Jewish-Canadian Identity and Hebrew Language Learning: Belonging (or Not Belonging) in Montreal and Toronto

Diaspora: A Comparative Analysis
  • Grace Feuerverger
Part of the Globalisation, Comparative Education and Policy Research book series (GCEP, volume 3)

Since the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the Hebrew language has been transformed within the cultural, political, and historical fabric of global Jewish consciousness into a communicative language and a salient symbol of Jewish ethnic identity (e.g., see Fellman, 1973, 1985; Fishman, 1977, 1991; Herman, 1970; Katz, 1985; Kutscher, 1982; Shaffir & Weinfeld, 1981). Identities are shaped by location as well as dislocation. Throughout history, the Jewish case is a very clear one of rootedness in the land of Israel, in the religious teachings of Judaism, and in the use of the Hebrew language. Indeed, to invest in Jewish ethnicity is to invest in a specific cluster of identifications: to region, Israel as the national homeland; to kinship, a location within a social, moral, and ancestral community; to Judaism, as a secular culture and/or as a religion; and to language, Hebrew as the sacred and ancestral/resurrected tongue (Feuerverger, 1989, 2001, 2006).

Being Jewish, however, also represents a painful journey from the center into the margins, that is, it is an experience of mass expulsions and death, a nomadic wandering throughout the centuries in order to find a sense of home, and of legitimacy in the world. This “strangerhood” or “otherness” in the Diaspora1 is a disturbing way to live and yet most of humanity, whether Jewish or not, has felt this “foreignness,” either as immigrants or sojourners in a new land, or as displaced persons of war. The theme of diaspora is universal. The wound is deep and the rift unhealable but we must accept the reality that this dislocation and migration of cultural groups are the signatures of our postmodern era. Therefore, now more than ever before, it is crucial to learn how to accommodate the “stranger” and his or her language and culture in our societies (see Shabatay, 1991). In order to “make friends” with “the other” in our contemporary cities, “we must confront ‘the other’ in the deepest part of our souls, in the psychological no-man' land where the ‘foreigner’ lurks—he is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which understanding and affinity founder” (Kristeva, 1991, p. 1). Knowing the existence of the “foreigner” is a central aspect of second-language learning, which I believe can be defined as a sensitivity and a conscious understanding of the myriad languages and cultures in our world and of their role for humanity. As we enter the twenty-first century, we must be secure enough within ourselves to acknowledge the “foreigner” who speaks a different language and has a different culture and different values and traditions and who competes for the same physical space.


Ethnic Identity Jewish Identity Jewish People Jewish Educator Jewish Student 
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  • Grace Feuerverger

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