CJS event explores research gaps in study of Canadian Jewish life

orthodox Jewish men walking through a park

Questions, not answers, about the lives of contemporary Jewish Canadians will be the topic of conversation for an esteemed guest panel at “What We Don’t Know About Canadian Jewish Life,” hosted by York University’s Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies (CJS) on Wednesday, May 17.

What don’t we know about Jewish religious observance habits or changing attitudes toward ideological and political issues? What don’t we know about coast-to-coast-to-coast social and demographic detail or issues of aging, housing, marriage or leisure? What are the known-unknowns and what unknown-unknowns might we uncover for the benefit of deeper understanding and useful knowledge? These are some of the questions pondered by researchers at York’s CJS and beyond.

“Though Canada is home to the fourth largest Jewish population in the world, there’s surprisingly little scholarly research on it. It’s a remarkably diverse, ever-changing and living community,” says David S. Koffman, J. Richard Shiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry, acting director at the CJS and moderator of the upcoming event.

This event will examine how Jewish Canadians, their families, institutions and communities are changing: this sizeable and dynamic diaspora is constantly in flux, yet Jewish Canada remains glaringly understudied. The topics of this event consider the state of both academic and applied social research on contemporary Jewish life in Canada.

“Virtually all scholarly events focus on the things we’ve just learned – they’re about sharing new knowledge. This event is unusual in that it’ll try to map what we don’t yet know. The right questions are, in a sense, harder than the answers,” says Koffman.

What we don't know about Canadian Jewish life vector art poster

“Facilitating this sort of program and hosting the globe’s foremost leaders fits right into the sweet spot for me as the J. Richard Shiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry,” he adds. “These aren’t the questions I normally focus on as a historian, so bringing together social scientists and community policy and planning leaders is really important.”

The panel of leading researchers of Canadian Jewry features: Robert Brym, S. D. Clark Chair in sociology at the University of Toronto; Daniel Held, York alum and chief program officer at the United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto; Randal Schnoor, author, researcher and lecturer at York University; and Morton Weinfeld, Chair in Canadian Ethnic Studies at McGill University’s department of sociology.

This roundtable discussion will be led by Koffman and introduced by fellow social researcher of Canada’s Jews, York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton.

Koffman says “The Centre for Jewish Studies is very pleased with our current standing as a true centre for meaningful intellectual engagement about Canada-wide Jewish life, literature, scholarship, culture and politics.

“There are some great academic Jewish studies programs in Canada,” he adds. “But I think we’re the only centre that is trying to curate a platform for the whole nation.”

To register for this free virtual event, click here.