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Communal Solidarity: Immigration, Settlement, and Social Welfare in Winnipeg's Jewish Community, 1882-1930.

Communal Solidarity: Immigration, Settlement, and Social Welfare in Winnipeg's Jewish Community, 1882-1930. By Arthur Ross. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2019. 327 pp.

Few books have been published on Winnipeg's Jews, with Coming of Age: A History of the Jewish People of Manitoba by Allan Gerald Levine (2009) and Arthur A. Chiel's Jews in Manitoba (1961) being representative of past accomplishments. Within the studies of Jewish life in this region of Canada, there has been divided attention between the Jews who lived in the agricultural communities and those in Winnipeg. Considering that during the twentieth century Winnipeg had Canada's third largest Jewish community, a history exclusively focused on it has been long overdue.

Arthur Ross's Communal Solidarity is a social history of the development of Winnipeg's Jewish communal institutions. From the early 1880s through 1930, nearly 10,000 Eastern European Jews made Winnipeg their new home and soon began to establish synagogues, secular mutual aid societies, and other charity-oriented organizations based on egalitarian principles of communal solidarity in order to address economic insecurity for those who still needed it, as well as to bring over family members still in Europe. From this milieu of Jewish organizations evolved a Jewish community interested in democratic participation to guide social welfare that was at this time not well provided by government services.

Ross begins his history by contextualizing the socio-political situation of Jews in the Russian Pale of Settlement so that we can understand the push factors for why many Jews came to Winnipeg, which entailed the experience of immigrants with Jewish organizations (religious and secular) in Europe prior to coming to Canada in addition to those that already existed in the country. The ascendancy of secular Yiddish culture in Jewish communal Eastern Europe was perpetuated through the Yiddish theater, Yiddish literature, and Yiddish media, which also influenced social welfare values among the Jews who came to Winnipeg. The social welfare services created by Winnipeg's Yiddish-speaking Jews for immigrants and the destitute included, according to Ross, "income assistance, health care, institutional care for children and the elderly, and immigrant aid to reunite families," which assisted thousands of Jews in Winnipeg as well as many rural communities in western Canada (back cover text).

Secular Yiddish social welfare and political organization significantly changed communal Jewish governance away from the religious sphere, which created a culture that expected democratic practices. This is why Jewish free loan societies, mutual aid societies, orphanages, and old age homes succeeded when there was broad community involvement, input, and financial support, instead of dependence on a small oligarchy of philanthropists or leaders. Ross also describes how at the dawn of the twentieth century, Winnipeg was a quickly modernizing city in respect to infrastructure and socio-economic development. Between the 1890s and 1910s trade unions were established, which attracted leftists Russian Jews. Thus, Ross also explains how Jewish participation in the union movement harmed the perception of Jews in the Canadian public eye because they came to be seen as potential socialist trouble makers.

Within Winnipeg's Jewish community there was great internal division. Longer term Canadian Jewish inhabitants disagreed about religious ritual with the more recent inhabitants, a Reform-Orthodox divide which was also accentuated by socio-economic standing and city geography (acculturated Jews in Winnipeg's center and South End, new immigrants in the ethnic North End). Immigrants were also divided among themselves according to geographic origins, such as various Russian-Jewish groups and Jewish Romanians. Because of this there grew to be a great number of synagogues--twenty congregations by 1930, according to Ross--which also led to the duplication of mutual aid, free loan, and other benevolent societies, whose membership comprised an estimated 80% of all Jewish men residing in Winnipeg. These organizations also functioned independently from the communal charities that were dominated by the established Jewish elite.

During the late 1910s some of Winnipeg's Jewish charitable societies began to coordinate and collaborate their efforts with national and international organizations, including Hadassah, the Joint Distribution Committee, B'nai Brith, and the Zion Organization of Canada, among others. Beginning with Jewish children orphaned by World War I and then subsequent humanitarian crises that plagued Eastern Europe, there emerged great orchestrated efforts to bring Jewish refugees to Canada as well as to unite divided families, especially as Canada's immigration quotas became increasingly tighter over the course of the 1920s. In response to the arrival of destitute Jewish immigrants who came to Winnipeg during this period, institutions such as a Jewish orphanage, the Mt. Carmel free clinic, the Jewish Old Folk's Home, the United Hebrew Relief, and the Western Division of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society were created to provide a needed safety net so that recent arrivals could be successful, because Canadian government policy was to deport immigrants who became a public charge. Groups such as the Federate Budget Board (for all of Winnipeg) and the Jewish Charities Endorsement Bureau were also established to coordinate charitable fundraising efforts in order to reduce competition and redundancy among communal charitable organizations. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1930, Jewish immigration was drastically curtailed, hitting Jewish communal social welfare hard.

Ross has completed an excellent academic reference for understanding the history and social context for Winnipeg's Jewish community. I highly recommend it for all interested in Canadian Jewish studies as well as those interested in the urban Jewish history of North America in general. Cross-communal comparisons are not made in this volume--such as Winnipeg with other Canadian cities or peer cities in the American Midwest with Jewish communities like Minneapolis, Omaha, or Kansas City--because this was not Ross's objective. However, alongside studies by others on these communities, one could glean how Winnipeg's history is both uniquely itself as well as part of a large experience shared by other Jews in this region of North America

Barry L. Stiefel

College of Charleston
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Author:Stiefel, Barry L.
Publication:American Jewish History
Date:Oct 1, 2019
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