196,000 Jewish immigrants came to Canada between 1880 and 1930.

Prior to this immigration, the founders of the Toronto and Montreal Jewish communities came from other parts of the British Empire. The first Jewish immigrants arrived after the British Empire took possession of New France following the 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven Years War.

Early Jewish Canadians were either fur traders or served in the British Army.  Many were merchants and participated in international and local trade.
  • The first Jewish congregation was established in Montreal.
  • Canada's first synagogue was built in 1768.
  • Purim has been celebrated in Canada since the first congregation was established in Montreal.
Purim is a Jewish festival which celebrates survival in a foreign land or in exile.  It is a one-day festival which takes place four weeks before Passover, either in February or early March.

When the story of Esther is read out loud, groggers are used to drown out the name of the villain in the story.  This man, named Haman, planned to kill all the Jews in ancient Persia.  Esther is the name of the queen who foiled (blocked) Haman’s plans.

Even though the story of Esther is over 2,500 years old, the moral of this story is still very significant.  One of the hallmarks of this Jewish holiday is that Purim is not rooted in the Land of Israel, but in the Diaspora experience – the experience of Jews living outside of Israel.

Purim can also be seen as a universal story of immigrant or refugee survival in a distant land.  This is the happiest holiday in the Jewish calendar and is associated in most people’s minds with costumes, hilarity, food, and fun.  Purim is a day of unrestrained revelry and irreverence.  Each Purim, Jewish people everywhere remember the dangers that they faced in exile and they celebrate the miracle of their existence.

However, before the Second World War, when millions of Jews in Europe were being persecuted, and during the War when they were being exterminated, Canada and other Western countries refused to open their doors.  The Jewish people seeking refuge in Canada were not as fortunate as the people in Esther’s story.  At the time there was no policy here in favour of accepting refugees, and immigration was restricted to British and American citizens.  Regrettably, thousands of Jewish people who were trying to escape to safety were turned away.
  • During the Depression and the Second World War Canada drastically limited immigration.
  • During the Holocaust (the mass killing of Jews and other people in Europe by the Nazis), Canada gave sanctuary to only 5,000 Jews.
  • Six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
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