Quebec Jewish Leaders Confident in Future of Their Community

Quebec Jewish leaders, attending the 18th plenary meeting of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) over the weekend, stressed their confidence in the future of the Jewish community in the province regardless of the efforts of the ruling Parti Quebecois to become independent of Canada. “The Quebec Jewish community is here to stay.” Joel Pinsky, chairman of the CJC’s Eastern and Atlantic Region, told a press conference.

“I am absolutely not worried about the future of the Jewish community nor the treatment of Jews in Quebec,” Pinsky stressed. “Certainly the history of French Canada with respect to the Jewish population has been good. There is no reason to believe that it will change and I challenge anybody to find otherwise.”

The press conference Friday was held at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel after Quebec Premier Rene Levesque addressed a CJC luncheon and sought to assure the Jewish community particularly about continued government aid to its schools. Following the talk, newsmen were excluded so that Levesque and the some 2000 delegates to the CJC meeting could hold a “frank and open expression of opinion.”

At the press conference which followed this closed-door session, Joseph Nuss, a lawyer and an official of the CJC’s Eastern and Atlantic Region, said that the Jewish community “can accept French as a common language, that is a priority language. But changes to bring this about would best be done gradually because of the Jewish concern of nationalism being restrictive and insular.” He noted that there was a “potential for extremism,” although he pointed out that Zionism was also a movement of nationalism “and others have the same feeling toward the collectivity.”

REASSURES QUEBEC JEWISH COMMUNITY

In his address to the CJC, Levesque said that the government’s bill to require French as the language of Quebec was neither discriminatory nor revengeful. “Jews are experts in discrimination because they have suffered a lot,” he said. “But if you read the legislation regarding the use of French attentively, we respect the identity of people with regards to school and jobs.”

Levesque received loud applause when he said “the exceptional privilege which means taxpayers money for the support of Jewish elementary schools and for your religious and linguistic requirements will not be abolished.”

The Premier stressed that “the 125,000 Jews living in Montreal are very important to me because they are a civic-minded community….” He said the Montreal Jewish community was the most bilingual ethnic group in Quebec and noted that the 25,000 Sephardic Jews in Montreal, most of them French-speaking, should help bridge the gap between the mostly English-speaking Jewish community and Quebec’s majority French-speaking population.

Noting the concern among the Jewish community about his government’s pledge to hold a referendum on leaving Canada, Levesque stressed that “rapid and major changes will come as democratically as possible.” He said “We intend to implement whatever decision the people of Quebec will make and if we lose we shall respect its decision but we hope to achieve independence and see other ethnic groups live with this fact.”

The Premier said that this should not frighten the Jewish community. “Is there any national group in the world which is not somehow ethnocentric?” he asked. “I doubt it. All people are ethnocentric, but being different does not imply hostility against any other ethnic group. One of our basic ingredients is our language and this should not come to you as a surprise when you have resurrected your own language in another part of the world,” an obvious reference to Hebrew in Israel. Levesque said his government proposes “teaching French in the Jewish schools at the elementary level in order to prepare children for an active life in Quebec society.”

PLAUT NEW CJC PRESIDENT

Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut of Holy Blossoms Temple, was unanimously elected president of the CJC for a three-year term. Two Jewish community leaders were awarded the Samuel Bronfman Medal. Judge Sidney Harris, the CJC’s outgoing president, presented one medal to Saul Hayes, former vice-president of the CJC, for 40 years of service to the organization. The other medal was presented by Judge Harold Lande to Monroe Abby, a former CJC president, for his many years of service.

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