Playing a major role in refugee integration and support work beginning in the 1920s, the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society (JIAS) was a cornerstone of Jewish community services in Montreal for almost ninety years. JIAS was an autonomous organization first envisioned by the Canadian Jewish Congress in 1919. Framed as a Canadian counterpart to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in the United States, JIAS was founded in 1920 and incorporated in 1922, quickly becoming the most trusted and expert organization on issues of Jewish settlement in Canada.
In its early years, JIAS focused on assisting Russian Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms, and also lobbied government on immigration policy. These lobbying efforts, though fruitless, would become the raison d’être of JIAS during the 1940s, when Canada had essentially banned Jewish immigration. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, tens of thousands of new immigrants settled in Canada, prompting Joseph Kage, who had been appointed as JIAS Director of Social Services in 1947 to lead its restructuring. With its new focus, JIAS provided crucial social and economic services to the thousands of Jewish immigrants who had already arrived in Canada. Most notably, JIAS was one of three partners in the successful Tailors Project, which brought over two thousand displaced Jewish textile workers to Canada as part of a 1947 federal bulk labour program. JIAS assumed the role of taking care of the new arrivals, particularly their housing and integration into communities nation-wide.
JIAS also undertook many projects to improve living conditions for Jews who could not emigrate. In the late 1950s JIAS supported a soup kitchen for Jews in Ukraine, and distributed clothing donations abroad. Until that point, JIAS was run by and for Eastern European immigrants. In the 1960s and 1970s, waves of Francophone Sephardic Jewish immigrants to Montreal presented a new challenge to JIAS. Cultural insensitivities and a lack of French-language Jewish services led to criticism of Jewish communal organizations including JIAS, which operated solely in English until 1975. Today’s incarnation of JIAS prides itself on providing services that are “sensitive to the cultural and language needs of [Montreal’s Jewish] community.”
Again, in the 1990s, JIAS shifted its focus to another specific community: Jews leaving the former Soviet Union. Among many initiatives, one particular project saw JIAS collaborating with the government of Quebec to bring one hundred Soviet Jewish families to Montreal. In the first part of the twenty-first century, JIAS’ work expanded to Jewish immigrants from all over the world, including Argentina. In 2008, JIAS merged with Jewish Employment Montreal and Jewish Family Services of the Baron de Hirsch Institute to create an integrated agency called Ometz, which today has offices in Côte-des-Neiges and the West Island.
Visit Ometz150.ca to learn more!
Compiled by Sarah Woolf
Bialystok, Franklin. Delayed impact: The Holocaust and the Canadian Jewish Community. Montreal; Ithaca: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2000.
"Jewish Immigrant Aid Services of Canada (JIAS)". Jewish Virtual Library. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. 2008.
Lévy, Joseph J., and Léon Ouaknine, eds. Les institutions communautaires : des Juifs marocains à Montréal. Montreal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1989.
"History." Ometz. Montreal, 2010.
Shuchat, Wilfred. The Gate of Heaven: The Story of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim of Montreal, 1846-1996. Montreal; Ithaca: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2000.
Tulchinsky, Gerald J. J. Canada's Jews: A People's Journey. Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
Weinfeld, Morton. Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. Ed. Magocsi, Paul R. Toronto; Buffalo: Published for the Multicultural History Society of Ontario by University of Toronto Press, 1999.
*Image courtesy of Jewish Public Library Archives and Canadian Jewish Congress National Archives Charities Committee.