“To be a Jew is to keep faith with the past by building a Jewish future”–Rabbi Jonathan Sack
While there was a Jewish Presence in Quebec since the 1700s, the early decades of the twentieth century saw an influx of Jewish immigrants to Quebec following pogroms and discrimination in Europe. By the early 1900s the Jewish population of Montreal had grown to over 60,000. While the British North America Act of 1867 guaranteed Quebec a confessional school board system, its guarantee was limited to the primarily French speaking Catholic and English speaking Protestant communities. Catholic schools refused to admit Jewish students on the basis that their presence undermined the Christian character of Quebec. With the passage in 1903 of the Quebec Education Act, Jews who comprised the largest non-Christian community in Quebec, were designated “honorary Protestants” with privileges to attend primarily English Protestant schools but without the rights of Protestant Christians. This meant that Jews were refused the right to be school commissioners. In addition, Jewish students were required to attend Christian religious classes, and the school commission refused to hire either Jewish teachers or administrators.
With restricted access to Catholic public schools and diminished rights in the Protestant schools, Jewish schools formed to service the needs of the community. As these schools grew in number and student populations so did the debate over public funding for Jewish day schools.
By 1925 in an environment of growing anti-Semitism the “Jewish School Question” had inflamed tension between the Jewish community and the Protestant school commission and sparked an anti-Semitic response from the Catholic church. Looking to settle the issue, Quebec Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau referred the Education Act of 1903 to the Quebec Court of Appeal. While the court initially ruled that the law violated the British North America Act, the case was appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, which in 1928 stated that section 93 of the Act guaranteed educational rights to Catholics and Protestants and that Jews had no legal rights in the Quebec public school system. The provision of Section 93 remained in force until the Quebec government scrapped the confessional school system and replaced it with linguistic school boards.
By the late 1960s with the tide of social and political change in Quebec the door was opened for a broader engagement and recognition of the network of private Jewish schools. Under the leadership of Ben Beutel, President of United Talmud Torah, four Jewish Day schools came together to form the Association of Jewish Day Schools to act as the official body representing its members in all government and community related issues. The nascent AJDS had its status confirmed on September 23rd 1969 as the representative body of the member schools when it received its Letters Patent from the Government.
By the early 1970s AJDS had secured the extension of partial Government funding to its member Jewish schools indirectly through the Protestant school board. 1976 saw the arrival for the first time in office of the Parti Quebecois government of René Lévesque. Against a challenging political climate, AJDS actively engaged with the new government and negotiated with then education Ministers Jacques Yvan Morin and Dr. Camille Laurin the funding formula which extended funding to Jewish schools.
Over the years, AJDS professional and lay leaders have been instrumental in building respect and credibility with Quebec’s educational ministry. A major strength of AJDS — and its added value to both its member schools and the organized Jewish community — has been its success in developing and maintaining excellent relations with both the political and bureaucratic leadership of the Quebec government regardless of the political party in power. Nourished by new sources of immigration, including North Africa, Eastern and Western Europe and Argentina the Jewish community has evolved in recent decades both ethnically and linguistically. AJDS member schools and the association itself have advanced together with the community to maintain its role as the in terlocutor for the Ministry of Education on questions relating to Jewish schools and a valuable partner of Federation CJA in advancing community interests through improving education for our children.