As the month of September approaches, Canadians are gearing up to celebrate the Jewish holidays with great enthusiasm and spirit. Canada, known for its diverse population and commitment to freedom of thought and expression, is home to a significant number of Jewish immigrants who bring their rich cultural traditions to the country.
Between 1980 and 2021, over 91,000 Canadian residents who identified as Jewish were immigrants from various countries such as Israel, the United States, Ukraine, Russia, and Morocco. The majority of Canadian Jews, more than 98%, reside in five provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Alberta. Notably, nearly half of Canada’s Jewish population lives in Toronto, while approximately one quarter resides in Montreal.
The month of September is particularly significant for Jewish people as it marks the celebration of three important holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. These holidays hold deep spiritual meaning and are observed with great devotion and joy.
Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year, commences at sundown on September 15th and lasts for two days. During this time, families come together to enjoy festive meals and reflect on the past year. It is a time for seeking forgiveness from loved ones and starting fresh for the upcoming year. Traditional foods such as challah bread, pomegranates, and apples dipped in honey are consumed to symbolize sweetness and good health.
Following Rosh Hashanah, Jewish people observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Starting at sunset on September 24th and ending the following evening, Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It is a day of fasting and prayer, with believers seeking repentance for their sins. Many Jewish Canadians attend special services featuring songs and readings. The holiday concludes with a joyous “breaking of the fast” potluck, bringing people together to share in the celebration.
Four days after Yom Kippur, Sukkot, the celebration of the harvest, begins. Lasting for seven days, Sukkot holds a special place in Jewish traditions. The centerpiece of this holiday is the sukkah, a temporary booth or hut constructed for the occasion. Family and friends come together to build and decorate the sukkah, where all activities, including eating and praying, take place. Another significant aspect of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: the etrog (citron), lulav (palm branches), hadasim (myrtle branches), and aravot (willow branches). This ritual symbolizes Jewish unity and solidarity.
While Jewish holidays are not recognized as public holidays in Canada, it is common for Jewish businesses and organizations to remain closed during these special occasions. Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the significance of Rosh Hashanah in a statement, emphasizing the valuable contributions made by Jewish communities to Canada. He also expressed his government’s commitment to standing against hatred and antisemitism, ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for all individuals to practice their traditions without fear or intimidation.
In conclusion, Canadians are eagerly preparing to commemorate the approaching Jewish holidays with reverence and joy. These celebrations serve as a reminder of the cultural diversity that thrives in Canada and the importance of embracing and respecting different religious beliefs. As we enter this festive season, let us appreciate the contributions of Jewish communities and join them in their celebrations of faith and unity.