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A Small Seder Plate with a Fascinating History 





This small ceramic seder plate (c. 1895), with a pale pink rim and blue centre, has a fascinating history. It was originally donated to the Shaar’s museum by Jeanie Rosemarin (the sister-in-law of long-time Shaar music director Prof. Jacob Rosemarin) in 1987, and it was brought over from Eastern Europe by her parents. Aside from its beauty, a mark on the back of the plate gives a major clue to its history… 



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On the back is written “Kamennobrod – A.F. Sussman”. With a bit of research, this indicates it was made at the faience (fine tin-glazed pottery) factory in Kamenny Brod (modern-day Ukraine). 


Kamenny Brod only began to develop in the second half of the 19th century—during which time the factory was established. Towards the last quarter of the 1800s, ownership of the factory was taken over by the Sussman family, who developed it into the largest faience factory in the region. This attracted a number of Jews to move to the town. Indeed, the factory quickly became the economic heart of the town, employing much of the local population. 




Under Aizik (A. F.) Sussman's leadership, the factory gained a reputation for its beautiful craftmanship. Sussman brought the factories’ best pieces to international exhibitions such as in Poltava (1895), Odessa (1897), and Kyiv, where they won numerous awards.  


This seder plate may just be a mere snippet of a long history, but it offers a window to the past, and its presence in the Shaar’s museum collection offers a chance to connect with this history. 


The seder plate is currently on display outside of the Shaar’s main office. If you're interested in reading more about Kamenny Brod and its faience factory, an excellent and detailed history is available at the below links: 




The Ya’akov Boussidan Haggadah



The Haggadah has a history of not only being one of the most produced Jewish books (with some estimates citing more than 5,000 published versions), but one of the most beautifully decorated as well. The tradition of artfully produced Haggadot dates back to the medieval era (13th century) when such Haggadot as the Golden Haggadah and the fascinating Birds’ Head Haggadah. This tradition has continued into even recent years with the emergence of artist’s books Haggadot. The Shaar Hashomayim Museum and Archives is proud to have one such Haggadah in our collection: the Ya’akov Boussidan Haggadah.


Ya’akov Boussidan is an Israeli artist who, born in Port Said, Egypt, came to Israel with his family in 1949 as a child. His works have been acquired by such places The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 


Among the many works Boussidan has produced, in the 1970s he undertook a project to create his own Haggadah. These Haggadot took several years to make in Boussidan’s London-based studio and include 30 colour etchings. An interesting aspect of Boussidan’s Haggadah is the incorporation of the story of creation from Bereishit



The Haggadah was finally finished in 1975 and it is a breathtaking work of art. There are merely 60 copies in the whole world. As noted in the etchings in the book, the copy in the Shaar’s museum collection is number 10, and was gifted in 1981 by Dr. and Mrs. William Cohen.



If you are interested in seeing the Haggadah in person, please reach out to to make an appointment. 


Further Reading:

  1. Introduction to Ya’akov Boussidan’s Haggadah by Benjamin Tammuz
  2. Ya’akov Boussidan’s Biography

The Purimspiel of 1954: Original Costume Sketches


The Shaar’s tradition of elaborately produced Purimspiels put on by the youth of the synagogue carried on for decades. This week we’re featuring some of the original costume sketches from the Purimspiel of 1954, “Hopalong Haman Rides Again”

This Purimspiel—which was a parody of the 1937 Western Hopalong Rides Again was performed Thursday March 18th on Erev Purim. 



Among the cast members included Rebecca Mendelson as Esther, Rita Blitt as Vashti, Lorne Mendel as Mordecai, Jeffrey Weissler as Haman, and Jacob Elkin as Ahasuerus. 

The costume sketches which you’ll see below are the original renderings. Each kid was dressed in appropriate ‘cowboy’-themed costumes to go with the theme of the Purimspiel











King Ahasuerus: 

The Purimspiel of 1939: “Purim in Persia”


Last year, The Shaar Hashomayim Museum & Archives rediscovered a treasure trove of photographs from past Purim celebrations at the Shaar. Among these photographs were several large and fascinating cast pictures from the elaborate Purimspiels the youth of the synagogue would put on every year.


This week we’re featuring the Purimspiel of 1939: Purim in Persia.


As reported in the Canadian Jewish Chronicle on March 3rd of that year, the Purimspiel, directed by Mr. Samuel Lerner, was to be performed on Sunday March 5th and was the highlight of the synagogue’s annual Purim banquet. The musical was based on a script written by Moshe Davis—an American rabbi who taught for many years at both the Jewish Theological Seminary and at the Hebrew University.




Here is how the paper reported the production prior to its performance:

“‘Purim in Persia,’ a musical comedy in two acts and five scenes, adapted by Mr. S. Lerner, from the script of Moshe Davis, will be the main feature of the Eleventh Annual Purim Banquet at the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue next Sunday evening, March 5th, at 6 pm.

The cast of the play includes Horace Baittle, Mindel Bronfman, Neil Phillips, Lazarus Cohen, Edward Levinson, Leslie Brodkin, Bernard Berlin, Ian Lemco, Samuel Getz, Peter Rosenbaum, Edgar Wener, Sheila Abbey, Reva Leibovich, Gordon Edelstone, Marilyn Block, Sybil Freedman, Peter Bronfman, Edgar Bronfman, David Lemco, Donald Kirk, Billy Levy, Allan Kirsch, Perry Meyer, Anita Elkin, Katherine Silver, Florence Gersovitz, Wylma Jacobs, Naomi Pressman, Selman Schachter, Joyce Lozinski, Arthur Victor and Alan Finestone.


The play is under the direction of Mr. S. Lerner, with the music provided by Mrs. N. Fineberg. Fred Solomon is stage manager.”


In the following week’s issue of the Canadian Jewish Chronicle, it was reported that the production was so popular that it would be perform an encore performance the following Sunday (March 12th)





Presenting the 1948 Cornerstone Trowel



Towards the end of 2022 the Shaar Hashomayim Museum and Archives received a most fascinating gift: Charles Kaplan (pictured above), reached out to offer the commemorative silver trowel to his grandfather—Past Shaar President Moses Jacob (M. J.) Heillig z”l—on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Educational Annex on October 31, 1948. We were, of course, delighted to reencounter this important artifact of the Shaar’s history. 


The Trowel in Focus


The silver trowel is similar in design to those already in the museum’s possession from other cornerstone-laying occasions in the synagogue’s history. It is engraved with the following message:


Presented to M. J. Heillig, Esq. President of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim on the occasion of the laying of the Corner Stone for the Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Building. Oct. 31st 1948. 23rd Day Tishrei 5709. 


At the base of the handle where it meets the silver plate is a small figure of an open Torah scroll. 



Who was M. J. Heillig?


Moses Heillig served as the president of the synagogue from 1947-1956, but these years merely represent a fraction of the many years in service to the Shaar. In fact, Heillig’s years in uninterrupted service to the Synagogue total well over a half century, making him the longest serving member in the history of the synagogue. Beginning when he was merely in his early twenties, he became the secretary of the synagogue and would go on to serve as vice-president, president, honorary president, and as chairman of Cemetery Committee from 1945 for many decades. 


What happened during the cornerstone laying ceremony?


On November 5, 1948, the Canadian Jewish Review reported the following: 


The newly-constructed educational annex, to be known as the Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Building was dedicated and formally opened, the Rabbi and Cantor Nathan Mendelson officiating, with the choir under the direction of Jacob Rosemarin, with Mrs. M. N. Fineberg at the organ. The Ark was opened by Ronald Cape, president of the Junior Congregation, Horace R. Cohen, O.B.E, honorary president of the congregation, presided. Greetings were extended on behalf of Mayor R. P. Adams of Westmount by Alderman G. L. Fowler. The Montreal Protestant School Board was represented by its chairman, W. E. Dunton, and the Westmount Board of School Commissioners by C. H. Savage. The cornerstone was placed by M. J. Heillig, the president, and the formal presentation of the building was made by Max Finestone, chairman of the Building Committee, to Philip Lev, chairman of the Education Committee. The educational director, Samuel L. Leibowitz affixed to the doorpost the traditional mezuzah. Junior congregation simchas Torah Hakofos were conducted at evening and morning services by the officers and cantors, Ronald Cape presided; Arthur [obscured] acted as parnass; David cape as [obscured]; and Morton Schwartz read from the Torah. The Ark was opened by Lewis Batshaw and Leonard Cohen. Participants were: Howard Bacal, Harold Shapiro, Perry Meyer, Bernard Cooper, Joseph Mendel, Mark Shapiro, Mark Bercuvitz, Basil Ballon, Daniel Usher, Arthur Freedman, Jerry Freedman, Jerry Kurland, Harvey smith, Robert Feldstein, Murray Notkin, Haskell Zabitsky, Avrum Bloomstone, Allan Bernfeld, Charles Solomon, Marvin Goldsmith, Bernard Shapiro, Martin Goodman, Harold Scherzer, Ronald Gallay.”


We express our sincerest gratitude to Mr. Kaplan for his wonderful gift which will be preserved among the history of our synagogue in perpetuity.

The Shaar Men’s Choir 




Congregation Shaar Hashomayim is one of the few remaining synagogues in the world to maintain, on a weekly basis, the traditions of the great Choral Synagogues of Europe. The services are focused on the chanting of the Cantor, who is accompanied by an all-male choir dating back to 1887. Both the Cantor and choir sing at all Shabbat and festival services. The music is a seamless blend of traditional prayer modes (nuscha’ot), compositions for choir and cantor (traditional and contemporary), music for choir alone, and congregational melodies. 


The Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir is a highly regarded all-Jewish, all-male ensemble. The Choir sings on Shabbat, festival, and High Holy Day Services throughout the year. The method of arrangement and broad harmonic palette, combined with the style of singing, produces a very distinctive sound that has been widely praised. Much attention is paid to blend and balance, creating an especially elegant choral sound. While the choir sometimes sings compositions on its own, much of the time it provides a sophisticated a cappella harmonic accompaniment to the Cantor’s vocal line. 


As we mark our annual Shabbat Shirah service, the Shaar Hashomayim’s Musem and Archives has launched a new display celebrating the synagogue’s choir over the years.  



The Shabbat Shirah service became a fixture during the 1950s. In Gate of Heaven: The Story of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim of Montreal, Rabbi Shuchat writes the following:  

The appointment of Isidore Ballon as chairman reinvigorated the Choir Committee...An important development was the transformation of Shabbat Shirah (the Sabbath of Song), which commemorates the Song of Moses, into a Sabbath liturgical concert. The thought behind it was explained by Cantor Nathan Mendelson in a column he published in the Bulletin of 8 February 1952: “It is not our intention to completely change the elements of our music for this Sabbath. Regular worshippers will find the service basically the same, with the addition of several especially prepared selections, some of which will be heard for the first time. Yet it is apparent to the regular shul-goer that the Annual Shabbos Shiroh innovations have also influenced our weekly service, for the additional repertoire thus made available is employed from time to time to add a refreshing note to our Sabbath prayers.” (184-5) 

Over the course of the Shaar’s history, the synagogue’s choir and music have been led by several talented music directors, each of whom have left their musical mark on the synagogue until this day. These include the synagogue’s two longest serving music directors: Professor Jacob Rosemarin (music director from 1942-1972) and Stephen Glass (1990-2014), whose many beautiful signature musical and choral arrangements have brought our synagogue’s services to new heights and can be heard throughout the Jewish liturgical world.  


Click here for some of our Shaar favourites as performed by our Shaar Hashomayim Choir. 


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: