Established in 1920 by the newly formed Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society (JIAS) of Canada was charged with organizing emergency relief for European Jews in distress following the pogroms and the First World War. In 1954, it changed its name to Jewish Immigrant Aid Services.
Soon after its establishment, JIAS became the central agency of the Jewish community to facilitate the lawful entry of Jewish immigrants into Canada and provide them with welfare services, transportation, and assistance with accommodation and employment after their arrival. In addition, JIAS offered consultation services for sponsors of potential immigrants, ran a competitive foreign remittance service, and campaigned to counter the activities that victimized immigrants and sponsors alike.
In conjunction with similar efforts by the CJC, JIAS was actively engaged in negotiating for the increased admission of Jewish immigrants to Canada in the 1920s and 1930s by competing for limited quota permits and combating the anti-immigration policies of the Great Depression era. Despite the efforts made, Canada tightened its immigration restrictions, resulting in a massive decline in eligible cases. The door was closed to Jews seeking refuge from persecution at the hands of the Nazis.
In the post-war era, JIAS renewed its efforts to meet needs of influxes of Jewish immigrants and refugees. It also assisted community members in locating their family members in Europe after the Holocaust. JIAS representatives organized teas, holiday parties, home visits, and other services to help the survivors adjust to Canadian life and feel at home. In the following decades, major world events also sparked other waves of Jewish immigration from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, North Africa, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Syria, Argentina, and other parts of the world, to which JIAS responded in turn.
In 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Following Canada’s establishment of the Canadian-Ukrainian Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET visa), JIAS has been working with long-standing partner agencies and hundreds of community volunteers to support Ukrainians settling in Canada.
Today, JIAS’s mission is to welcome, support, and integrate new immigrants and refugees to build a vibrant Jewish community and a strong, inclusive Canada that values all newcomers. As the only Jewish Sponsorship Agreement Holder in Canada, JIAS helps mobilize the Jewish community to act in the face of the world refugee crisis, while continuing to also welcome and connect Jewish newcomers to our community. JIAS exemplifies the principle written in the Book of Leviticus, “Love the stranger among you, because you were once strangers in Egypt.”
The JIAS collection represents an important resource for the study of Canadian Jewry. It documents the means by which the Canadian Jewish community has dealt with the problems of rescue, settlement, and government relations. It also invites comparison with similar agencies in the United States and those of other ethnic groups in Canada.