JTA discovers there are Jews in Toronto …and then gets it all wrong

Shame on you, JTA.

Have you no fact-checkers to spare from covering the 2012 elections to have a look at this piece by Ron Csillag about the Jewish suburban “renaissance” in Toronto?

That Csillag’s piece was passably researched, partisan, in many points, factually incorrect and rife with at least one misquote is not surprising.  After all, each week Toronto’s Jewish community is subjected to similarly dulling-edged journalism of the Canadian Jewish News – and many folks north of Steeles do not seem to mind.  (Fine, north of Sheppard.  Is that better?)

One only need get their hands on a 2008 powerpoint presentation bandied about the city’s Jewish institutions which clearly demonstrated the city’s two areas of phenomenal growth.  Note the number TWO in the previous sentence – and not as an afterthought.  Ron C, pay attention!  There was and is another area in the city undergoing a Jewish transformation besides Vaughan.

One might say that 2008 was a long time ago.  True that.

However, this transformative growth was so dramatic that (if the 2008 numbers were to be taken seriously or the statistic listed here about the downtown community vis-a-vis other communities whose populations are listed here), the Downtown’s Jewish community would be Canada’s 3rd largest Jewish community if it seceded from Toronto, coming in behind Montreal but surpassing Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa.   Perhaps this ranking might have shifted a bit, but Downtown TO definitely represents in the top 5.

This, Ron, does not mean that downtown Jews are just suburban-Jews-in-waiting as you made MNJCC doyenne Sharoni Sibony falsely state.  Downtown Jews energize one of two centres of Toronto Jewish life on the Bathurst axis.  Next time, please choose different search terms in Google.

Incidentally, Ron, this dual-center model with its attendant cultural rivalry has a long history in Jewish life.  The Mishnaic period at the turn of the first millennium was defined by the tension of flourishing Jewish centres in Babylonia as well as Israel. For a time in the Middle Ages, Jewish scholars in Spain punched their weight with the well-established sages in Iraq.  Misnagdim sparred with Hasidim in the 18th century.  In the present moment, Jewish culture thrives in North American cities (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Toronto) alongside the Jewish state.   And then there’s the downtown/uptown divide here in T-Dot.  Yeah.  It’s on.

And so, as I ride the TTC (yes, Ron, some Toronto Jews actually take the train and do not yearn to trade it in for two minivans), I ponder:  So are we downtowners Babylon or Israel in this polar Jewish universal scheme?   Considering the history of talmudic trash-talking, the history of my community and its roots “in the land”, I claim Babylon for the city set.  Feel free to dispute this “dibs”.

And, Ron, one more thing… Jewish life since 70 CE has never been just about buildings.   Buildings make a powerful statement about “making it” as community in material terms and can provide a meaningful framework for some folks who need a physical place to point at and say: “That’s where I connect with my community.”

In the new millennium, Next Jews do not need an organization to organize nor do many need a community building (or campus) to feel part of the Jewish community.

We have each other and our passion for Jewish life.  Even downtown.

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