Sociological Study

What follows is an executive summary of Southern African Jews in Toronto: Tradition and Adaptation, a study by Randal F. Schnoor and Charles Shahar. The study was commissioned by the Southern African Legacy Project of the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, a department of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

Read the full study here.

This study sought to describe the immigrant experience of Southern African Jews, including their  adaptation to life in Canada, both in terms of their economic and social integration. Other topics looked at their levels of Jewish identification and engagement with the local Jewish community, and the strength of their ties to Israel. Finally, the study examined whether key attitudes or behaviors of Southern African Jews have changed since their arrival to this country.

Persons who were on the Southern African Jewish Association of Canada’s (SAJAC) contact list were sent an email with a link and encouraged to fill out an online survey. Respondents were also garnered by word-of-mouth, and through private postings on social media, particularly Facebook. Individuals were urged to tell others about the study. The overall sample size for the quantitative part of the study was 468 individuals.

A qualitative part of the analysis was also implemented involving in-depth interviews with 12 specifically targeted Southern African immigrants and key informants. These results were used to give more depth and nuance to the findings of the survey. The results below summarize the quantitative component of the study.

The survey findings described below are often compared to the results of a similar study of London’s Southern African Jews conducted in 2011; as well as a 2006 survey of the overall Toronto Jewish community. This type of comparative data is very helpful to give a context to the current findings.

In terms of demographic characteristics, the current survey sample was almost evenly split among males and females, and consisted mostly of middle-aged and senior members of the community. Moreover, the great majority were married, had children, and were highly educated. Almost half of the sample lived in the Thornhill district of Toronto.

The great majority of respondents (91.8%) were born in South Africa, 3.6% were born in Sub-Saharan Africa (including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Zaire, etc.), and the rest (4.3%) in other countries or regions (Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Israel, the United States, etc.). In short, 95.4% of the sample was born in Southern Africa.

The percentage of respondents who were fully second-generation Southern Africans (both their parents were born in that region) was 55.1%. Only 4.3% were fully third-generation Southern Africans, in that all their grandparents were born in that region.

1 The Immigrant Experience

The great majority (86.1%) of respondents came directly from Southern Africa, whereas 12.2% lived in Southern Africa but then resided in another country, and 1.7% were born in Canada and did not emigrate from another country.

Among those who came directly from Southern Africa, the majority (71.4%) said they lived in Johannesburg before emigrating, 17.7% said Cape Town, and 3.2% said Durban. The rest (7.6%) specified another city or town.

The peak period of immigration to Canada of Southern African Jews participating in this study occurred between 1980 and 1989.

The most often mentioned reason for leaving Southern Africa was that there was “no future” (73.7%), followed by “Apartheid politics” (45.4%). Mentioned next most prominently were “crime” (34.2%) and “family reasons” (17.9%). Mentioned less prominently were “conscription” (12.2%) and “political corruption” (11.7%).

More than half (55.3%) of the sample said they specifically choose Canada as a country to emigrate to because it was an “English-speaking country”, 54.1% because they had “family living in Canada”, 47.4% because it is a “peaceful country”, 45.4% for “job / economic opportunities”, 39.7% for “better opportunities for children (e.g. education, not army)”, 32.5% because it “has a good reputation abroad”, and 29.8% because they “liked the lifestyle / culture”.

2 Social Integration & Affiliation

In terms of the visibility of Southern Africans, about half (49.8%) of respondents believed that on first acquaintance, most Canadian people regarded them as Southern African, 18.2% said as Canadians, 25% as both, and 2.8% as other (Israeli, British, or Australian).[1]

In comparison, 72.2% of respondents in the London study said that most British people regard them as Southern Africans, 8.9% as British, and 15% as both equally. They thus appear to be much more recognizable as Southern Africans in Great Britain than they are in Canada.

7% of respondents said that “all” or “most” of their close friends are Southern African, 20.5% said “half”, 15.8% said “less than half”, and 21.3% said “very few”, or “none”. In short, the most common response was that “all” or “most” of their friends are of Southern African origin.

In terms of the proportion of their close friends that were born in Canada, 25% said “all” or “most”, 22.6% said “half”, 15% said “less than half”, and 36.3% said “very few” or “none”. There was a wider variability of responses when it came to the number of Canadian-born friends they had, compared to Southern African born friends.

There was a clear association between the socialization patterns of Southern African Jews and their year of immigration. Only 28% of Southern Africans who immigrated before 1980 said that all or most of their friends were Southern Africans, compared to 61.2% of those who arrived in the year 2000 or later.

The reverse pattern is evident when considering the percentage of respondents who said all / most of their friends were Canadian-born. Only 10.4% of those who immigrated in 2000 or later said all / most of their friends were Canadian-born, compared to 34.4% who came before 1980.

Higher social integration (having more Canadian friends) appears to be evident among younger adults, the higher educated and more affluent respondents.

3 Satisfaction with Life in Canada

More than three quarters (78.6%) feel “very much at home” in Canada, 15.8% feel “fairly at home”, 2.8% feel “neither at home nor not at home”, 1.7% “not really quite at home” and 0.6% “not at all at home”. Jewish Southern Africans apparently have a very high comfort level residing in Canada.

If we examine only those who said they feel “very much at home”, the comfort level appears to be higher among Canadian Jews of Southern African origins than it is for the comparable British sample (78.6% and 69% respectively).

 The great majority (88.8%) of respondents said it is “very” likely that they will continue to live in Canada in the next 5 years, 4% said it is “fairly” likely that they will stay, and 2.8% said it is “fairly” or “very likely” that they will leave Canada to live elsewhere. The “push” factors for leaving this country appear to be minimal.

A larger percentage of the London sample said they will “fairly” or “very” likely leave Great Britain (7%) in the next five years, compared to the current Canadian sample (2.8%). This again attests to the high level of satisfaction respondents have with living in Canada.

Of 13 respondents who said they would “fairly” or “very” likely leave Canada, the most often mentioned reason was “better climate” (53.8%), followed by “wanting to be with family already living elsewhere” (38.5%).

4 Economic Adaptation

Approximately two thirds (65.4%) of respondents were in the labour force, and the rest (34.6%) were inactive or looking for work. Only 0.7% were actually unemployed.

There was a large percentage of entrepreneurs (51.6%) among the current sample. This was similar to the London figure for entrepreneurs among Southern African respondents (46%).

Of those who were employees earning wages, the great majority (87%) were in management / professional occupations. Within this category, accounting / finance was the most common field of work.

About three-quarters (73.5%) of the sample were able to cover all their household expenses without difficulty, 19.8% were just about able to cover all their expenses, and 5.6% were not able to cover all their expenses. These findings suggest that a significant majority of the sample were not experiencing financial difficulties, at least as far as covering their household expenses was concerned.

More than three-quarters (79%) of the sample were satisfied with their general economic situation, compared to 5.4% who were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, and 14.3% who were dissatisfied. This again is a very positive indication of favorable economic adaptation.

 Satisfaction with their economic situation was strongly related to the year respondents immigrated to Canada. For instance, 55% of those who arrived before 1980 said they were “totally satisfied” with their economic situation, compared to 28.3% who came between 2000 and the present.

5 Attachment to South Africa

A quarter (25.3%) of respondents said they have “a strong attachment” to Southern Africa, 39.3% said a “moderate attachment”, 12.4% experience “ambivalence”, 18.7% have “no special attachment”, and 4.2% have “negative feelings” toward Southern Africa.

More recent immigrants display a stronger attachment to Southern Africa than those who arrived earlier. For instance, 34.2% of those who arrived in 2000 or after said they have a “strong attachment” to Southern Africa, compared to 21% who arrived before 1980. Note that a fifth of the earliest immigrants are still strongly attached.

42% of the London sample felt a strong attachment to Southern Africa, compared to only 25.3% of the current sample. This difference is striking. Moreover, 12% of the London sample had either no special attachment or negative feelings toward Southern Africa, compared to 22.9% of the current sample. It appears that London’s Southern African Jews are significantly more attached to Southern Africa than is the local community.

Of those who felt a strong or moderate attachment to Southern Africa, their main reasons included: “nostalgia / roots were there / was born there” (75%), “family” (71.4%), “environment: weather / landscape / scenery” (61.6%), “friends” (59.1%), “the people in general” (39.1%), and “lifestyle / quality of life” (33.7%). It is obvious that a sentimentality regarding Southern Africa is still deeply engrained in the psyche of some respondents.

Among the London sample of Southern African Jews, 68% said that they had visited Southern Africa more than ten times since moving to the UK, compared to 22.5% of Canadian respondents. It is clear that the UK sample had a lot more contact with their originating country than the local sample.

About a quarter (24.6%) of the local sample followed news from Southern Africa on a regular basis; 30.8% were interested in Southern African popular culture; 40.6% thought it was important to keep in touch with other ex-Southern Africans; and 68.4% frequently kept in contact with family and/or friends who remained in Southern Africa.

6 Jewish Identity

In terms of the denomination of respondents, the most often mentioned affiliation was “Traditional” (33.3%), followed by “Orthodox” (18.9%), “Conservative” (17.5%), “Reform” (10.9%), “Secular” (7.3%), “Just Jewish” (7.3%), and “Humanist / Progressive” (2.2%). 2.7% had other affiliations (Reconstructionist, Conservative Egalitarian, etc.).

A comparison with the 2006 survey of the Greater Toronto Jewish community reveals that Southern African Jews had a significantly lower percentage of unaffiliated members (Secular / Just Jewish) than the Toronto Jewish population as a whole (16.8% and 28.6% respectively).

More than a third of the current sample (39.3%) said they felt “very conscious of being Jewish and it was the most important thing in their identity”, about half (53.7%) said they felt “quite strongly Jewish, but were equally conscious of other aspects of their life”, 4.4% said they were “aware of their Jewishness, but did not practice it in any way”, and 2.7% said they were “aware of their Jewishness, but did not think about it very often”. It appears that the great majority of Southern African Jews considered their Jewishness as a primary or very strong part of their identity.

More than half (59.4%) of the sample said they “very much” felt Canadian, 1% said they “very much” felt Jewish, 51.9% said they “very much” felt like a Zionist, and 35.7% said they “very much” felt Southern African. In short, in terms of how respondents defined their identity: they felt Jewish first, Canadian second, Zionist third and Southern African fourth.

In the case of the London survey, the sample felt Jewish first, Zionist second, Southern African third, and British fourth. It appears that the current sample had stronger nationalist feelings about being a Canadian relative to their sentiments about Zionism or Southern Africa; but in the case of both samples, being Jewish was still the paramount aspect of their identity. 

5% of the sample felt “more prominently Jewish” than in Southern Africa, 13.6% said “less Jewish”, and 65.8% said “about the same”. In short, the strength of the Jewish identity of the majority of Southern Africans has not eroded since their arrival to Canada; and in fact, more respondents felt that it has increased rather than decreased.

These findings were reversed in the case of the London study, where 15% said they felt more Jewish since they immigrated to the United Kingdom, 19% less Jewish and 65% felt about the same. In other words, the London sample showed more erosion of Jewish identity than the Canadian sample did.

The intermarriage rate among the current sample of Southern African Jews was 4.9%. This figure is considerably lower than that derived from the 2006 survey of the Greater Toronto Jewish community (11.2%) or from the 2011 National Household Survey of the Greater Toronto Jewish population (18%).

7 Ritual Observance

About a third (35.6%) of the current sample attended synagogue on a regular basis (at least once a month), and 64.4% did not attend synagogue regularly. The level of synagogue attendance of Southern African Jews is higher than that of the general Toronto Jewish community. Only 23.7% of the latter population attended a synagogue regularly, whereas 76.3% did not.

1% of the current sample said they always light Sabbath candles in their home; 23.7% said they always observe Shabbat; 90% said they always observe Yom Kippur; 91.7% always observe Rosh Ha’shanah; 89.2% always observe Passover; and 93.2% always have a Mezuzah on their doorstep.

The rates of ritual observance among local Southern African Jews were generally higher than those shown by the London respondents.

Only 9.2% of the current sample admitted to eating pork products, whereas a much larger percentage (23%) of the London sample admitted to the same. Moreover, 28% of London’s Southern African Jews said they only bought meat at a kosher butcher compared to 37.2% of the current sample.

One fifth (20%) of the current sample said they were “more religiously observant than they were in Southern Africa”, 25.5% said they were “more secular than they were in Southern Africa”, and nearly half (49.4%) said they were “about the same. On average, it seems that respondents have become a little less religious after immigrating to Canada.

It is interesting that more respondents said that their Jewish identity had strengthened rather than weakened since immigrating to Canada; whereas more said they had become more secular rather than religious. It may be that, on average, Southern Africans had become more identified on a cultural level, rather than a religious one. Their overall identification with Judaism had not lessened, but perhaps their overall commitment to observing traditions had diminished.

8 Jewish Education

More than a third (37.1%) of respondents had attended a Jewish day school. This rate is higher than that of the general Toronto Jewish population (25.2%), and in fact, is higher than almost any other Jewish community across North America.

The great majority (90.9%) of respondents claimed to have received some type of Jewish schooling, whether day school or supplementary. This figure is well above that of the general Toronto Jewish community (79.2%). The level of Jewish education among current respondents is therefore exceptionally high.

There is a very high level of Jewish day school enrolment among the children of respondents (61.2%). The 2006 survey of Toronto Jews revealed that 47% of respondents reported that their children had received a Jewish day school education, a figure well below that of the current sample.

Only 3.9% of respondents said that their children did not have any of the Jewish exposure mentioned in this survey, including attending Jewish day schools, Jewish supplementary schools, Jewish or Zionist youth movements or Jewish overnight camps. This is considered a very low figure, and attests to the determination of Southern African parents to have at least some Jewish-related exposure for their children.

9 Philanthropy & Engagement

Slightly more than half (51.8%) of respondents donate regularly to UJA, 32.5% did not donate last year but have in the past, and 15.8% have never donated to UJA.

In terms of whether they have donated to other charities, 82.2% said they donate to other Jewish charities, and 74.3% to non-Jewish charities. Only 2.1% of the sample did not donate to any charity, including UJA, other Jewish charities or non-Jewish charities. In short, the level of general philanthropy among the sample of Southern African Jews was strikingly high.

About a fifth (19.1%) of the sample said they very often participate in Jewish community events, 22.8% said somewhat often, 37.3% said occasionally, 17.2% said rarely, and 3.5% said never.

By far the most common barrier to participation in Jewish community events is that people feel too busy or preoccupied. Very few respondents suggested that it was because they felt alienated from community.

10 Israel

Only 15.8% of the sample had ever lived in Israel, but the great majority (95.5%) said they have visited Israel at least one time.

More than half the sample (53.1%) had extended family living in Israel, 51.2% had close relatives living there, 46.4% had close friends living there, 37.7% had acquaintances living there, and 10.4% had business acquaintances living in Israel. In fact, calculations of all contacts taken together revealed that 91.9% had some type of connection to Israel, whether family, friends or acquaintances.

Almost two-thirds (64.8%) said they had a “strong attachment” to Israel, 29.3% a “moderate attachment”, 4.9% “no special attachment”, and 0.5% “negative feelings towards Israel”.

Among the London sample of Southern African Jews, 54.1% said they had a strong attachment to Israel, significantly below the figure found in the present study (64.8%).

About a quarter (23.1%) of respondents said they were more Zionist since leaving Southern Africa, 5.5% less Zionist, 60% about the same, and 7.4% did not consider themselves a Zionist.

The current sample seemed to have a slightly larger percentage of those who said they had an increased level of Zionism compared to the London sample (23.1% and 18% respectively)

11 Other Attitudes

The majority (59.7%) of respondents thought there was “more anti-Semitism in Canada now than there was 5 years ago”, 1.5% believed there was less anti-Semitism in Canada now than there was 5 years ago, 27.2% thought there was “about the same amount as 5 years ago”, and 11.7% were not sure. All in all, there seemed to be heightened concerns that the level of anti-Semitism has increased.

More than a third (37.1%) of the current sample believed that at present in Canada, anti-Semitism is a “major problem”, 51.2% thought it is a “minor problem”, 3.4% believed it is “not a problem at all” and 8.3% were not sure. On average, the great majority (88.3%) of respondents believed that anti-Semitism is a problem, and a significant minority thought it is an issue of major proportions.

About two-thirds (66.5%) of respondents claimed to be “very satisfied” with living in Toronto, 18.6% “somewhat satisfied”, 3% “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied”, 3% “somewhat dissatisfied”, and 8.9% “very dissatisfied”. The levels of satisfaction with life in Toronto were therefore generally quite high, but not dramatically so.

The percentage of those “very satisfied” with living in Toronto was significantly higher than Southern Africans saying they were “very satisfied” with living in London (66.5% and 48% respectively). However, the percentage of those “very dissatisfied” is also higher for the Toronto sample than for the London one (8.9% and 3%).

In summary, by any standards, whether economic, social, cultural or religious, the Southern African Jewish community is thriving in Greater Toronto. They are generally very comfortable living in this milieu, have found ways to prosper, have reinforced their strong Jewish identifications, and have generously given back to the community that has embraced them.

[1] Note that sometimes percentages do not add up to 100% because, for the sake of brevity, such response choices as “don’t know” or “not applicable” were not included in the summary.