Jewish Leaders Stress Need for Bilingualism in Quebec Schools

The issue of whether parents should continue to be allowed a choice in the language of instruction their children receive in Quebec Province public schools was discussed at a meeting of the Canadian Jewish Congress’ Eastern Region here Sunday night. More than 500 CJC members and government representatives present at the gathering heard Dr. Francoise Cloutier, Minister of Education of the Province of Quebec, warn that a new law limiting the language of instruction to French was inevitable.

The proposed law, replacing the present Education Law, would apply only to newcomers to the province. The existing population would still be allowed a choice between English and French. Murray Spiegel, president of the Eastern Region, said the Jewish community fully recognized the need for French Canada to assert its language and “cultural dynamism threatened by the Anglophone culture by which it is surrounded.” But Spiegel stressed that Canadian Jewry still believed in a bilingual, multi-cultural society and that to abolish freedom of choice amounted to “unfair discrimination.”

More than half of Canada’s Jewish population reside in Quebec Province, and although it is largely English-speaking, the importance of sharing in the prevailing French culture was stressed by Prof. Perry Meir of McGill University, treasurer of the CJC. Meir warned: “If we don’t take the view that our Jewish children learn to speak and write French fluently, then our involvement as Canadian Jews in the public-life of Quebec will become simply marginal.”

JEWS MUST UNDERSTAND MOVE

Jean-Claude Lasry, a professor of psychology at the University of Montreal who is of North African Jewish origin, said that close to 15,000 North African Jews in Quebec chose the province for their home because of its French culture and because they saw their role as bridging the gap between the English-speaking Jewish community and the Francophone majority.

The proposed law that would make French the sole language of instruction for newcomers is known to be favored in a still-to-be released report by the Gendron Commission, appointed by the Quebec government two years ago to ascertain the wishes of the population with regard to teaching languages Dr. Cloutier stressed that it was the desire of the government “to re-enforce the French Fact” in Quebec and urged Jews to understand this.

The CJC meeting was also addressed by the Consul General of Israel. David Ephrati, who spoke of the successful integration of Palestinian Arabs under Israeli rule and the liquidation of refugee camps. He said there were 1.4 million Arabs living peacefully under Israeli control today in contrast to only 600,000 in Jordan.

The library of the Sofia Jewish Cultural Center “Emil Shekerdjisky,” has some 1500 members and over 26,000 publications. Some 3000 books are added to the library annually.

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