching of Hillel, the most important sage or teacher in the first century BCE “That which is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour”, in other words, “Do unto others what you would want done to you.”

Jews and the Afterlife

  • Jewish teaching is quite vague on this and the subject of heaven and hell is rarely discussed in the synagogue. There are some references to heaven and hell in the Talmud and a 1st century sage Ben Zakkai made the first reference to the Garden of Eden and Gehinnom (hell) as a pair.
  • Other sources in the bible refer to the resurrection of the dead followed by a day of judgement when the righteous live forever and the wicked will be punished.
  • In the second century BCE the idea of immortality of the soul after the death of the body appeared.
  • Most commonly seen is that the ultimate reward would be “The World to Come” (olam haba) mentioned in various descriptions in the Talmud. Some imply it exists as a parallel world. Others believed that it will be ushered in by the resurrection of the dead while Maimonides felt the resurrected will die a second death and the righteous will enjoy a spiritual existence in the presence of God.
  • Like many concepts when it comes to Jews, there are many interpretations and it is an ongoing debate. Most important however is life on earth.

Jewish Life Before the Second World War

Two streams of European Jews;

  • East: Russian, Poland and the Ukraine
  • West: Germany, France and England
Early 1900s, a poor Jewish village in Poland, known as a shtetl enlarge image
Early 1900s, a poor Jewish village in Poland, known as a shtetl

Photo credit: https://www.apartfrommyart.com/from-shtetl-to-jello/



Russian word meaning “to destroy, demolish”. This term is used in English to refer to collective violence, usually against Jews but has also been used for violence against other ethnic minorities.

The East - Russia:

Fiddler on the Roof is a popular musical and film based on short stories by Sholem Aleichem. It is fiction however, a very fond looking back, and should never be taken as history any more than watching Guardians of the Galaxy and thinking that is what life will be like for your grandchildren. This very large group of about 5 million Jews in Russia was extremely religious and superstitious. Their life rotated around their faith and their rebbe (teacher). Jews were not allowed to own lands or have jobs outside of their little village. Tradition was important and life was precarious.

  • Eastern European market towns, almost completely Jewish communities (Ashkenazi), located in Poland and Russia
  • Started around 1200, ending in the Second World War
  • About 85% of the 5 million Jews spoke their own language called “Yiddish” with roots in High German mixed with some Hebrew, Aramaic, Turkic, Slavic and Romance languages
  • From 1790s to 1915 under Russian Empire control
  • Russian “Pogroms” in 1880s led to emigration of up to 2 million Jews from Eastern Europe
  • Strong sense of community
  • Followed the rules in the Torah
  • Jewish education, mostly for the boys
  • During the Holocaust, Nazis exterminated all the Jews in the communities or villages called shtetls

The Jews were extremely poor and life was difficult. The Jewish calendar of holidays was central to life and every Jew kept a strictly kosher diet. There was tremendous social pressure to be observant. No one worked on the Sabbath, all the men went to the synagogue, marriages were arranged, and life was short and basically unpleasant. On the other hand, music and religious instruction (not much art, drama) were important. From time to time, there were very violent attacks called “pogroms” (definition below) on Jewish settlements by the army or armed groups who had the government’s support.

From 1791 to 1835, The Russian Empire gained new territory known as the Pale of the Settlement and prohibited Jews from settling in Russian territory outside the Pale. The region included parts of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Poland. Russian pogroms by non-Jews began in 1881 in Elizavetgrad (present-day Ukraine) and spread through seven provinces in southern Russia and Ukraine. Jewish stores and homes were looted, their property destroyed, women were raped and many Jews were beaten or murdered. Regardless of whether or not the government ordered these attacks, the response to stop them was slow, with the military or police often joining the violent mobs.

Anti-Jewish laws by the Russian government in the 1880s:

  • Limited the number of Jews who could attend high schools and universities
  • Prevented Jewish law school graduates from joining the bar
  • Restricted where Jews could live
  • Non-Jews prohibited from issuing mortgages to Jews
  • Jews prohibited from doing business on Sundays

Why were there pogroms and antisemitic laws?

  • Jews blamed for the bad economy and political instability
  • The blood libel myth that Jews murder Christian babies and bake their blood into their matzah
  • Claim that Jews murdered Jesus
  • There was a rumour that Jews were involved with the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 by members of the Narodnaya Volya socialist movement.

Jewish Response: Jews fled to Western Europe, the United States and Israel, which at that time was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Some Jews became politically active, joining the General Jewish Labor Bund, Bolshevik groups and self-defense leagues or becoming Zionists.

1904 Illustration. US President Roosevelt tells the Russian Tsar, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews” enlarge image
1904 Illustration. US President Roosevelt tells the Russian Tsar, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews”

Print by Emil Flohri. Source: Library of Congress

1903-1906 Pogroms – in Kishinev (present day Moldova), hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and dozens of Jews killed, causing tens of thousands of Jews to flee
1905 Odessa - about 2,500 Jews killed
1919 – in Kiev, Cossacks, fearless and brutal fighters within the Russian military, led pogrom injuring and raping many and killing 14 Jews.

The West - Germany

Walther Rathenau (1867 –1922) enlarge image
Walther Rathenau (1867 –1922)

A German Jewish industrialist, politician, writer, and statesman who served as Foreign Minister of Germany during the Weimar Republic. He was assassinated on June 24, 1922, two months after the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo between Germany and Russia.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Laws that were favourable to Jews were passed in the early 1800s but by 1850, the 24 kingdoms that spoke German were starting to unify under the concept of a nation, and Jews were not welcome. Germany had very hierarchical societies; everybody had their place, like at Downton Abbey: at the top - aristocracy, then below that, wealthy families, then a rising middle class, then the poor, at the bottom. In Germany, there was a large Orthodox Jewish community who were the face of Jews. Men always wore hats or a kippah, women wore long dresses, and there was little intermarriage. If you married a non-Jew, your family would go through all the same rituals as if you had died and would never speak to you again.

There was a large Reform community in Germany and they were very assimilated by the late 1800s. Assimilation was a big problem for the Jewish community. Jews were giving up everything that made them different and trying to have social lives with non-Jews. Wealthy bankers held music “salons” that included Jews and non-Jews. Antisemitism was an issue but not in polite company. Some Jews did very well, for examples: Albert Einstein and the Rothschilds. Germany’s Foreign Minister in the 1920s, Walter Rathenau, was Jewish (see image above).

The First World War

Printed Leaflet in Germany 1920 – (translated) enlarge image
Printed Leaflet in Germany 1920 – (translated)

"12,000 Jewish soldiers died on the field of honor for the fatherland."
"Christian and Jewish heroes fought together and lie together on foreign soil."
"12,000 Jews fell in battle."
"Blind, enraged Party hatred does not stop at the graves of the dead."
"German Women: Do not allow the suffering of Jewish mothers to be mocked!"

Source: The Reich Association of Jewish Veterans [Front-line Soldiers]

Many Jews fought for Germany in the First World War, were decorated war heroes who loved their country and felt that Germany was the leader in the world for all the good things. They were convinced that their military service would make Jews more accepted but clearly this wasn’t true in the years leading up to the Second World War. 12,000 German Jews died for their Fatherland (Germany) in the First World War.

Action 4  

Discuss >

Understanding history

With a partner, discuss the history of the Jews leading up to the Second World War. What did you learn that surprised you? Why did it come as a surprise? Discuss the specifics of Judaism and its history – what is of interest? Why? Can you sense a divide between Jewish people and people of other cultures and religions? Can you understand how persecution of Jews was justified throughout history? Explore these questions with your partner then discuss as a class.

Historical Antisemitism

There are 3 types of antisemitism: religious, racial, and the new antisemitism. The first two are examined in this chapter. For the New Antisemitism, please see Unit 6 Chapter 2 Contemporary Antisemitism: https://www.voicesintoaction.ca/Learn/Unit6/Chapter1

1. Religious Antisemitism

In the past, Christians have had an issue with Jews because they believed Jews murdered Jesus, and also because Jews refused to accept Christianity. Similarly, many Muslims, in the past and many currently, are antisemitic because Jews do not accept Islam.

Christian antisemitism began in the centuries after Christ died. John Chrysostom (344-407 CE) was one of the "greatest" of church fathers, known as "The Golden Mouthed." This missionary preacher, famous for his sermons and addresses, stated:

The synagogue is worse than a brothel…it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts…the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults…the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ… a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and an abyss of perdition. As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason.

Source: "The Roots of Christian Anti-Semitism" by Malcolm Hay

The Last Supper – Famous painting by Leonard da Vinci of Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples celebrating Passover, his last supper enlarge image
The Last Supper – Famous painting by Leonard da Vinci of Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples celebrating Passover, his last supper

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Crusades

Routes of the Crusades from 1095 to 1289 enlarge image
Routes of the Crusades from 1095 to 1289

Image Source: Maptitude1.tumblr.com

The Crusades began in 1095 and ended in 1289. The Christians in Europe had two motives:

  • to remove Muslims from Jerusalem; some Crusaders were honestly driven by religion.
  • to win riches, bring non-Christians to the Church (or, in many cases, sentence them to death if they refused to convert)

1095-1096: First Crusade - Germany witnessed the first incidents of major violent European antisemitism when these Crusaders massacred Jewish communities in what’s become known as the Rhineland massacres. In Speyer, Worms, Mainz, and Cologne the range of anti-Jewish activity was broad, extending from limited, spontaneous violence to full-scale military attacks.

Try to imagine this: you are living in a small village, scratching a living from the hard ground. You hear a noise, you see dust. You see thousands and thousands of very heavily armed men, and their servants, marching toward your village. They are hungry and thirsty. The food they packed is long gone. And you’ve heard rumours about what these Crusaders do to non-Christians. So you know that every chicken, every cow and every last grain of wheat is going to be taken. And, as the saying goes, resistance is futile. Jews are slaughtered by the thousands during the Crusades for the glory of Christianity.

While the events of 1096 debilitated Rhineland Jewry, the First Crusade should not be seen as a watershed event that inevitably led to the decline of Ashkenazic Jewry. Several Rhineland Jewish communities were destroyed, but they rapidly rebuilt in the early 12th century. Jewish economic activity flourished; moneylending, in particular, increased as subsequent crusading ventures needed cash. There was certainly no decline in intellectual creativity among Ashkenazi Jews; the study of law continued, although the focus shifted from Germany to northern France.

Interestingly, the Jews of Europe were motivated by the journeys of Christians to the Holy Land, and aided by the increased maritime transportation between Palestine and Europe, to make a greater number of pilgrimages themselves. For example, “The Aliyah of Three Hundred Rabbis” occurred in 1211. This emigration of several hundred rabbis from Western Europe (mostly France and England) marks the beginning of an active period of aliyah (immigration to the Land of Israel) that continued through the 13th century.

The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1834

The Catholic Church in Spain sought to root out and punish heretics, that is, non-Catholics, especially Jews and Muslims who were subjected to persecution and torture.

Illustration depicting the key elements of an auto-da-fé, or public sentencing, during the Spanish Inquisition. Plaza Mayor in Madrid, 1680 enlarge image
Illustration depicting the key elements of an auto-da-fé, or public sentencing, during the Spanish Inquisition. Plaza Mayor in Madrid, 1680

Source: The Jewish Encyclopedia (after printing by RICI)

1478: Spanish Jews had been heavily persecuted from the 14th century onward, particularly during the reign of Henry III of Castile and Leon (1390-1406). To avoid persecution, many had converted to Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition was set up by the Church in order to detect insincere conversions. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain believed that converted Jews, called “Conversos” caused corruption in the Catholic Church. They were accused of poisoning drinking water, abducting Christian boys and blamed for the Plague (later known to have been caused by fleas carried by rats). Laws were passed that prohibited the descendants of Jews or Muslims from attending university, joining religious orders, holding public office, or entering any of a long list of professions.

On November 1, 1478, Pope Sixtus IV issued the papal bull Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus. He declared, “We are aware that in different cities in your kingdoms of Spain many of those who were regenerated by the sacred baptismal waters of their own free will have returned secretly to the observance of the laws and customs of the Jewish [faith]…because of the crimes of these men and the tolerance of the Holy See towards them civil war, murder, and innumerable ills afflict your kingdoms.”

To eliminate this menace, the Pope gave Ferdinand and Isabella the permission to establish the authority of the Spanish Inquisition, first in Castile. Aragon soon followed. The Inquisition would unite the nation with one common religion, Christianity, and with a common purpose, eradicating hidden Jews and Judaism within its borders. An added benefit: Conversos accused by the Inquisition had their property and wealth automatically confiscated.

1483: Grand Inquisitor Torquemada was given jurisdiction by the pope to act as the head of the Inquisition in Spain. Dominican Tomàs de Torquemada was one of the cruelest and most evil men in history. Public sentencing happened at an “Auto-da-fé” where the accused heretics had to wear a sackcloth over their heads with only a single hole for the eyes. At least 2,000 of the accused refused to confess and were burned at the stake.

1492: Jews were given the choice of being baptized as Christians or be banished from Spain. 300,000 left Spain penniless. (In the 1550s the same persecution happened to the Muslims in Spain.) Many Jews migrated to Turkey, where they found tolerance among the Muslims. Up to 600,000 Jews converted to Christianity, but often continued to practice Judaism in secret. They are known as Marranos.

1536: John III of Portugal was given permission by the Pope to carry out an inquisition of Portuguese Jews, even more severe than the Spanish one. It was only suppressed forever in 1821.

1834: Depending on who was ruling the country, the Spanish Inquisition was suppressed and restored on and off until finally ending in 1834.

Martin Luther – 1483-1546. Portrait by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1528. enlarge image
Martin Luther – 1483-1546. Portrait by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1528.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther
10 November, 1483 – 18 February, 1546

Luther was a German friar, priest and professor of theology who was a key figure in the Protestant Religion. Lutherans are those who follow his teachings. He was really angry that Jews still would not convert to Christianity despite the changes that he and others brought to Christianity.

On the Jews and their Lies
What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?...
First, their synagogues should be set on fire,
Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.
Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught.
Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more...
Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews. If this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden - the Jews...
Such a desperate, thoroughly evil, poisonous, and devilish lot are these Jews, who for these fourteen hundred years have been and still are our plague, our pestilence, and our misfortune.

Translated by Martin H. Bertram, "On The Jews and Their Lies, Luther's Works, Volume 47"; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

Present-day members of the Lutheran Church gradually disavowed the anti-Jewish writings by Luther, first in 1994 by the American branch of five million at the Evangelical Lutheran Church and then more recently, renounced in European Lutheran churches in 2016 in Germany, Norway and the Netherlands.

Pogrom in Frankfurt August 22, 1614 enlarge image
Pogrom in Frankfurt August 22, 1614

– The plundering of the Judengasse (the Jews’ Alley or Jewish ghetto)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pogroms: Russian word “pogrom” means the deliberate persecution of an ethnic group usually applied to anti-Jewish violence in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but also used for attacks against other groups. During the Middle Ages Jewish communities were targeted in the Black Death Jewish persecutions of 1348-1350 in France, Spain, Belgium and Prague where Jews were blamed for the Plague. In the Khmelnytsky Pogroms of 1648-1657, for the first time on the scale of a genocide, 20 percent of the Jews of present-day Ukraine were massacred. Cossacks killed over 100,000 men, women and children.

Action 5  

Do >

Pogroms, then and now

Google “Pogrom” and you’ll see on Wikipedia a timeline from the year 38 CE to this century.

Write a compare/contrast essay (500 words) about the similarities and differences between the Pogroms experienced by Jews and the refugee crisis experienced by the Rohingyas in Myanmar/Burma. Can the term be applied to what the Rohingyas are now experiencing? Is history repeating itself with the Rohingyas? Why (or not) do you think so? Remember to present credible evidence to support your position.

Antisemitism in Islam

Hadith Commentary in Sunni Islam, 9thC enlarge image
Hadith Commentary in Sunni Islam, 9thC

Source: Wikipedia

Qur’an 98:7:
This hadith (commentary created after the death of Muhammad) has been quoted countless times, and it has become a part of the charter of Hamas. This is an armed group dedicated to the destruction of Israel, currently governing the Palestinians living in Gaza.

“The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures.”

2. Racial Antisemitism

The belief that:
Jews are NOT like “us”; they are genetically different and naturally cheat, steal, are greedy etc. They are a threat to “us”. Leading to: There is no solution except extermination.

Caricature of Jewish stock-exchange speculators which appeared in the German satirical magazine Fliegende Blätter in 1851. enlarge image
Caricature of Jewish stock-exchange speculators which appeared in the German satirical magazine Fliegende Blätter in 1851.

----"Herr Baron, that lad's stealing your handkerchief."
----"Let him go. We were just as small when we started out."

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nationalism: In the 1800s Europe went from loosely aligned counties and relatively small districts to “nations”. This was the rise of nationalism as communication and transportation made these larger organizations possible and even necessary as other nations were rising.

Nationalism is the love of one’s country, often taken to extreme and used by those in power to stay in power. Here is the thinking: Let’s blame THEM for our lack of success; let’s blame them for the rain falling (a true story); let’s blame them for the Russian Revolution (The Russian Revolution ushered in communism which makes it hypocritical as Jews are usually called greedy capitalists).

All over Europe, and even in Canada, we have nationalist parties that want all foreigners removed. Nationalism frequently leads to violence against those who are considered “other”.

Action 6  

Discuss >

Can nationalism and diversity work well together?

In a small group discuss Canada’s diverse population. Do you think it helps or hurts a country to contain such a large number of people from various countries and backgrounds? How does it help build nationalism? How can it hurt it? What have you witnessed to prove your point? Raise any questions you have about whether or not diverse societies function well? Ask the group the questions and discuss with an open mind.

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, invented by Russian government agents and printed in 1903; English publishing 1919 enlarge image
The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, invented by Russian government agents and printed in 1903; English publishing 1919

Source: Wikipedia. www.holocaustresearchproject.org

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a work of fiction and the most notorious and widely distributed document inciting antisemitism. It pretended to be the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global Jewish domination by subverting the morals of non-Jews, and by controlling the press and the world's economies. Even after it was exposed as a government hoax in the 1920’s, it was still a powerful influence because it told people what they wanted to hear: “Our problems are not created by us; our problems are because of them, the Jews.”

Cartoon of an octopus representing a Jew taking over the world enlarge image
Cartoon of an octopus representing a Jew taking over the world

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As the 1917 Russian Revolution unfolded, causing supporters of Czars to flee to the West, this document was transported with them and assumed a new purpose. Until then The Protocols had remained obscure; it became an instrument for blaming Jews for the Russian Revolution. It was now a tool, a political weapon used against the Communists who were depicted as overwhelmingly Jews, allegedly executing the "plan" embodied in The Protocols. The purpose was to discredit the Russian Revolution, prevent the West from recognizing the Soviet Union, and bring the downfall of Vladimir Lenin's regime. Translated editions were sold across Europe, the US, South America and Japan. Then Arabic translations appeared in the 1920s.

The Dearborn Independent newspaper owned by Henry Ford, a big antisemite; Time Magazine cover with Henry Ford, January 13, 1935 enlarge image
The Dearborn Independent newspaper owned by Henry Ford, a big antisemite; Time Magazine cover with Henry Ford, January 13, 1935

Source: Time Magazine; Wikipedia

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company and mass production of cars, claimed that Jews created capitalism. He opposed the First World War and believed that German-Jewish bankers started it for their own profit. He sponsored the printing of 500,000 copies, and, from 1920 to 1922, published a series of antisemitic articles titled "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem", in The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper he owned. In 1921, Ford cited evidence of a Jewish threat: "The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are 16 years old, and they have fitted the world situation up to this time.”

The international Jew published by Henry Ford in 1920. In his auto showrooms he distributed 500,000 copies, some included with cars. enlarge image
The international Jew published by Henry Ford in 1920. In his auto showrooms he distributed 500,000 copies, some included with cars.

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Two years before becoming the German chancellor in 1933, Hitler kept a life-size portrait of Henry Ford next to his desk. He told a Detroit News reporter, "I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration."

Hitler refers to the Protocols in Mein Kampf:

...To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews. They are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once every week: the best proof that they are authentic. [...] the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, The Protocols of Zion was studied as a text in German schools, despite having been exposed as fraudulent by The Times of London in 1921. Despite conclusive proof that the Protocols were a gross forgery, they had sensational popularity and large sales in the 1920s and 1930s. They were translated into every language of Europe and sold widely in Arab lands, the US, and England. But it was in Germany after the First World War that they had their greatest success. There they were used to explain all of the disasters that had befallen the country: the defeat in the war, the hunger, the destructive inflation.

Protocols continue to be widely available around the world, particularly on the Internet, as well as in print in Japan, the Middle East, Asia, and South America. The US Senate issued a report in 1964 declaring that the Protocols were "fabricated." The Senate called the contents of the Protocols "gibberish" and criticized those who "peddled" the Protocols for using the same propaganda technique as Hitler.

In most parts of the world, governments and leaders have not referred to the Protocols since the Second World War. The exception to this is the Middle East, where a large number of Arab and Muslim regimes and leaders have endorsed them as authentic, including endorsements from Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and the 1988 charter of Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group. Recent endorsements in the 21st century have been made by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri (appointed by Arafat 1994 to 2006) and the education ministry of Saudi Arabia. This document continues to circulate on the Internet. Many Arabic and Islamic school textbooks throughout the world use the Protocols as fact. To this day, neo-Nazis, white Supremacists and Holocaust deniers circulate the Protocols.

Action 7  

Discuss >

Historical and present views of Jews

How do some of the historical views of Jews contribute to antisemitism today? Did you know that antisemitism was so widespread and enduring? What do you now know about Jews that you did not know before?

Other Antisemitism in the United States Before the Second World War

Antisemitism in Hollywood

In the 1920s there were antisemitic views toward Jews in the film industry. Charles Lindbergh* (See note below this section) once said “Their [Jews’] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures…” When interviewed Marlon Brandon said, “Hollywood is run by Jews.” Jews who appeared on screen in the early days, hid their Jewishness – for example, Lauren Bacall (formerly Betty Joan Perske) and Tony Curtis (formerly Bernard Schwarz). In the first silent films, identifiable Jewish characters, themes and issues were mostly avoided by Hollywood, and the few that showed Jewish families, depicted them dealing with assimilation. Assimilation means when a minority group of people become fully integrated into the wider society and culture in which they live.

The Holocaust was not shown in films by Hollywood during the Second World War since American involvement in Europe’s war wasn’t popular. The only exception was Charlie Chaplin (also Jewish) in the famous “The Great Dictator” in 1940. After the war ended however testimony by Holocaust survivors, the creation of Israel and strong nationalism, made American filmmakers eventually change their attitudes. By the 1970s there was complete acceptance and in fact, 80 percent of professional comedians were Jewish according to Time Magazine, 1979. Examples are Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Gene Wilder and Neil Simon. Others who were famous on stage and screen were Irving Berlin, Molly Goldberg and Sid Caesar.

(*Charles Lindbergh – an American pilot who was the first to fly a plane non-stop from New York to Paris.)

Antisemitism in education: From the 1920s to 1950s universities such as Harvard, and other private liberal arts, as well as medical and dental schools wanted to prevent the rising percentage of Jewish applicants and instituted a quota system to keep Jewish admissions down to 10%. Yale University only eliminated this policy in 1970.

“The crimes with which the Jews have been charged in the course of history—crimes which were used to justify the atrocities perpetrated against them—have changed in rapid succession. They were supposed to have poisoned wells. They were said to have murdered children for ritual purposes. They were falsely charged with a systematic attempt at the economic domination and exploitation of all mankind. Pseudo-scientific books were written to brand them an inferior, dangerous race. They were reputed to foment wars and revolutions for their own selfish purposes. They were presented at once as dangerous innovators and as enemies of true progress. They were charged with falsifying the culture of nations by penetrating the national life under the guise of becoming assimilated. In the same breath they were accused of being so inflexible that it was impossible for them to fit into any society.”

- Albert Einstein in Collier’s Magazine, November 1938, immediately following Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass”. Throughout Nazi Germany, Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews carried out by the military and civilians on November 9 to 10, 1938.

Action 8  

Do >

Putting yourself in their shoes

Look over your list from ACTION 1 and add or delete any information that has changed your mind since learning about the history of the Jews and antisemitism. Imagine what it would be like to grow up Jewish before the Second World War, assimilated in the society your family lived in, then this happens: you are suddenly expelled from school, forced to wear a Jewish star on your clothing to identify you, then on a path to exclusion, segregation in ghettos and doomed to extinction.

Using the first-person perspective, write a journal entry as a Jewish person of your age, during that time period. Include specifics about your practices, feelings about friends who no longer spend time with you, and being shuffled around to ‘gated’ communities without knowing what the future has in store for you and your family. Imagine the fear you would experience. Include any details about Jewish religious practices that will infuse the journal entry with reality and emotion.

Antisemitism in Canada Before and After the Second World War

Once European explorers made first contact with First Nations Peoples, immigrants were encouraged to settle the West, clear the forests, farm the land, and build Canada’s cities. The preference was for people from Great Britain and other White Europeans. Other immigrants, including Black people, East Asians and Chinese, were turned away.

In the early part of the 20th century, Canada selected immigrants according to ethnic and racial stereotypes. Advertising encouraged immigration to Canada before the Second World War with headlines like this: “Britishers! Bring Your Families to Canada.” White people from the United States and Great Britain, and from northern and western Europe, were welcomed with no problem. Russians and other eastern Europeans had more trouble entering Canada however because their racial traits were considered to be inferior to that of other white and Western immigrants. One immigrant group was classified as “undesirable” by Canada: Jewish people, arriving from any country in the world. They could only enter Canada with special permission from the government.

Around the 1870s, some scientists came up with the idea of ranking stronger and weaker countries based on the racial and ethnic characteristics of their citizens. In South Africa and the United States, black people were discriminated against because their racial characteristics were believed to be inferior to that of white people. In Europe, the United States and Canada, Christians were considered to be superior to other ethnic and religious groups. In reality, people’s physical characteristics and personality traits are neither superior nor inferior, but this did not stop Canada from discriminating against certain immigrant groups based on ethnic and racial stereotypes.

History of Canadian Jews

Fun Facts about some of the first Jews who came to Canada

Esther Brandeau (born about 1718 near Bayonne, France; date of death unknown)

The first Jewish person to set foot in Canada was actually a girl disguised as a boy! In 1738 a 20-year-old girl arrived on a ship in Quebec dressed as a boy and calling herself Jacques La Fargue. She was the daughter of a Jewish merchant, David Brandeau, from Bayonne, France. Esther was sent in 1733 by her parents on a Dutch ship to join her brother and an aunt in Amsterdam. When the ship was wrecked she was saved by one of the crew and provided shelter by a woman living in Biarritz. At that point, she decided to disguise herself as a boy and after being forced to eat forbidden foods such as pork, decided she wanted a life of liberty as a Christian. After various odd jobs, she ended up being hired as a ship’s boy on the Saint-Michel that set sail for Quebec in 1738. When her true identity was discovered in Quebec, she was arrested, taken to Hôpital Général and interrogated. It was a big source of embarrassment for this Catholic community in New France, trying to be monotheistic, and they agreed to allow her to convert. Even the admiral and King Louis XV of France became involved in her situation. After living there for a year, Esther never adapted however and was finally deported back to France in 1739, with her return voyage being paid by the state.

Aaron Hart Jewish businessman in Quebec 1700s enlarge image
Aaron Hart Jewish businessman in Quebec 1700s

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Aaron Hart (born about 1724; died 28 Dec., 1800)

Aaron Hart was a Jewish businessman from either Bavaria (Germany) or England, who lived and died in Trois Rivières, New France (Quebec). He followed British troops north, though some say he was an office serving with the British forces under Amherst. Jews were not welcome by European armies so it is less likely he was on the staff. A document in 1760 refers to him and the following year he became a merchant in Trois-Rivières providing supplies to the troops. His home was turned into a post office by the authorities in 1763 and a year later, he purchased his first land and kept acquiring properties. In 1767 he went to London to find a wife and married Dorothy Judah in 1768. They returned back to New France to begin their lives in a new country with much promise. With a Jewish wife, they raised their children with Jewish traditions. The extended family in the area grew when Aaron’s brother Moses joined him, while another brother settled in Albany, New York. His wife’s bothers had already settled in Canada prior to her arrival. The British relied on Jewish merchants who were among the few who spoke English in the province. Aaron Hart had two sons who established themselves in Trois-Rivières because their father gave them lands there. He involved them in his fur-trading, assigned a shop, Aaron Hart and Son, to Ezekiel and opened a brewery and a bakery. After Aaron’s death in in 1800, the Hart family owned four fiefs and seven seigneuries, according to lists in about 1857. It amounted to $86,293, a vast fortune at that time. His sons inherited his properties and he left generous sums in his will to his four daughters. Aaron’s son Ezekiel was elected to the assembly in 1807. Over generations many members of the Hart family remained in the Trois-Rivières region, mixed with long-term Canadians and became assimilated.

Rachel Myers – Jewish woman Loyalist who emigrated to New Brunswick

Rachel Myers was born in Austria and was married to a Hungarian Jew, Benjamin Myers in 1757 when she was only 12! Due to the antisemitic policies of the Empress Maria Theresa, they emigrated to America, arriving in New York. Their first son Benjamin Jr. was born in 1758 followed by eight more children. They moved to Newport, Rhode Island where there was already a thriving Jewish community. After their last child was born in 1776, Rachel’s husband died at age 43. Their eldest son Benjamin Jr. was a British Loyalist who refused to swear allegiance to the American cause. Rachel and her eight other children followed Benjamin Jr. to New York when Newport, formerly occupied by the British, became American. In 1778, he and his brother Abraham joined the British troops fighting the Americans. Along with many other Loyalists, they then fled to Canada where the British offered them free land in Nova Scotia.

They landed in Saint John, NB on April 27, 1783 and found themselves in terrible conditions of cold, wet weather, swarms of insects, lack of food and water, poor sanitation, violence, theft and alcoholism. Benjamin and Abraham were finally granted land over a year later but the family lived in makeshift tents waiting for them to clear the 200 acres. Rachel petitioned the governor for cleared land, and had assistance with her letter as she was illiterate. Her petition described the “Distressed situation of your petitioners”, her “fatherless children” and her “Real Need Family” who had been living in “very deplorable circumstances” since their arrival. At first, she was provided with unsuitable land that was too low to build on, then received only slightly better land in 1786. There were severe food shortages and starvation that winter. The family was provided only one third of the promised provisions. She was fed up with the empty promises by the British and the suffering they were enduring and decided to head back to New York. Furthermore, as the only Jewish family in New Brunswick, they lacked a Jewish community. In 1787 they arrived back in New York and were provided housing and a community. She died in 1801 and despite living at the bottom of American, Jewish and Loyalist societies, Rachel Myer’s legacy lies in the successes of her children. In the 1850s her son Mordecai became mayor of Schenectady, NY. Her daughter, Judith Myers married a Loyalist and moved to Toronto in 1831 where she died at age 62.


Sign prohibiting Jews in St. Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. July 1939 enlarge image
Sign prohibiting Jews in St. Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. July 1939

Source: Azrieli Foundation

Between the 1890s and the 1920s some Jewish immigrants did manage to enter Canada. They were fleeing terrible pogroms in Russia and Poland that were organized by the Russian government. In Canada, Jewish people experienced discrimination only because they were Jewish. (After the Second World War, the intolerance toward Jews continued.) They could only get low-paying jobs on farms or in factories because big companies, banks, and stores didn’t trust Jewish employees. Like the United States, universities had quotas on how many Jews could become doctors, lawyers or engineers. Even if Jews did become doctors, they couldn’t find hospitals where they were allowed to work or where non-Jewish doctors would work with them. People wouldn’t rent apartments or sell houses to Jewish families, and there were tennis and golf clubs that refused to permit Jews to become members. Signs at beaches, swimming pools and parks declared “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.”

Sign in Quebec, c. 1930’s enlarge image
Sign in Quebec, c. 1930’s

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Christie Pits Riots, August 16, 1933 in Toronto

An antisemitic group who called themselves the “Pit Gang” taunted Jewish baseball players, yelling “Heil Hitler” and displaying swastikas. It began with words and became the biggest riot to date in Canada involving violent fighting and a crowd of about 10,000. The three youths who started it were arrested.

McLean’s magazine article “No Jews Need Apply” November 1, 1948 by Pierre Berton enlarge image
McLean’s magazine article “No Jews Need Apply” November 1, 1948 by Pierre Berton

Source: The Maclean’s Archive. http://archive.macleans.ca/article/1948/11/1/no-jews-need-apply

Action 9  

Do >

Immigration to Canada

Why do you think that Jewish people believed there would not be pogroms in Canada and that they would be safe? Organize your information into a 3 to 4-page essay or be prepared to speak to the class for 5-10 minutes on this question.

Action 10  

Discuss >

Parallels between the experiences of Jewish and Indigenous People

Compare and contrast stereotypes of Jews and those of Indigenous People. Looking around the world at Indigenous people in Canada, the United States, and Australia, have governments mistreated them in the past in similar ways to how Jews have been mistreated? What is the same and what is different? Compare how both groups have at times been forced to assimilate to Christian society or face persecution. Discuss in small groups then as a class.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when there was a worldwide economic depression and mass unemployment after the stock market crashed in 1929, Canadians experienced severe unemployment and poverty. Because life was difficult, many turned to traditional Christian stereotypes for answers and ended up blaming the Jews for the economic problems they were facing. The Jews became the scapegoat. Canadians who might never have met a Jew began to believe ugly caricatures depicting Jews as “controlling all the money in the world” or as the “killers of Jesus Christ”. These were lies that people told about Jews to make themselves feel better. Groups calling for the expulsion of all Jews (and other “foreigners”) from Canada grew increasingly popular in English-speaking provinces, especially among French-speaking Quebecers. These groups spread more lies about Jewish people to make Canadians afraid. Some engaged in violence against Jewish Canadians.

St. Agathe, Quebec 1935. German Bund group Nazi supporters. enlarge image
St. Agathe, Quebec 1935. German Bund group Nazi supporters.

Source: Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (Musée Holocauste)

Canada’s Jewish leaders worked with the country’s handful of Jewish members of Parliament (MPs) and non-Jewish supporters to counter the lies being told about Jews. They also met with the Prime Minister, gave speeches, and held rallies urging Canada’s government to allow in more Jewish immigrants, even as they helped settle the few who managed to enter the country. But by the mid-1930s, Canada was slamming its doors to all immigrants and especially to Jewish refugees from Europe.

See Unit 4 Immigration Chapter 1 - The Voyage of the MS St. Louis for Canada’s immigration policies towards Jews in the 1930s: https://www.voicesintoaction.ca/Learn/Unit4/Chapter1

Resource: Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, authors of The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 (Princeton University Press, 2012)