The Rise of Jewish Life and Religion in British Columbia, 1858-1948
November 4, 2013
Review By Ira Robinson
The Jewish Historical Society of British Columbia is to be congratulated for publishing Cyril Leonoff’s comprehensive study of the Jewish community of British Columbia from its beginnings to the mid-twentieth century as a 204-page “article” that comprises the entire content of Volume 28 of its journal, The Scribe. Leonoff has evidently spent considerable time and much painstaking research in producing this book, which allows specialists and non-specialists alike to gain a more comprehensive picture of the first century or so of Jewish presence in British Columbia. The virtue of his book is that he has gathered and classified a wide variety of manuscript and published sources and placed them at the disposal of the reader, while attempting throughout to explain the history, laws, and customs of Judaism so that a reader unfamiliar with the subject would not be at a disadvantage.
It is one of the book’s great strengths that it deals in a serious and systematic way with the Jewish religion as conceived and practised by BC Jews, and thus it allows those interested in issues related to Canadian Judaism and Canadian religious pluralism to examine and mine important data related to their subject. Another of its strengths is that it allows the reader to understand something of the nature and quality of the family, professional, and religious relationships that existed between BC Jews and Jewish communities elsewhere in Canada, such as Winnipeg or Montreal. The book has no index, which is a shame as the inclusion of one would have made this work far more useful to researchers.
The book’s title lets the reader know that the years to be covered are “1858-1948.” Fortunately, the author did not strictly adhere to the timeline contained therein and let his documents speak, even though they may have dealt with developments occurring during the decades after 1948.
Cyril Leonoff’s great achievement in bringing together everything he could find of significance for the story of the Jews and Judaism in British Columbia has succeeded in raising the profile of BC Jewry and bringing it forcibly to the attention of other researchers. Some of them will undoubtedly be inspired to utilize Leonoff’s work in their own studies, which will continue the work of understanding this pioneer Jewish community in all its complexity.