Windsor, Ontario, Canada's Riverfront Trail.
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The first study of Jewish life in Windsor has just been completed — results will be shared later this spring.

By Ron Stang, Special to the Jewish News

For the first time, Windsor’s Jewish community, which numbers about 1,500, is the subject of a study to determine the community’s “religiosity.”

Dr. John Cappucci, a scholar at Windsor’s Assumption University — a Catholic institution that was the forerunner to the University of Windsor and is now federated with it — is undertaking the research for a population that has in many ways existed under the radar.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how religious people are in secular environments like Canada,” he said. “I was teaching a few courses on Jewish studies and said, ‘You know, we really haven’t heard much about the Jewish community in Windsor and how they actually practice their faith.’”

Cappucci joined the university in 2017 as The Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair in Religion and Conflict. His research topics include religion and politics, world religions, diasporas and multicultural theory.

While acknowledging the possible irony of a researcher at a Catholic institution studying the Jewish community, he said his university mandate is very much to look at the width and breadth of various religions.

Windsor’s Jews date back at least two centuries. Among more prominent members have been the former deputy prime minister of Canada, Herb Gray (a border highway that will connect to the new Windsor-Detroit bridge is named after him), and Sen. David Croll, Canada’s first Jewish cabinet minister and senator and who undertook a groundbreaking study of poverty in Canada, resulting in the country’s first child tax credit for families.

Jewish star of David with hands
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The only previous known literature on Windsor Jews is a book, The Jews of Windsor, 1790-1990: A Historical Chronicle, by Jonathan Plaut, the Reform rabbi at the city’s Temple Beth El in the 1970s and 1980s. It told the story of Jews’ contribution to the development of southern Ontario.

For the study, Cappucci is looking at eight “indicators” of the community’s religiosity. These include belief in God and God as author of the Torah, engagement in prayer life, maintenance of Shabbat, holy days, Kosher laws, death and the afterlife, and contributions to local institutions — “what kind of things people do to help their temple and synagogue.”

Cappucci acknowledged undertaking the study was a “bit difficult” because he had to bridge several denominations. But it didn’t take long for community members to sign on — and enthusiastically. He put out notices through the Jewish Community Centre, Temple Beth El and Shaar Hashomayim Congregation.

“I got a deluge of responses from people who wanted to be interviewed,” he said.

He did 17 interviews the first week alone and just finished up the last of 50 in early March.

The name of the study? “Progressives and Purists, a Study of Religiosity in a Canadian Jewish Community.” The name references the study’s wide sweep. “I got people who were on the Orthodox spectrum all the way to people who would consider themselves just secular or humanistic Jews,” Cappucci said.

The professor plans to present the results this spring in a public forum and publish them in academic journals.

Jay Katz, executive director of the Windsor Jewish Community Centre, looks forward to the published study, especially, he said, by someone who is a well-regarded religion expert and “quite knowledgeable and respectful of all religions.

“It’s always interesting to see how religion weaves itself into our modern world,” he said.

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