“As my ancestors planted for me, so must I plant for my children.”—Talmud
Building on over 150 years of proud service to the community, Ometz was created in April 2008 from the merger of Jewish Employment Montreal (JEM), Jewish Family Services (JFS) and Jewish Immigration Aid Services (JIAS). Ometz is a charitable organization which supports and strengthens individuals and families by offering a range of employment, immigration, school and social services. Reaching more than 13,000 people annually, we provide intervention, prevention, support services and programs aimed to enhance quality of life. Ometz is the Hebrew word for courage and it is a reflection of the courage of those who seek our support.
Our story begins one summer night in 1863 — four years before Canada officially became a country — when a group of Jewish men gathered in a room over a store on Great St. James Street in Montreal and established the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society, an organization dedicated to the social welfare of our community. Their action took incredible foresight, considering that at the time there were fewer than 1,000 Jews in Montreal and the community was not experiencing any unusual economic hardship. Little did they know, they were drafting the blueprint for what would eventually become Jewish Family Services (JFS).
A continuing tide of immigration meant that by 1890, barely 25 years later, the demand for services had exceeded the capacity of the small community. The Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society sought help from one of the greatest Jewish philanthropists of the nineteenth century, Austrian railway magnate Baron Maurice de Hirsch. To acknowledge the Baron’s gift of $20,000, the Society renamed itself the Baron de Hirsch Institute.
Jewish Family Services (JFS) of the Baron de Hirsch Institute was unique in providing Jewish families with religious and culturally specific services that public agencies could not provide. These included ensuring the availability of kosher food in foster homes and providing subsidies for adopted children to receive a Jewish education. As public social services evolved in Canada and Quebec, JFS worked alongside or together with public institutions to uphold our mandate to support Jewish families.
It was this increasing wave of newcomers to Canada that prompted the establishment of Jewish Immigrant Aid Services in 1922. In its early years, JIAS focused on assisting Russian Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms, and also lobbied the government on immigration policy. These lobbying efforts would become the primary mission of JIAS during the 1940s, when Canada put severe limits on Jewish immigration. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, tens of thousands of new immigrants settled in Canada, prompting a restructuring of JIAS. With a new focus, JIAS provided critical social and economic services to the Jewish immigrants who had already arrived in Canada — and risked deportation upon arrival. Most notably, JIAS was one of three partners in the successful Tailors Project, which brought over two thousand displaced Jewish textile workers to Canada as part of a 1947 federal bulk labour program. That same year, JIAS helped bring child survivors of the Holocaust to Montreal through the War Orphans Programs.
Over time, JIAS assumed the role of taking care of the new arrivals, particularly their housing and integration into communities nation-wide. As part of Ometz since 2008, the dedicated team — of what is now called “Immigration Services” — has helped hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants navigate the immigration process and establish new lives in Canada. More recently, and in partnership with Federation CJA, we have launched our “Initiative France,” which focuses on outreach to and engagement with members of the French Jewish community who choose to immigrate to Montreal. Each new wave of immigrants has been an opportunity for our agency to embrace the newcomers into our communities and learn about their specific needs, culture and traditions.
Like JIAS and JFS, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) arose from a response to the needs of a growing and diverse Jewish population of Montreal and its surrounding areas. The demand for a specialized employment agency became increasingly apparent during the Depression era, a time rife with unemployment, breadlines, labour conflict, and heightened anti-Semitism. But the outbreak of the Second World War delayed its implementation and JVS only officially opened its doors in 1945.
At this time, JVS was primarily aimed at returning Canadian war veterans and displaced persons arriving from Europe, who were seeking employment. Providing a wide range of services to both job seekers and employers, JVS became a leader in career training, job placement and professional development services. The organization was also ahead of the curve when it came to recognizing the evolving socio-economic needs of the community they served. For instance, in the 1970s, a mature worker program was created with federal funding to support unemployed persons over the age of 45. A mature women’s career counseling program was also developed to support the increasing number of women (many of whom were single mothers) entering or re-entering the workforce. Staff at JVS learned to adapt to the specific cultural, linguistic and practical needs of different Jewish populations — something they continue to do to this day. Following a structural change in 2003, Jewish Vocational Services became Jewish Employment Montreal (JEM). In 2008, Jewish Employment Montreal merged with JFS and JIAS to become Ometz. The JEM Workshop retained its name.
Today, Ometz provides a single point of entry to efficient, effective and connected community services, but our mission remains the same: To be a source of strength and help our clients find the courage to reach their full potential. Whether supporting a student who is struggling at school, a family in crisis, an individual coping with mental illness, a person looking for a new career or starting a new life in Montreal, our clients are better equipped to cope with life’s challenges because we work together as a community.