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The Jews of Alberta-page 5

The defining fact of Jewish life in the 1930s, as for all Albertans, was the Great Depression. Of enormous concern to Jews, however, were three interrelated issues: Zionism, Canadian immigration, and the European situation.

Zionism addressed the 2,000-year-old dream of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Adverse conditions for Jews in Europe and Arab hostility to the growing Jewish community in Palestine gave the Zionist cause immediacy. Zionist speakers visited Edmonton and Calgary throughout the 1920s and 1930s to build support and to raise funds for the cause. Perhaps the most notable was Goldie Meyerson (the future Golda Meir, Israeli prime minister from 1969 to 1974), who spoke in Calgary and Edmonton in 1936.

Efforts to bring European Jews to Alberta were halted in the 1930s through the nation's new "closed-door" immigration policy, which played to anti-Semitic feelings current in Canada.29 Jews became particularly concerned for their families in Europe after Germany's Nazi government was formed in 1933. In at least one case, Calgary's City Clerk appealed to the federal government on behalf of Jewish families who wished to sponsor European refugees. Immigration Branch director F.C. Blair, replied that Canada was simply not taking in any Jews at that time. Still, Alberta Jews did what they could. For example, to assist recent arrivals, Jews in Calgary formed the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society and the Polish Jewish Family Loan Association.

After the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, the proportion of Jews who enlisted in Canada's armed forces went well beyond their percentage of the total population.30 By the end of the war, some two hundred Jewish men and women had enlisted in southern Alberta alone. Among them were the four sons of Strathmore dairy farmers Sam and Henya Hanson: Albert, who won the Military Cross for valour and was later wounded in a mine-clearing explosion; Hymie, an army pharmacist; Morris, who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force; and Sam, a physician who tended injured soldiers on the battlefields in Belgium. Another enlistee was gunner Bob Satinovsky (later changed to Sattin), who signed up in September 1939 and saw action in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Following the war, Sattin became a veterans' advocate and founded the Jewish War Veterans of Canada, Calgary Post. On the home front, Jewish individuals and organizations purchased war bonds and collected funds, clothing and food.

Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Diamond, 1887. When the conflict ended in 1945, Alberta's Jews entered a changed world. After decades of depression and war, an era of peace, prosperity and the long-delayed joys of consumerism were about to begin. Around the world, attitudes towards Jews changed with awareness of the Holocaust and with the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948. Overt anti-Semitism declined, but did not disappear. With assistance from established local communities, Holocaust survivors made new lives for themselves in Edmonton and Calgary.

Since 1945, the Jewish populations of Calgary and Edmonton have grown in number, cultural richness, confidence, and prosperity. Urban Jews have contributed to the broader community in a variety of spheres, including the arts, charitable works, education, and politics. The names of institutions such as the Martha Cohen Theatre, Jack Singer Concert Hall, Joe Shoctor Theatre, Tevie Miller School, and Dr. Carl Safran Centre for Continuing Education attest to the indelible stamp Jews have made in Calgary and Edmonton.

In the rest of the province it is a different story. In towns and rural areas where Jews once lived and farmed in large numbers, few if any remain. Both Calgary and Edmonton have had a magnetic effect on Jews of smaller centres, offering economic opportunities, upward mobility, proximity to family and to a larger Jewish community. In towns and rural centres, Jewish communities fell below the threshold population needed to perpetuate themselves.

The only manifestation of a quarter-century of Jewish life in Rumsey and Trochu is the former synagogue, now the residence of one of Elias Sengaus' grandsons. The Jewish population of small cities has also declined sharply. In Medicine Hat, where a Jewish resident, Harry Veiner, served as mayor for most of the years between 1952 and 1974, the Sons of Abraham synagogue closed and was eventually sold in 1999. Lethbridge, which once boasted seventy Jewish families, has had no resident rabbi since the 1970s; the synagogue now operates only during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If the editorial writer of 1892 could visit Alberta today, he might claim that his observations were correct: as he predicted more than a hundred years ago, Jews have become an urban people in Alberta. During that century, however, generations of Jews were adapted to agricultural and small town life in this province. That their communities have all but vanished does not detract from their significance. Their existence will forever remain a fact of Alberta history.

This article was prepared through the sponsorship of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta. The society was formed in 1989 to recapture and publicize the memories and records of Jews in southern Alberta. A corresponding Jewish Archives & Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta was established in 1996.

1 Calgary Tribune, 20 January 1892.
2 Edmonton House Journal, Hudson's Bay Company, 1869-70, B.60/a/37. Provincial Archives of Alberta.
3 Hugh Dempsey, Historic Sites of Alberta. Edmonton: Government of Alberta, 1963, 31.
4 L.V. Kelly, The Range Men. Toronto: Coles Publishing, 1980,120.
5 Diary of S.J. Clarke, Glenbow Archives.
6 Ibid., Calgary Herald, September 14, 1883.
7 Calgary Jewish News, centennial edition, 1975. The News' source was Rabbi Arthur A. Chiel, Jewish Experience in Early Manitoba.
8 Cyril Edel Leonoff, The Jewish Farmers of Western Canada (The Jewish Historical Society of British Columbia and Western States Jewish Historical Association, 1984), 1.
9 Max Rubin, "Alberta's Jews: The Long Journey," in Howard and Tamara Palmer, eds. Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985), 331.
10 Calgary Tribune, January 20, 1982.
11 This building, at 523 - 5 Avenue S.E., continued to function as a synagogue until it was demolished in 1967.
12 Nanton News, May 11, 1911.
13 Rubin, 331.
14 Ibid., 332.
15 Ibid.
16 Edmonton Journal, undated clipping.
17 Rubin, 331.
18 Ibid., 331; Discovery: The Journal of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta, Spring 1994; Howard Palmer with Tamara Palmer, Alberta: A New History (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers Ltd., 1990), p.97.
19 Calgary Herald, September 3, 1967.
20 Census of Canada, 1931.
21 Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta, Land of Promise: The Jewish Experience in Southern Alberta (Calgary: Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta, 1996), 234.
22 Rubin, 334; Land of Promise, 236.
23 Edmonton Journal, undated clipping.
24 Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta (JHSSA) reference files, "Medicine Hat."
25 Land of Promise, 228.
26 Rubin, 336: JHSSA reference files, "Lethbridge."
27 Land of Promise, 158.
28 Rubin, 342.
29 Ibid.
30 Land of Promise, 156.
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Reprinted with permission from Harry M. Sanders and Alberta History (Autumn 1999 Volume 47, Number 4) 20-26.
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