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By Ben Carr

A recent poll conducted in the spring of 2009 by Angus Reid Strategies for Maclean’s Magazine, reveals a degree of intolerance and misunderstanding prevalent among our citizens.

When only 34% of Canadians without Jewish friends have a “favourable impression” of Judaism, we have a problem in our country and in our community. When nearly two thirds of Canadians  do not have a Muslim friend, or when only 12% of Canadians  have a “good, basic understanding” of Sikhism, there is a problem in our country. 

The Angus Reid Poll used eight different indicators to help guide their survey. Themes included in the survey were:  overall impressions, marriage, extremism, public funding for faith-based schools, knowledge, friends, reasonable accommodation and religion-based measures.  (To learn more, see    “What Canadians think of Sikhs, Jews, Christians, Muslims...” on

The results of the survey were quite telling, although they could have been worse as far as the Jewish Community is concerned. Compared to the other religions included in the survey, Jews actually fared better than most. With 53% of people expressing a “favourable impression” of Judaism, the question then becomes: should we be satisfied with the results, as we are more tolerated than others or should we be concerned that 47% of people do not have a favourable impression of us?

The answer is clear; we should never take satisfaction in being “the lesser among of evils”. There is a larger issue at play here and the Jewish community is very much a part of it. Throughout the poll there seems to be a disturbing trend; Canadians are fearful, suspect and generally confused when it comes to their views on religious minorities. When it came to knowledge of the religion, only 40% of people answered that they have “a good, basic understanding” of Judaism. This unfortunately low result tell us that we need to do more  to educate non-Jews about our religion. With greater knowledge comes a greater sense of comfort, understanding and tolerance.

Buddhism ranked 5% ahead of Judaism when it came to people’s “generally favourable impression” of the religions.  It is a troubling statistic for some who feel that Judaism has deeper roots in Canada than Buddhism and should therefore have a more positive image. The result is not all that surprising. Buddhism is a religion that has been portrayed and perceived as generally quite peaceful. On the other hand, Jews have been entangled in wars in the Middle East for decades, which might be a contributing factor in this result. It would be interesting however to know how many of the 47% that do not have a favourable impression of Judaism feel that way as the result of  their views on Israel and its policies.

Regarding marriage, 56% of people said that they would find it “acceptable for one of their children to marry a follower of Judaism”. This result is not one that should be of particular concern for the Jewish community. It is not uncommon for religions to advocate inner-faith marriages; in fact, it is as common in the Jewish community as it is in any other. Wanting your child to marry someone of the same faith is not wrong. The decision is a personal one that should not be ridiculed or viewed as intolerant. It is unclear however whether the remaining 44% are uncomfortable with their child marrying a Jew because of Judaism itself or because they want them to marry within their own faith.

The problems facing the Jewish Community are the same problems confronting other religious minorities in this country. We spend too much time focusing on the bad in religion and not enough on the good. Ask yourself, when was the last time you were watching CTV, CBC or CNN and saw a story about the beauty and richness of Sikh, Hindu or Jewish traditions?

It is important that we are aware of what is going on in the world around us. I will not pretend to be un-affected by the images I see coming out of countries where religious extremism reigns supreme. When Afghanistan’s Parliament tries to make it legal for a husband to rape his wife, I am appalled. When religious laws seek to destroy the rights of women and children or suicide bombers take lives, I am angered. I don’t think it is wrong to have a negative reaction as a result nor do I think it is wrong to disagree. However, we cannot let our views of other religions be shaped by these events alone.

 How do we ensure that our reason is not trumped by our fears? The answer is simple; education.  There was one statistic that jumped out at me on reading this survey. The question was asked whether you had a “generally favourable opinion” of Sikhism – only 23 % said yes. However, when that same question was posed to those who said they had a Sikh friend, the number drastically rose to 63%. Similarly with Islam, a mere 18% without a Muslim friend said they held a favourable view toward the religion however the number rose to 44% among those who had a Muslim friend. This correlation clearly indicates that with a stronger degree of familiarity comes greater tolerance. This message must be carried into our classrooms, our workplaces and beyond. Parents should encourage their children to interact with other kids of all faiths and as our understanding of other religions grows,  so too will the strength of our community.

Tolerance does not mean that we must become the other.  It does not mean that we must practice the same traditions, or support each other at every turn. Tolerance is about developing an understanding of our neighbors, and informing ourselves of the different cultures and beliefs held by those that live among us. 

Some countries destroy themselves because of cultural and religious differences; this country was built by embracing them.  You might find after a visit to a Church, Mosque or Gudwuara that these religions and cultures are not so different from ours.  Whatever the lesson may be, we all stand to benefit from a greater understanding and appreciation of those whose beliefs are different than our own.

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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