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“The Convention of All Canadian Jews”

For the week of Monday March 10, 2008

On March 16, 1919, the Canadian Jewish Congress was founded in Montréal. More than two hundred delegates from across Canada gathered for the landmark meeting that created an organization to represent and advocate for Jews in Canada.

Lyon Cohen, the first President of the Canadian Jewish Congress
©A.D Hart, The Jew in Canada, 1926
Forming the CJC was not easy. The Jewish community in Canada in the early 20th century was divided between the established, settled Jews and the recent waves of Jewish immigrants.

The recent immigrants were frustrated with their lack of representation, despite being the majority, and decided to form their own group. In March 1915, they formed a permanent body called the Canadian Jewish Alliance (CJA). Their most pressing issue was to supply aid to their family and friends remaining in the war torn countries of Eastern Europe.       

The CJA was not well received by existing Jewish groups, in particular by the Federation of Zionist Societies of Canada. The conflict was more of a rivalry than a problem of opposing views. The established Zionists did not like the competition of another group and formed their own organization called the Canadian Jewish Conference, with the same goals of organizing the community. 

The delegates at the first meeting of the CJC
© Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives

The two groups worked independently of each other. With the end of the First World War, however, the Conference realized there was an opportunity to improve the Jewish situation in the world and decided that real change would only be possible if the entire community worked together.

In March 1919, 25 000 Jews voted across Canada to pick delegates from both the Canadian Jewish Alliance and the Canadian Jewish Conference to represent them at the first meeting of the CJC.  The meeting established the main goals of the new CJC organization.  They would: support the movement for a homeland in Palestine, help the Jews in former war zones, promote equal rights for Jews in post-war Europe and create the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society (JIAS). The CJC also decided to send delegates to Versailles to work with the American Jewish Congress to influence the peace process.

Although the CJC was created as a permanent body, the group was inactive until reconvened in 1934 when the rise of Hitler and anti-Semitism around the world merited action. To this day, the CJC continues to advocate for Jewish rights and an end to hate crimes and intolerance of any kind. In 2005, the Founding of the Canadian Jewish Congress was designated a National Historic Event.

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