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A new Maclean’s poll released today has some interesting results. While I remember when the Canadian Census released its 2006 results hailing Toronto as one of the most diverse cities in the continent, it looks like this is a fact on the ground that most Canadians aren’t too happy about!

The poll, by Angus Reid Strategies, surveyed 1,002 randomly selected Canadians on religion at a moment when issues of identity are a hot topic in Ottawa. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has led a push by the Conservative government to revamp citizenship law, emphasizing the need for real bonds to Canada, and Kenney is looking for ways to encourage immigrants to integrate faster and more fully into Canadian society. But as federal policy strives to encourage newcomers to put down roots and fit in, the poll highlights an equal need for the Canadian majority to take a hard look at its distorted preconceptions about religious minorities. “It astonishes and saddens me as a Canadian,” said Angus Reid chief research officer Andrew Grenville, who has been probing Canadians’ views on religion for 16 years. “I don’t think the findings reflect well on Canada at all.”

Those findings leave little doubt that Canadians with a Christian background travel through life benefiting from a broad tendency of their fellow citizens to view their religion more favourably than any other. Across Canada, 72 per cent said they have a “generally favourable opinion” of Christianity. At the other end of the spectrum, Islam scored the lowest favourability rating, just 28 per cent. Sikhism didn’t fare much better at 30 per cent, and Hinduism was rated favourably by 41 per cent. Both Buddhism, at 57 per cent, and Judaism, 53 per cent, were rated favourably by more than half the population—but even Jews and Buddhists might reasonably ask if that’s a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty result.

The full report is available here.

While I’d like to view the results of 53 percent favour towards Jews in a glass half-full kind of way, I fear that as Islam’s image continues to deteriorate – and believe me it will continue to – the more Canadians will be suspicious of all other religions and as Jews, we will definitely not be immune to this.

What can we do about this? How do we change the 53% into 93%!

I wish a had a definite answer, but I don’t. Fearing the other has always been a fact of life, and for all our talk of multiculturalism, it’s just a superficiality for the vast majority of people. The only thing I can really suggest is that as Jews we realize no matter how unJewish we may try to act to integrate or assimilate, it will never be enough and we will always be regarded as the other and the poll results will not change for the better. But we have to embrace this fact; we are the other. But what an other we are! We must realize that Jewish values are something beautiful to live by, and that when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, society will see the benefit of having Jews around and while still considering us different, they won’t nevessarily fear us. Since the Jews have left the ghettos of the Middle Ages and starting living next door to their non-Jewish compatriots, we’ve seen the result of what happens when we try to be unJewish. I say we do a new experiment and see what happens when Jews start acting Jewish again.

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