This CBC news article advertising the decline of the Jewish community of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, besides reflecting the ongoing themes of Atlantic Canadian emigration-cum-urbanization and the assimilation of small communities in diasporas, underlines for me the differences between Cape Breton and Pricne Edward Island. The Jewish community of Prince Edward Island, several dozen people strong, is notable (as I blogged once) more for its absence than anything else; with a long history of mass emigration and an unpromising subsistence economy, the Island never attracted many immigrants after Confederation. Cape Breton, now, did have a dynamic industrial economy that attracted people of many diverse backgrounds, emphasis on did.
The 109-year-old synagogue in Glace Bay, N.S., is shutting down, leaving Temple Sons of Israel in Sydney as the sole remaining synagogue on the island.
But it may suffer the same fate in a decade.
"I think the synagogue on Whitney Avenue should have at least another 10 years," said Martin Chernin, president of the Sydney synagogue.
Chernin's family roots in Cape Breton go back to the early 1900s when the area's coal mines and steel plant attracted immigrants from eastern Europe.
By the late 1940s, Chernin said, there were more than 400 Jewish families in industrial Cape Breton, with synagogues in Sydney, Whitney Pier, New Waterford and Glace Bay. Many families had thriving businesses.
"The next generation came along, the parents pushed them to go to university and become professionals. And they did a lot of them. And their children after that did the same thing and, of course, they never came back to Cape Breton," said Chernin.
The Congregation Sons of Israel Synagogue in Glace Bay has about a dozen members. Last year, for the first time ever, there were no high holiday services. Planning is underway to determine what to do with the building.
Chernin said the Sydney congregation has just 57 members, with only a few children, and it relies on a visiting rabbi from Halifax.