The Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec: Six decades of history
The history of the Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec (CSUQ) is a delicate topic. Simply forgetting one name, organization, or date can alone cause a stir, and rightly so. Therefore, we will try to remain as faithful as possible to the history of an institution that, over the course of 60 years and many changes, has become a fundamental component and vital partner in the larger Montreal Jewish community: Federation CJA.
By recounting this history, we are paying homage to hundreds of men and women whose commitment, devotion and sacrifices have given us a strong heritage that deserves to be cherished, as well as preserved and further developed by our youth – the only guarantee of our future in the Montreal community.
In the early 1950s, the first Moroccan-born Jews who immigrated to Montreal discovered that they had not only landed in a mostly French-speaking region of North America, but that there was a well-organized English-speaking community here, with established agencies offering social services to newcomers – namely the Jewish Immigrant Aid Services of Canada (JIAS). In addition to their urgent need for work and lodging, these Moroccan Jews, who were yet to identify as Sephardic Jews, also wanted a place of worship of their own, where they could pray according to their own rituals and customs.
In the wake of the Six-Day War, a large wave of Moroccan immigrants helped speed up the process of getting things accomplished for the community’s spiritual needs, and lead to the acquisition of a building on Victoria Avenue, the current office of the Chief Rabbi of Quebec, thanks to the efforts of leaders from the Magen David Synagogue. Meanwhile, administrative structures were being established to create a representative body for the community. Thus, a proud French-speaking Sephardic identity, distinct from the well-organized English-speaking Ashkenazi majority, came to be.
The initial core of today’s community was the 1966 Association sépharade francophone (ASF), which was formed not long after the Association juive nord-africaine, the Groupement juif nord-africain and the Fédération sépharade des juifs de langue française, among others.
Our leaders’ demands still did not resonate with the Ashkenazi establishment. The Ashkenazi had a hard time understanding why North African Jews so adamantly asserted their differences. They were Jewish. Wasn’t that enough to integrate, or, as some would say, assimilate, into the majority? Against all odds, our leaders’ aspirations would eventually reach some considerate figures from the Allied Jewish Community Services (AJCS). A French-speaking branch of this organization, designed to serve our French-speaking population, was then created. This initiated a process that would unfold over several decades and result in the relocation of our former Côte Ste. Catherine office to the Federation CJA building at Cummings Square.
Today’s CSUQ grew out of the fusion between the former CSQ and the Centre communautaire juif francophone. The CSUQ’s mission is to preserve, develop and promote Sephardi culture and identity. It also fosters solidarity to help the community’s most vulnerable members, to ensure the community’s longevity, and to contribute to the development of Sephardic constituents and institutions. This is one reason why Montreal, Laval, and South Shore Sephardic institutions are affiliated with the CSUQ, as well as the two Sephardic schools, École Maïmonide and Académie Yeshiva Yavné, and organizations such as the Iranian Jewish Association and the Association des Juifs originaires d’Egypte, as well as the Canadian Sephardi Federation, and the Institut de la culture Sépharade.
The CSUQ publishes a magazine, La Voix Sépharade, and holds a popular Sephardi festival, “Festival Sefarad de Montréal,” showcasing international artists to the Montreal public every year. Two of the community’s essential pillars, and its reason for existing, are the centrality of the State of Israel and unconditional solidarity with Israel.
Today, the often bilingual, sometimes even trilingual, Sephardic Jews of Montreal actively contribute to the development of Canada, Quebec and particularly Montreal. For decades, they have been a part of our city’s landscape as doctors, dentists, pharmacists, lawyers, teachers, researchers, businesspeople, contractors, artists and designers – a clear-cut example of their smooth integration into this country that has so generously welcomed them.
We will conclude with the words of the former Quebec President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the late Dr. Victor C. Goldbloom Z’’L, and the message he gave for our institution’s 50th anniversary:
“The arrival of the Sephardic Jews, mainly from Morocco, has, slowly but surely, added a new dimension and competence to the community. The Sephardic people have broadened our horizons, introduced us to their fine traditions, and greatly improved our relationships with the majority society around us.”
For its Centennial, we wish Federation CJA, with whom we are proud partners, as well as its president, director general, and the rest of its leadership, the best of success, in hopes that this noble institution will become stronger, and aim higher and further to ensure the growth and influence of our community.