The Canadian Jewish community has deep historical roots stretching back some 250 years to the founding of the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue in the Port of Montreal in 1768. Yet, it wasn’t until the early 20th century, with the arrival of thousands upon thousands of Eastern European Jews fleeing persecution and seeking refuge on the shores of Canada that the need for a Jewish advocacy organization arose. In order to coordinate its humanitarian efforts on behalf of new Jewish immigrants and effectively represent the interests of Canadian Jewry, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) was founded in 1919 in Montreal.
For close to a century, CJC embodied the Jewish ethic of tikun olam, or “repairing the world.” Among its many achievements, the CJC founded the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society (JIAS), sent relief shipments to Displaced Person camps after the Holocaust, advocated on behalf of persecuted Hungarian, Soviet, Syrian and Cuban Jews, fought against racism, antisemitism and any form of discrimination, and lobbied the Canadian government for less restrictive immigration policies during and after WWII. CJC also championed justice and equality for disadvantaged people in Canada and around the world. Its Charities Committee (CJCCC) was the conduit for funds directed at victims, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of natural disasters in many areas worldwide. Over the years, CJC continued to adapt its priorities to the changing needs of Canadian Jews.
In the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, the evolving situation in the Middle East made it necessary for Canadian Jewry to make its concerns about Israel’s security and standing in the world known through a dedicated advocacy organization. Thus, in conjunction with the Canadian Zionist Federation and B’nai Brith Canada, CJC founded the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) to serve as the formal liaison between the Canadian Jewish community and the Government of Canada. CIC’s non-partisan approach was essential in ensuring the interests of Canadian Jews and promoting the strong and multifaceted relationship between Canada and Israel that continues to grow to this day.
In 2004, in the context of the Second Intifada, in order to better coordinate the advocacy work of CJC and CIC, the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), now known as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, was founded. In 2011, as it became clear that the demarcations between local, national and global issues blurred, it was resolved that the most functional solution was to create a unified, national organization that would deal with the whole range of issues affecting Jewish communities across Canada. The original CIJA structure was thus reorganized to fold CJC and CIC under a single organization in order to provide more efficient and effective advocacy adapted to these new realities.
Currently chaired by David J. Cape, former Chair of Federation CJA, and led by CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA is the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada. It perpetuates the storied advocacy work of both CJC and CIC, seeking to improve the quality of Jewish life in Canada by advancing the public policy interests of Canada’s organized Jewish community.
CIJA builds relationships with leaders in government, media, academia, civil society and other faith and ethnic communities to ensure greater understanding of the issues that impact the Jewish community. It combats antisemitism and discrimination in all its forms, and advocates for fundamental rights and freedoms, social justice, and support for the people of Israel.
In Quebec, CIJA maintains a vibrant CIJA-Quebec team that serves as the advocacy agent of Montreal’s Federation CJA and, on behalf of the organized community’s interests, interacts with government, media, civil society, academia, ethnic communities and other minorities.
In May 2016, CIJA held its first Words & Deeds Leadership Award Dinner in Montreal, honouring Michael Sabia, Chair and CEO of la Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. At this gala dinner, leaders from Quebec’s corporate, government, academic, volunteer, and cultural sectors saluted the many accomplishments of our honouree and learned about CIJA’s local and national advocacy to support issues important to the cohesion and sustained strength of Quebec’s society.