Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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THE H I S TORY OF THE MONT R E A L
J EW I S H P U B L I C L I B R A R Y
A ND A R C H I V E S
By
E
v e ly n
M
iller
T
he history of the Montreal Jewish Public Library, which
officially opened its doors on March 3, 1912, falls into two
parts1. The first has to do with the several attempts to found
the Library, the successful achievement of this goal as the visible
embodiment of a long-cherished tradition which the Library’s
founders had brought with them from Eastern Europe, and its
subsequent history. The second concerns the gradual, almost
accidental accumulation of archives which necessitated the
Library board’s decision to inaugurate an archives program. This
program, professionally planned and administered, will permit
the inclusion of the Library's archives within an overall structure
of a future Jewish community archives program.
During the nineteenth century, the emancipation of the Jews
in Central Europe sparked an intellectual ferment which moved
slowly eastward, and the
folk bibliothek
and the
folk universitaet
were two of its manifestations. The libraries, which were similar
to the Mechanics’ Institutes of England and America, served
the community in many ways, providing not only library services
but adult education programs as well. The years 1871 to 1910
were a peak period of Jewish immigration to Canada and the
United States, a direct result of the persecutions and pogroms
in Russia, Poland and the Balkan countries2. These East European
Jews, warmly emotional and Yiddish speaking, belonged to the
Ashkenazic or Eastern branch of Jewry; theirs was a folk culture
based on a closely-knit community. The earliest Jewish settlers,
who had arrived in Quebec during the 1760’s, followed the
Sephardic tradition. Originally emanating from Spain and Por­
tugal, it differed markedly from the Ashkenazic custom. The
Sephardic Jews spoke the language of the country in which
they lived and participated actively in the general life of their
communities. Thus, when the East European Jews immigrated to
xOur
Library.
Jewish Public Library (Montreal, 1957) is the source of
much of the historical data in this article.
•Kage, J.,
Studies on Jewish Immigration to Canada
,
1870-1900
(Mon­
treal, 1958), p. 9.
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