Neither in Dark Speeches nor in Similitudes is an interdisciplinary collaboration of Canadian and American Jewish studies scholars who compare and contrast the experience of Jews along the chronological spectrum (ca. 1763 to the present) in their respective countries. Of particular interest to them is determining the factors that shaped the Jewish communities on either side of our common border, and why they differed. This collection equips Canadian and American Jewish historians to broaden their examination and ask new questions, as well as answer old questions based on fresh comparative data.
How different are Canadian Jews from the Jews of the United States? This book explores the experiences of Jews in Canada and the United States so that we can better appreciate the similarities and differences that are so often overlooked. More often than not, scholars study Jews within the frameworks of specific nations, such as the United States or Canada, or in terms of province, states, or cities. When transboundary scholarship investigates Jewish heritage from a continental perspective, the region of study is often Europe or Latin America, not North America.1
An example from the United States of a national-oriented study of Jews is Jews and Gentiles in Early America, 1654-1800, by the late historian William Pencak, which looked closely at the Jewish communities of New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Savannah.2 Pencak's study is impeccable, and his scholarship is extraordinary regarding the communities he examines. But he chose not to treat the Jewish community of Montreal, although it had developed connections with Jews along the entire North American Atlantic seaboard. This omission seems peculiar, given that the French and Indian War (1763) led to Quebec and all of French Canada being ceded to the British Empire.
The key point here is that the fates of many - including Jews - in Quebec, New England, and the American Middle Atlantic colonies were intertwined. That is why, between June 1775 and October 1776, the American Continental Army moved quickly to occupy Montreal, in the hope of adding Quebec to the thirteen colonies already in rebellion. The attempt failed. As American Loyalists travelled north to Quebec, Canadian supporters of the revolution, including Jews, went south. When the fighting came to an end in 1783, relations between Montreal's Jews and those in the new United States were vigorously restored. Additionally, between 1783 and 1825, when the Erie Canal was completed, the small population of Jews on the American side of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence watershed was at least as dependent on Montreal's Jewish community as it was on New York's. In other words, the small groups of Jews living in Detroit (where there had been Jewish settlers since 1762), Mackinaw (1760s), Sandwich (now Windsor, 1794), and Green Bay (1794) were also satellites of Montreal's Jewish community, just like the Jews in Trois-Rivières and Quebec City. So Pencak's study might well have benefited from regarding Quebec, if not as a "fourteenth American colony," then certainly as a core element in a familial North American saga. In essence, Pencak's work would have borne an enhanced contribution to the academy had he - like many scholars on either side of the border - taken a binational perspective.
Notwithstanding the nationalist tendencies of journalists and historians along both sides of the world's longest undefended border, there has been a long tradition of binational studies. As the Canadian historian Bruce Hutchinson observed in his seminal work The Struggle for the Border (1955), "the historic, constitutional, and economic relationship of the two nations dividing between them most of North America has long been noted and much discussed by historians."3 This volume focuses specifically on the Jewish experience, which has not received its due scholarly attention for some time. Hutchinson also postulated that "the American standpoint on the affairs of America has been amply set forth and that a Canadian viewpoint, often quite different, may be of interest [and vice versa] - not because it is more valid but because it may set things in better proportion; for assuredly more proportion is needed in a subject so important to every North American and too often distorted in our schools, by misguided patriotism, on both sides of the border."4 This is part of the agenda we intend on exploring, with the focus on how transnational perspectives can more clearly elucidate Jewish history and heritage in Canada and the United States.
In recent years, border studies have become popular. Past scholarship in Jewish studies has focused on the boundaries between nations, peoples, cultures, and languages in continental Europe. Examples include Antony Polonsky's Focusing on Jews in the Polish Borderlands (2001); Out of the Shtetl: Making Jews Modern in the Polish Borderlands by Nancy Sinkoff (2004); and Amelia Glaser's Jews and Ukrainians in Russia's Literary Borderlands (2012). A borderlands study exclusive to Jews in Canada and the United States has yet to be conducted, however, despite the ripe opportunities for this. A localized example is the Detroit-Windsor area. These two cities, which are on opposite sides of the international border, have been the topic of scholarly analyses about their Jewish communities, such as The Jews of Detroit: From the Beginning, 1762-1914, by Robert A. Rockaway, and The Jews of Windsor, 1790-1990, by Jonathan V. Plaut.5 However, the histories by Rockaway and Plaut are nation-oriented, and neither pays much attention to the community of Jews on the opposite side of the Detroit River. Can a local history ignore a constituency that is so geographically close? Indeed, shouldn't a research question have focused on the relations between Detroit's and Windsor's Jews? Mapping the Jewish community centres for the metropolitan area reveals that Windsor's Jews live geographically closer to downtown Detroit than Jewish Detroiters, who are concentrated in the northwestern suburbs. Judging from the likes of David Croll (1900-91), a former mayor of Windsor and Canada's first Jewish senator, to Carl Levin (1934-), a former US Senator from Michigan, the histories of the two communities appear even more closely intertwined. Indeed, Carl Levin is David Croll's nephew!6
Figure 1: The central portion of North America, with English and Yiddish place names. Source: John Foster Carr's Guide to the United States for the Jewish Immigrant (1912). William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection, Special Collections, College of Charleston Library.
In The Origins of Canadian and American Political Differences (2009), Jason Kaufman makes a compelling argument for a borderlands approach: "In considering the effects of jurisdiction on political culture, what we are really asking is how certain aspects of a given society's legal institutions shape its larger and political climate. Unlike explanatory accounts of national political culture based on 'national values,' 'political structure,' or 'cultural repertoires,' a jurisdictional perspective lends itself particularly well to analyses of continuity and changes."7
While we embrace Kaufman's perspective, we hesitate to use the term "borderlands" due to the geographical constraints this can impose. For instance, in the essay "Re-evaluating Jew or Juif? Jewish Community and Life in Franco Heritage North America before ca. 1920," by Barry L. Stiefel, the Louisiana half of this case study is around 2,600 kilometers (1,605 miles) from Quebec.8 But the similarities and differences between the Jewish experience in Louisiana and that in Quebec with respect to politics, economics, and culture would make for an intriguing and worthwhile study as well. In other words, a borderlands approach to American and Canadian Jews is a valid one, but scholarship need not be constrained to the international boundary region per se; geographically distant comparative approaches can also be utilized.
The Evolution of Contemporary Scholarship
Given the dearth of recent scholarship that treats North American history, politics, and economics holistically, it may surprise readers that as far back as the 1850s - more than a decade before the British North America Act of 1867 established the Dominion of Canada - some scholars envisioned their studies on a continental scale. On further reflection, these early studies point to one of the principal findings of this present book - namely, that in the 1850s, North America's political boundaries had yet to be firmly established and that greater fluidity existed across these now-hardened social frontiers. Examples include A History of the War Between Great Britain and the United States of America, during the years 1812, 1813, & 1814, by Gilbert Auchinleck (1853), and Charles Lanman's Adventures in the Wilds of the United States and British American Provinces (1856).9 Auchinleck's work was published in Toronto and Lanman's in Philadelphia. Few, however, would argue that these monographs are influential among today's scholars.
A contender for the earliest seminal work on Canadian and American studies conducted together is The Mingling of the Canadian and American Peoples by Marcus L. Hansen and John B. Brebner, dating from 1940. In that book, Hansen and Brebner note how "there migrated from the United States groups of Austrians, Russians, Dutch, Belgians, and Jews" into Canada.10 This book was followed by Hutchinson's monograph, which has enjoyed many reprints, the most recent in 2011 by Oxford University Press.11 Hutchinson was a prolific Canadian historian and journalist who published many books between 1942 and 1988. But while Jews were mentioned in passing in this body of scholarship, the...