Esther Brandeau

(18th Century)


Esther Brandeau was actually the first Jewish woman to arrive in Canada in 1783. She was born in France and was able to come to the New World only because she disguised herself as a young boy.

She named herself Jaques la Frague and became a well-liked apprentice on her ship and in the area of present day Quebec. Soon, however, Esther's mask was removed and both her gender and religion were revealed.

As the lone Jew in the country, authorities in "New France" arrested her and attempted to convert her to Christianity. Esther was adamant in her refusal to convert. She wanted to live in Canada as a free citizen, but she also wanted to remain Jewish. The new government could not approve of her religion, and after a few years of correspondence with authorities in France, she was finally sent back to her home in La Rochelle.

Esther Brandeau is an ideal representation of a woman who would do anything for her freedom except sacrifice her belief in Judaism.


Source: Taitz, Emily, Sondra Henry, Cheryl Tallan. The JPS Guide to Jewish Women. PA: Jewish Publication Society of America, 2003.