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Archives Roadshow - Part Two


Thank you to all those who tuned in on November 27th for the very well-attended Archives Roadshow (Part Two)! If you were unable to make it, the recording of the event is now available. In this program, you will learn about four Jewish archives in Canada, and about one fascinating item in our own synagogue archives which sheds light on an important part of our synagogue’s history and our contributions to Canadian Jewish history!

Jewish Book Month

The origins of Jewish Book Month in North America can be traced back nearly 100 years to librarian Fanny Goldstein in Boston who first curated a display of Jewish books to encourage the purchasing of books are Chanukah gifts. The Shaar too, for many years, has taken part in Jewish Book Month festivities, events for which were largely organized by the synagogue’s Sisterhood.

This picture shows Libby Bernfeld with a Jewish Book Month display at the Shaar in November 1955. The sign behind her reads “Jewish books help create the home which is Jewish and Beautiful”.

Services of Remembrance for our Veterans, in 1924 and 1945

Services honouring our congregation’s veterans have long been a part of the Shaar Hashomayim’s traditions. With Remembrance Day nearly upon us, this week we’re featuring two fascinating documents which show how the Shaar marked two services of remembrance, in 1924 and 1945


Armistice Day Prayer, 1924


This prayer pamphlet for Armistice Day was printed in 1924 by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire (who then was Rabbi Joseph Hertz). It was to be recited on the Shabbat immediately prior to November. 


Click here to see the full pamphlet.


Special Service to Commemorate the Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, 1945


The Battle of Britain, which lasted from July 10th to October 31st, 1940, was one in which Canadians played a large part. This commemorative service was held at the Shaar on its fifth anniversary, on the Shabbat of September 15, 1945. 

Shaar Centennial in Westmount Exhibit


Shaar Centennial in Westmount Exhibit at Westmount Public Library: Until October 19th, visit the Westmount Public Library to see an exclusive exhibit in celebration of the Shaar’s centennial in Westmount featuring selections from the synagogue’s museum and archival collections.


Memorial Display – From H.M.Victoria to H.M. Elizabeth: 

How the Shaar has memorialized and celebrated the British Monarch



In early February of 1901, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim held a memorial service for Queen Victoria. This Saturday evening, as we mark one hundred years in our own building, we will be holding our fifth memorial service for a reigning sovereign: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who sat on the throne for most of that century. In a newly mounted display outside of the Chapel, we exhibit how our congregation has celebrated and memorialized momentous occasions for Canada’s monarchs, from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II.

Shaar Hashomayim was founded in 1846—just nine years into Queen Victoria’s reign. Since her passing in 1901, our Congregation has held memorial services upon the death of every Canadian Sovereign. Over the past year, we have shared how the Shaar has marked the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (in honour of her Platinum Jubilee), the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (185 years since her ascension to the throne in 1837), and the death of King George VI (70 years this year). Yet we have far more materials documenting the Shaar’s respect for the Canadian Monarchy within the synagogue’s archives. In the display you will find materials relating to the reigns of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II. (Of course, the only one missing is King Edward VIII, whose reign lasted under a year).


As you peruse the display you may notice that some of the pamphlets were printed and distributed by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire (later United Kingdom and the Commonwealth), to whose leadership our own Congregation often looked, as we aligned ourselves with the British tradition. Another interesting paper to note is a letter from the office of the Governor General of Canada, thanking the Congregation for their official sympathies upon the death of King Edward VII in 1910. 


We hope you enjoy the display and welcome your questions and comments!

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50 Years Since Munich: The 1976 Memorial Service at the Shaar



This past week, on September 5-6, we marked 50 years since the awful tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of 11 Israeli athletes. On July 12, 1976, less than a week before the Summer Olympics in Montreal, a memorial service was held at the Shaar. The memorial was a community-wide event, organized by Jewish leaders across the city.


The Montreal Gazette reported over 1,800 people in attendance, including massacre survivor Esther Roth, the widows and relatives of three of the murdered athletes, as well as 60 members of the 1976 Israeli Olympic team. 


Also in attendance was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who read out Psalm 103 as part of the service, as well as Quebec Premier Robert Bourrassa, Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, and International Olympic Committee chair Lord Killanin, among many others. This was the seating plan for the service:




Security for the memorial service was heavy. The building was sniffed by three RCMP dogs for explosives before the Israeli athletes arrived. Moreover "a Canadian Armed Forces helicopter hovered overhead and combat-ready stood guard around the synagogue" among other measures. 



An important detail to note is the memorial was not held during the Montreal Olympics itself, being the first Summer Olympics after Munich. In fact, according to the Shaar’s September 1976 bulletin, the reason this memorial was organized in the first place was following “the refusal of the Olympics authority to include a two minute ‘silence of memorial’ at the opening ceremonies of the Montreal Olympics.” As we know, it would be many, many decades until the International Olympic Committee would memorialize the massacre during active Olympic events. 



Read the Montreal Gazette article here



  1. The Gate of Heaven: The Story of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, 1846–1896 by Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat 
  2. July 13, 1976 (page 1 of 44). (1976, Jul 13). The Gazette (1867-2010).
  3. July 13, 1976 (page 3 of 44). (1976, Jul 13). The Gazette (1867-2010).


Got any questions? Contact me at or  

The Archivist Abroad: A Visit to Willesden Jewish Cemetery in London 



Willesden Jewish Cemetery 

Willesden Jewish Cemetery is a Victorian-era cemetery founded in 1873 which has long been considered a prestigious place of burial. Many prominent Jews are buried there, including numerous Chief Rabbis of the British Empire, various members of the Rothschild family, many scholars and scientists, writers, poets, artists, and more.  


Among the many people buried here are three past presidents of the Shaar Hashomayim, all members of the Moss family, who were among the earliest members of the congregation. As I am currently on a trip to London, I took a visit to the cemetery to visit their places of burial. 



Archivist Hannah Srour-Zackon lays a stone on the grave of John E. Moss, Shaar president from 1885 to 1890 


The Moss Family 

When Congregation Shaar Hashomayim was founded in 1846 as a breakaway congregation from Shearith Israel (the Spanish and Portuguese), it consisted of only a handful of families. It took the congregation some time to find its footing. It was only when the prominent Moss family, who had established a successful business, joined the congregation that things began to move in more productive directions. The first generation of the family, brothers David, Edward, and Lawrence Moss, all born in England, were all integral members of the community. Both David and Edward were early presidents of the synagogue. It was David Moss who laid the cornerstone of the first building on St. Constant Street. Through Lawrence Moss died while still in Montreal, his two brothers both eventually returned to London where they remained for the rest of their lives. 


Edward’s son John E. Moss and David’s son Hyam D. Moss (some records refer to him as Hyman) remained and became leaders of the congregation in their own right. John served as president of the congregation from 1885 to 1890 and Hyam as the congregation’s president in 1871 and 1881–4, as well as parnass. Yet eventually this second generation left for England too. 


Why did the Moss family leave? 


Rabbi Shuchat offers a plausible explanation for this in his book The Gate of Heaven: The Story of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, 1846–1896:  

“This was a pattern followed by many families at the time… Why did they do so? For one thing, many of them regarded England as home and Canada as a temporary sojourn. If they were in a family business, they felt that they had spent enough time in the branch and wanted to return to the home office. Some families thought that their children would have better opportunities for marriage in England. There was also the question of being with family again and possibly being buried close to relatives. Presumably these considerations applied to the Moss family.” (p. 41–2) 


Edward Moss 


Edward Moss was born in London in 1816. He serviced as Shaar President in 1864, and died in 1876, just 11 years after leaving Canada. The front of his tombstone reads: