Page 26 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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MERVIN BUTOVSKY
Canadian Jewish Writers
M
o r e
t h a n
a
century a fter its found ing , C an ad a ’s national iden ­
tity remains uncertain and subject to public debate. Fundam en ta l
questions o f polity — federal-provincial divisions o f power, self-
determ ination fo r Quebecois, langu age rights for m inorities —
still lack a broad consensus and continue to provide issues fo r
d a ily n ew sp a p e r h e a d l in e s an d p o l it ic a l d em o n s t r a t io n s .
O riginating in the early days o f C anad ian history, the term s o f the
unresolved conflict derive from the oppo sing visions o f her two
major linguistic group s , the English and the French-speak ing
sectors, commonly (and provocatively, fo r the exc luded ethnic
minorities) de sign ated the “ two found in g peop le s .” Officially,
C anada is described as a “multicultural” nation, its acculturation
process symbolized by the mosaic, an emblem composed o f sep a ­
rate entities sign ify ing the mutuality o f distinctive background s ,
the compatibility o f the older folkways with the nation com ing
into being.
Naturally, reality has d iffered considerably from the avowed
ideal. Canad ians o f ethnic origin, who now comprise a p p ro x ­
imately 30% o f the popu lation , have assim ilated into one or other
o f the two dom inan t language group s . Virtually all Jew s o f East
European descent, a long with the vast majority o f ethnic C an a ­
dians, adop ted English as their linguafran ca , mak ing it inevitable
that the literary record o f their lives in C an ada be rend ered
almost exclusively within the linguistic and aesthetic conventions
o f English lite ra tu re .*
C an ada ’s Jew ish community, which at presen t numbers over
305 ,000 , took sh ape in the 1880’s with the influx o f large numbers
* This essay deals only with writing in English. The tradition o f Hebrew Litera­
ture was never vital in Canada, and French writing is still in its infancy, reflecting
the fact that the French-speaking community of Sephardic Jews was established
only in the 1950’s. The scope and energy o f Yiddish literature made it one o f the
major cultural attainments of the immigrant generation, but its very significance
requires separate treatment.