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Investigating the 1922 Cornerstone


Following the unexpected dislodging of a time capsule from the 1967 cornerstone during construction on the Côte-Saint-Antoine plaza, we decided to act proactively and have the 1922 cornerstone of the building scanned.



With the help of Radex who scanned the stone, we made the following exciting discovery: there is a metal tube centered in the 1922 cornerstone, indicating there is a more than 90% chance of something having been placed there. Given that it is a metal tube, the likelihood is quite high that this is yet another time capsule!


To gain a better read on the stone, the technician asked to scan the cornerstone from the building’s interior. Given the synagogue’s many renovations and expansions over the years, we pulled out the synagogue’s many architectural drawings and plans to investigate further.




If there is indeed a time capsule, we will be taking additional steps to carefully remove and open the 1922 cornerstone so that the time capsule itself can be opened in time for our upcoming re-dedication of the sanctuary on September 17th of this year. Stay tuned as we continue our research…

The 1967 Time Capsule


A few weeks ago, we wrote about a time capsule which was dislodged from the 1967 cornerstone of the building. This week, some 55 years later, we’re sharing in greater detail just what that time capsule contains. 


Canada, Montreal, and the Shaar in 1967

1967 was a monumental year for Canada, Montreal, Jewish Canadians, Israel, and the Shaar. Canada was marking its centennial; Montreal was at the centre of the worlds’ stage as the host of Expo 67 (at which the Shaar’ Rabbi Shuchat created the Pavilion of Judaism); and Israel had just won the 6-day war.


Meanwhile, Montreal’s Jewish community and, as a result, the Shaar’s membership, was greatly expanding. It became evident that the Shaar would need to expand to accommodate the increase in congregants. The congregation launched a campaign entitled “Progress Through Expansion” to raise funds for the expansion and, on October 1, 1967, the cornerstone was laid.





So what’s in the time capsule?

  The time capsule contains a diverse array of documents. The first are materials that provide context about Canada in 1967 and Jews in 1967. This includes a few pamphlets and papers relating to Canada’s centennial and Expo 67, and a time magazine issue about the 6-day war.



Declaration by the Canadian Interfaith Conference.



Souvenir booklet from Expo 67’s Pavilion of Judaism



The rest of the documents in the time capsule all relate to the Shaar. This includes the printed New Years Announcements from 1967, the program for the laying of the cornerstone, a photograph of the Shaar building prior to the expansion, and the text of the sermon delivered by Rabbi Shuchat on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone, tantalizingly entitled “The To-Morrow of the Shaar,” in which he reflects on the history of the Shaar and the future of the Shaar moving forward as they expand. 




Most fascinating above all, however, are three letters from the Synagogue’s then-President Dr. Harry Ballon, the synagogue’s Parnass Jules Roos, and from Rabbi Shuchat. In Rabbi Shuchat’s letter he begins “To the Rabbi and President of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim many years hence-shalom!” He then details what to find in the time capsule and ends with the following reflection: “We are far from living in a world of peace. The Jewish People after the terrible destruction of the Nazi Period 1933-1945 are making spiritual and national progress everywhere except in Soviet Russia.”


Link to full documents in the time capsule

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee


As we have written about several times over the past year, the Shaar Hashomayim holds deep ties to the English tradition, especially exemplified in its celebration and commemoration of reigning English monarchs. This past week on June 20th marked 185 years since Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837. The Shaar marked the occasion by holding a special evening service of thanksgiving and praise in Her Majesty’s honour. Interestingly, this service was held during Lazarus Cohen’s first of many years as President of the synagogue.



The Rabbi serving the congregation at the time was Reverend Isidore Myers (1856-1922). It was Rabbi Myers who provided the English translations of the psalms sung for the occasion. He moreover composed lyrics to an original “Jubilee Anthem” in both English and Hebrew. This Jubilee Anthem was presumably sung to the tune of “God Save the Queen.” The opening lyrics are as follows: 

God bless our Sovereign still,

Guard her from every ill,

Lord, we implore!


Rabbi Myers, however, was only with the congregation for one year (1896-1897) and would leave just months later to California. You can read more about Rabbi Myers here (note: the Shaar has a copy of the book mentioned in the linked blog post)


The Chazzan at the time, as noted on the pamphlet was Rev. Victor Rosenstein, who would stay with the Shaar until 1899. Rosenstein eventually moved to Los Angeles where he was the first chazzan hired by a Los Angeles Synagogue. You can read more about Chazzan Rosenstein here, on the website for the Jewish Museum of the American West (it appears he may have been a controversial character). 


Another interesting detail appears at the bottom of pamphlet, noting the name of the printer. 



A. L. Kaplansky, better known as Abraham Leon Kaplansky (1860-1939), established Canada’s first Hebrew and Yiddish printing press shortly after he immigrated to Montreal in 1893 (just four years before this special service). Kaplansky would go on to become one of the most prominent Jews in Canada. 


Read the pamphlet from the Special Service in Honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation


This year countries across the commonwealth are celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years since her ascension to the throne in 1952.


As a synagogue with deep ties to the English tradition, the Shaar has always taken pride as a congregation in the British Empire. During the war years, many of Rabbi Abramowitz’s sermons express gratitude to the British monarchy for the stability they have provided for Jewish communities across the Empire.


Previously we shared how the congregation marked the death of Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI. This week will mark 69 years since Her Majesty’s coronation which was held the following year on June 2nd, 1953. In honour of the occasion, the Shaar held a special service on the shabbat before the coronation on May 30th, 1953: “Prayer and Thanksgiving for the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth”.




The service pamphlet was arranged, printed, and distributed by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. The special service consisted of psalms and prayers recited in honour of Her Majesty and concluded with a jubilant recitation of God Save the Queen (printed in both English and Hebrew).



Yom Haatzmaut: The Shaar and the JNF


The Shaar has been active in the Zionist movement from the days of Theodor Herzl. Lazarus Cohen, a former president of synagogue, purchased land in Palestine as early as the 1890s, and Rabbi Abramovitch was a fixture at many of the first Zionist congresses. It is not surprising, then, that Shaar was involved with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) from its early days too. In our museum collection we have a few JNF certificates from those early years.



These certificates, which are bound in a large book together, show contributions made to the JNF Land Fund in the name of “Master Ben Zion Stein” on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah on November 23, 1912 (Montreal, Quebec), totaling $425 (nearly $10,000 today) by the Agudath Zion Society of Montreal.



The next page shows all the names of the contributors, most of whom were leaders at the Shaar, as well as being major philanthropists in Montreal’s Jewish community.



The final page notes that, in addition to the contributions made in Ben-Zion Steine’s name to the land fund, his name was also inscribed in the JNF’s golden book—a great honour which the JNF still offers today.



This certificate, from 1958, was in contribution to the Dr. Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Forest. 244 trees were planted by the pupils of the Shaar Hashomayim School on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the State of Israel.

Early Commemoration of the Holocaust at the Shaar



Earlier this week we marked Yom Hashoah in commemoration of the Holocaust. It is a common misconception that the world did not know of its horrors until after the fact, but Jewish communities worldwide were constantly sounding the alarm. Among the Shaar Hashomayim’s archives includes a number of sermons given by Rabbi Herman Abramowitz. Recently rediscovered among his papers is a chilling sermon delivered on Yom Kippur in 1941 entitled “The Jewish Tragedy,” in which he addresses the tragedies already wrought upon Europe’s Jews and those which were still ongoing. When speaking about Jews living in Nazi-occupied territories, he writes: “To-day they are no longer heard from; and are as if completely blotted out.” The sermon is powerful and moving, as Rabbi Abramowitz urges the Jewish community to “strengthen the spirit of Jewish loyalty everywhere, as an answer to the challenge of our enemies.”



In the immediate aftermath of the war, “Holocaust” was one of many terms circulating in reference to the destruction of European Jewry. In those early post-war years, survivors were often referred to as the ‘surviving remnant.’ When the war was finally over, the Shaar held a special service of thanksgiving upon the end of the hostilities, part of the program included a “prayer for the remnant of Israel who survived the Nazi atrocities.” 


Read “The Jewish Tragedy” by Rabbi Abramowitz here


Program for the Service of Thanksgiving Upon the Occasion of Cessation of Hostilities in Europe 

A Model Seder from 1950



We recently found a wonderful photograph taken of a class seder at the Shaar’s Religious School in the spring of 1950 which has us reminiscing of model seders and Passovers past at the Shaar. 


Here are some wonderful memories some of you have shared already:


“How I remember those years—[I] just loved the model Seders and practicing for them! We all knew the Seders by heart by the time they came around.” - Beverley Levitt Hamburg


“Each year as we choose our haggadot, we invariably come across the older copies with our model Seder “parts” complete with classmates’ names penciled in the margin and read with great confidence the role assigned to us all those years ago at the Shaar Afternoon school” - Anonymous


Thus far, we have identified the following people in the picture: Beverley Levitt Hamburg, Michael Cape (seated, wearing glasses), David Shapiro (the young man who is making kiddush), and Mr. Leibowitz (standing at the back).


Now, we want your help with identifying the rest! If you know anyone in the picture, or want to share your Shaar model seder and pesach memories, follow the form below: 

Purim Wrap-up


Though Purim has passed, we’re still going through our recently rediscovered treasure trove of Purim pictures! To wrap-up our Purim content for this year, featured this week is the cast photograph from the 1938 Purimspiel entitled “The Rise and Fall of the Hamantash.”


Click on photo to enlarge

Photograph donated by Marjorie Kirsch


The following was written about the Purimspiel in the March 25, 1938, edition of the Shaar’s bulletin:


Over 400 pupils and parents came together last Sunday morning for the Purim Celebration of our Religious School. The celebration took place in the Synagogue Auditorium.

The gathering was made welcome by Dr. H. Abramowitz, who spoke a few words of Purim greeting. It was announced that the total of Shalach Monos Baskets sent out by the School had been increased to thirty-three. The Women’s Auxiliary Society, and a small local social group were thanked for adding their contributions to the baskets.


“The Fall and Rise of the Hamantash”, a Purim Operetta in two acts, under the direction of Mr. S. Lerner, featured the celebration. The characters of the Book of Esther were portrayed by Horace Baittle, Meta Levin, Leslie Brodkin, Harold Finestone and Anita Elkin. The Hamantash was Peter Bronfman.


Others who participated were Sybil Freedman, Zipporah Batshaw, David Marshall, Judith Marshall, Billy Levy, Katherine Silver, Charles Bronfman, Edward Bronfman, Trevor Fineberg, Burril Fine, Donald Kirk, Allan Kirsch, Edgar Leibovich, David Robinson, Natalie Raginsky, Carmel Schwartz, Herbert Siblin, Lillian Brown, Florence Gersovitz, Beatrice Kirsch, Marguerite Kirsch, Naomi Pressman, Merle Rosenthal, Phyllis Sabbath, Vivian Zacks, Ronald Burg, Sidney Aronson, Barbara Flanders, Jerrold Fineberg, Eugene Gordon, Paul Gordon, Reva Leibovich, Edward Levinson, Shirley Levitt, Seymour Pressman, Renee Raginsky, Judith Rothbart, Eli Solomon, Fred Solomon, Alvin Shiller, Martin Taub, Arthur Victor. 


The music was provided by Mrs. M. N. Fineberg. Victor Goldbloom was Stage Manager.

Special thanks are due to Mrs. Philip Levy, who assisted with the make-up and costuming; to the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society, who kindly lent a hand in making the costumes; and also to Mr. T. Price and his assistant, Mr. Bert Lovering, for cheerful co-operation.


The celebration concluded with the Purim Treat distributed to the pupils of the School by our Women’s Auxiliary Society. 

Shaar Youth Theatre


In 1973, the first group of Shaar Players performed To Live Another Summer, To Pass Another Winter which premiered on Broadway in 1971. It was a musical revue about all things Israel, ranging from the Bible to the establishment of the country. All of the early productions focused on Jewish themes and later included popular Broadway shows. Many of the young thespians went on to professional careers in the performing arts where they credit the Shaar Youth Theatre for sparking their love for all things performance and all will agree that fond memories and lasting friendships continue to this day. Not to be forgotten is the dedication of the parents who spent hours sewing costumes, carpooling, coordinating and fundraising to ensure a successful show each year. 


“We had an amazing time on the set of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Great memory of going to Sheri’s Salon to have our long hair dyed bright red” 

– David Sochaczevski with cast mates David Lipper, David Packer and Michael Shore.


“...... Most significantly, was the feeling of support and camaraderie from the entire cast. We all worked together. I had a pretty good sense of the role but, in some of the big musical numbers, I had no idea where to go or what to do and my cast mates just dragged me around the stage.  Every once in a while, we improvised.  Between scenes, I checked my lines and my notes. It was a feeling of community and collaboration unlike anything I had previously experienced.” 

–Steven Chaikelson on filling in for sick cast mate on the very day of the performance. 


“I spent so may happy hours over 10 years enjoying the rehearsals while sewing the costumes for the teens, catching them for fittings as they waited for their scene”

– Ruth Berger Head seamstress 


“....... I have so many amazing memories, mostly thanks to the incredible friendships I forged. Back then, there was nothing better than spending Tuesday and Thursday nights and all day on Sunday rehearsing, sometimes even extending the fun with a trip out afterward for a pot of tea at Café Santropol. ….... Beth, a professional costume designer, lent her skills to the Shaar Players every year and it was fabulous to watch her work, creating masterpieces out of scraps......”

– Janice Chaikelson, inspired by costume designer Beth Shore.


“To think that we had plays that included a kitten (The House Behind) and yes in Milk and Honey, a sheep and a goat! That is a whole other story!”

- Allen Greenberg 


Scroll through the images by clicking on the right side of the photo


The gallery includes photos from Ish Chassid Haya (1974), The House Behind (1975), The Grand Tour (1984), Once Upon a Mattress (1985), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1987), 42nd Street (1988), West Side Story (1989).


The Museum and Archives of the Shaar is hoping to complete this collection by asking all those who were involved in the productions from 1973-1995 to get in touch with us at Our aim is to collect and digitize films and photographs, conduct interviews, and compile all written memories. As we continue gathering information and items from our Shaar Players we hope to create an online exhibit for all to access. 


Please be in touch! 


Purim @ the Shaar 


Purim Part 2: Pictures from Purim-Past!


Purimshpiels are plays or skits that are performed on Purim, and that typically playing satirize the Purim story. The history of purimshpiels goes back several centuries and is connected to the history of Yiddish theatre. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, purimshpiels evolved, including into professional performances that would sometimes parody popular shows of the day. At the Shaar Hashomayim, purimshpiels and plays have been a mainstay of Purim celebrations over the course of its 175-year history! Ahead of Purim, enjoy some of the wonderful photographs from the archives which showcase some of those elaborate productions and pageants. If you recognize yourself or anyone in the photographs, please reach out to us at!


How many Honorary Past Presidents can you find?


Scroll through the images by clicking on the right side of the photo

or click here to view the full gallery


Purim part 1: Megillot and Groggers 


Hava narishah - rash, rash, rash! Purim is less than two weeks away! This week we’re featuring some of the beautiful megillot and groggers from the Shaar’s museum collection.



This remarkable megillah (c. 1830), written on parchment made of sheepskin, originates from Oran, Algeria, which had a large Jewish community. This was gifted to the Shaar by Gordon L. Echenberg.



There are a few megillot in the collection which are encased in some beautiful silver cases. Pictured above is one of these megillot, made in Eastern Europe in the mid 19th-Century. Gifted to the Shaar by Mr. Harold Lande, 1991.



This megillah, with a silver filigree case, encrusted with turquoise and garnets, was made in the early 19th Century in the Middle East. Particularly impressive is the scroll itself, handwritten on parchment, and illustrated with blue peacocks, musical instruments, and mythical figures. The scroll was made around 1920 in Palestine. Gifted to the Shaar by Mrs. Max Y. Klein, Mrs. Gerald Weiner, and Mrs. Kenneth Shere in memory of their mother Edith Rosen, October 8, 1977.





While many groggers we use these days are typically made of either metal or plastic, this was not always the case! In our collection, we have two wood groggers, and another made of silver. The grogger featured at the top of this photograph was made in Poland in the early 20th century. The other wood grogger (oak) at the bottom, was made in 1850. This one was gifted to the Shaar by the Guttman family in honour of Joseph Guttman’s birthday, 1985. It was initially purchased in Ripon, England at an antique fair. The silver grogger in the middle, made in the United States between 1920 and 1930, was a gift of Michael Lax in memory of his father, Dr. Sam Lax (April 14, 1980). This grogger is also quite ornately decorated.



The grogger depicts two instances in megillat esther where Haman is humiliated or bested by the Jews whom he sought to eradicate. One side depicts the scene in which Haman is made to lead Mordechai on the king’s horse, declaring to all that this is what is done to one whom the king wants to honour. The other side depicts Haman hanging on the gallows.

Stained Glass Windows


While the Shaar has many beautiful pieces of art dispalyed around the building, in many ways the building itself is a work of art. As you enter the Shaar Hashomayim at the main entrance to the building on Côte-Saint-Antoine, you will notice some beautiful stained glass windows. These were installed around 1968 around the same time as the building was expanded. 


“The Burning Bush”



These stained-glass windows were designed by Lillian Hoffman and executed by technician Pierre Oesterrath who used chipped, slabbed glass, with epoxy cement joints. This technique was developed during the construction of the J. F. Kennedy International Airport Chapel, with Jordi Bonnet. 


As the name of the piece suggests, these windows depict scene of the burning bush. The first three panels on the left depict the flames on the bush.



The three panels to the right show the embers of the flames floating off.


“Jacob’s Ladder”



This stained-glass window (made of plate glass), which is opposite the entrance to the sanctuary, was made by Theo Lubbers and represents the ladder in Jacob’s dream after which he woke up and exclaimed:


וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה־נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם־בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם

Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of G-d, and


that is the gateway to heaven.” (Bereishit 28:17)

The verse from which the Shaar derives its name. 

“The Ten Commandments”




The other of the long windows across from the entrance to the sanctuary (also made of plate glass and designed by Theo Lubbers) represents the giving of the 10 commandments to the people of Israel. 

Get to know our archivist!


For the past few months, it has been our pleasure to share some fascinating items and papers in the Shaar’s archival and museum collection. This week we’re pulling back the curtain for a “behind-the-scenes” of the archive work and to answer your burning archive questions.


Get to know our archivist!




I’m Hannah Srour—the face behind many of the articles you have read. I am a born-and-raised Ottawa Jew, and I have my BA from McGill in Jewish Studies and English Literature, and a Master of Information with a focus in archives from the University of the Toronto. I am deeply passionate about Canadian Jewish history and Jewish community archives, and especially with connecting people with the wonderful histories of Canadian Jewry. When I’m not at the Shaar, I volunteer with the Association for Jewish Libraries in various capacities, including on their annual Jewish fiction award committee! Aside from sharing with you the fascinating history of the Shaar each week, I do a number of other things in the archives as well…


What is an archivist and what do they do?

An archivist works to collect, preserve, organize, and help provide access to primary material of enduring value (the specifics of ‘enduring value’ are up for debate and vary in different contexts). Items of any form can be of enduring value, including clothing! For the Shaar, material of ‘enduring value,’ means the synagogue’s historical papers and artifacts. A typical day for me is balanced between (1) organizing and taking inventory of our papers, (2) digitizing, and (3) promoting the collection. 


What kind of items and papers do we have in the collection?

The collection includes correspondence, photographs, audio recordings, films, administrative documents, museum artifacts, bulletins, social programs, etc. A large portion of our archival collection consists of Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat’s papers which cover his many years and activities with the Shaar, beginning in the 1940s. We also have some papers of Rabbi Abramowitz, including some of his handwritten sermons. On the museum side, we have a beautiful collection of Judaica with items from all over the world, some of which are directly part of the Shaar’s history.


What items are you looking to collect right now?

We’re always interested in hearing about any materials related to the history of the Shaar! At this time, we are especially interested in the following things: 

  • Any photographs of Purim at the Shaar
  • Photographs, programs, or film recordings of the Shaar Players youth productions


How do I get in touch to find out if my papers could form part of the collection, or if I have any questions about the archives and museum? 


Please email us at, and myself or Claire Berger will be happy to answer your questions!

“The King is Dead, Long Live the Queen!”: 70 Years since the Death of King George VI



Earlier this week, on February 6th, marked 70 years since the death of King George VI—the father of Queen Elizabeth II. The King had been in poor health for some time and was especially ill from the Autumn of 1951. In fact, during that period, congregations across the British Empire, including the Shaar, took part in praying for the recovery of the king (a pamphlet was distributed by the office of the Chief Rabbi in London.)



The Shaar’s bulletin from the week of February 15th shows just how the congregation responded to the death of the monarch, printing a dedication to the King on the front page. That week, Rabbi Shuchat’s sermon was entitled “The King is Dead, long Live the Queen!” marking the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne (the same day her father died, on February 6th, 1952), whose platinum jubilee we celebrate this year. 



In his weekly column, Rabbi Shuchat wrote some reflections on the death and the legacy of King George VI, as well as on the positive experiences of Jewish communities in the British Commonwealth wherein they were living secure and free lives. 



On February 15th, the Shaar organized and hosted a citywide memorial service to the King—the same day as his funeral—for Montreal’s Jewish community. In attendance were the board of Jewish ministers of Montreal as well as representatives from both local and national Jewish organizations, including the Brigadier Kirsch Branch of the Canadian Legion (for Jewish veterans). The service concluded with what would be among the first times of many that the congregation now instead sang “God Save the Queen.” 



Shaar Bulletin, Week of February 15th (Death of King George VI)


Memorial Service for King George VI (program)

Parashat Terumah and the Shaar’s Building


What is the connection between Parashat Terumah and the Shaar’s Building? In this week’s parshah (Terumah) G-d provides the instructions for the construction of the Mishkan, the temporary and portable sanctuary that the Jews carried with them while wandering in the desert. Eventually the Jewish people would work to building a permanent sanctuary that became the Beit Hamikdash. Though perhaps less epic by comparison, the Shaar too has through the years carried out construction projects in the goal of establishing our own sanctuary. This week we will be featuring some photographs, documents, and drawings from some of those plans from across the years, beginning in 1885. 


Program cover from the Shaar’s 110th anniversary in 1957, which includes drawings of old building on McGill College, the Sanctuary built in 1922 where we still are today, and the Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Building opened in 1948.



McGill College, 1885

This is the program cover from the laying of the corner stone for the McGill College synagogue building in 1885. Pictured also is the trowel that was presented to John E. Moss, then President of the congregation, who subsequently lay the cornerstone himself. At this time the Shaar was still being officially referred to as the “English, German & Polish Synagogue.” It was not until the dedication of the building a year later in 1886 that Rev. Elias Friedlander, then the rabbi of the congregation, declared the synagogue would hence be known as Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.






Cote St. Antoine and Kensington Avenue, 1922





This program and invitation are from the dedication of the new synagogue building on Cote St. Antoine on September 17, 1922. On that day there was a procession from the old building on McGill College to carry the Torah scrolls to the new building. This was followed by beautiful dedication service which concluded with the singing of Hatikvah and God Save the King. If you had a good look at the year, you’ll have noticed that this year will mark 100 years in Westmount! 



 “Progress Through Expansion” Shaar Building Extension/Expansion


In this building the congregation has expanded and grown over the years. The Rabbi Herman Abramowitz building was erected in 1948 as an educational annex. In the 1960s the building was expanded once again to meet the demands of a growing congregation, during which whole new wings and rooms were added, including the new entrance lobby, the social halls, meeting rooms, kiddush rooms, and more. These images are renderings of what the proposed additions would like as part of the 1965 campaign to raise funds for the expansion project.




Link to “Order of Proceedings of the Laying of the Cornerstone of the English, German and Polish Synagogue”


Link to “Progress Through Expansion”

Havdalah Spice Boxes 


Though Shabbat in Montreal will continue to end early for the next while, nightfall is gradually getting later week by week, and so is the recitation of Havdalah. Among Shaar Hashomayim’s impressive museum items are a collection of silver besamim boxes (Havdalah spice boxes). These were mostly designed in the 19th century (like the two presented below), when besamim boxes in the form of towers were especially popular. 



The spice box to the right, standing at approximately 13 cm in height, is in form of leaves on a vine, and originates from Russia. It was gifted to the Shaar by Ethel Gallaman, this was a family heirloom of her mother, Mrs. Joseph Gallaman. 


The spice tower to the left originates from Italy. The centre of the tower, which holds the spices, is in the shape of a casket adorned with a pomegranate on the lid. The casket’s intricate filigree design is a mark of fine Italian craftmanship.



An up close view of the intricate filigree design.



The spice tower to the left, though of unknown origin, was likely created circa 1800. Four flags surround the box, with an additional one on the top. When using this spice tower, however, one would best be very careful—those flags are quite sharp! This was gifted to the Shaar in 1979 by Mrs. Esther Goldenberg Heller, in memory of her husband, Dr. Benjamin P. Heller.


The besamim box to the right, also of unknown origin, interestingly places the box at the base rather than in the middle of the tower structure (you may be able to spot a tiny handle to open the slot). Six flags ornament the top of the tower (one flag is missing). This tower is also adorned with a number of small bells around the sides and one larger bell in the centre, all shaped like pomegranates, reminiscent of the rimonim that adorn Torah scrolls. One can imagine the sounds that this would make when being passed around during Havdalah! Inscribed around centre of the tower is the following: “Gift to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim by Mr. and Mrs. A. Fleming on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of their son, Stephan Cecil, May 17, 1952 (5712)”.

Books in the Shaar Museum


The Shaar’s museum holds many fascinating Judaica items in its collection, including a number of books. This week we are featuring three beautiful books, all printed or composed around the late 18th and early 19th centuries, that are a part of our museum collections.

Siddur Safah Berurah




This gorgeous siddur, donated to the Shaar in 1988, was printed in Rödelheim in 1825 by the prolific German publisher, printer, and exegete Wolf Heidenheim (whose signature is printed on the title page). Heidenheim was born in 1757, and in 1799 established his printing house in Rödelheim, where it continued to operate for many years, including beyond his death in 1832. Besides this siddur, Wolf Heidenheim published numerous other editions of Jewish and Hebrew texts, including some with his own commentaries.



This edition seems to have been bound and engraved to be presented to a specific person: the front of the siddur features a silver medallion symbol of a family lion and the hands of the Kohanim, and the back has a silver medallion with the initials of the bride to whom this siddur was presented. The contents of the siddur itself are printed in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German and, as seen on the page adjacent to the title page, include some beautiful and detailed decorative engravings.



Handwritten Yemenite book of Haftorah / Haftorot



In this photograph are pictured two beautiful Hebrew books originating in Yemen. The larger of the two is a handwritten Yemenite book (Hebrew and Targum) of the Prophetic readings (Haftorah) composed in the early 19th century. Little else is unfortunately known about this beautiful manuscript book.




Siddur Kol-Bo

The smaller book is the Kol-Bo siddur (all inclusive, i.e., daily and holiday prayers all in one), composed circa 1750, which is bound in leather. This was gifted to the Shaar by Rabbi Charles Bender in honour of Mr. Allan Bronfman in 1968. The book is handwritten on vellum in Hebrew and Aramaic by a scribe whose name is not legible, though is inscribed in the book is, “the devoted, dedicated, and spirited Gabbay Tzedakah (Wardens of Charity) at Lisbon,” indicating the involvement of a person who collected and managed tzedakah funds.

Reflecting on Shabbat Shirah


This Shabbat is Shabbat Shirah: the week we read Parashat B’shalach, which contains the Song of the Sea (Shirat HaYam; Az Yashir Moshe). Though it already has the designation of a ‘Special Shabbat,’ Shabbat Shirah at the Shaar is particularly significant. This year marks 70 years since the Congregation introduced its special Shabbat Shirah service. Beginning in 1952, the Synagogue’s Choir Committee set out to transform the service into an unforgettable liturgical concert experience—a Shaar tradition which has continued to this day. While current restrictions leave synagogues in Quebec temporarily shuttered, we can reflect nostalgically on Shabbatot Shirah of the past—in particular that of 1970. 



1970’s Shabbat Shirah service (full program linked below) was organized by the Sisterhood in honour of Hazzan Nathan Mendelson’s late wife Mae. The program records that many of the musical arrangements were composed by the Shaar’s choir director of over 30 years (1942–72), Prof. Jacob Rosemarin. In another section, the program remarks that a selection of other compositions may be chanted in the weeks to come, including an arrangement of Mi She’asa Nisim for Shabbat M’varchim. Picture below is Rosemarin’s handwritten manuscript arrangement!





For a more immersive experience, listen below to selections from the record Hazzan Nathan Mendelson – Shabbat Morning Service (though not recorded on Shabbat!), some of which would have also been performed at the Shabbat Shirah service in 1970. (Please note, the music has been converted from a vinyl record and the sound quality reflects this.)

We hope you enjoyed this ‘sneak peek’ of the Shaar’s musical history. In the coming months, we at the archives will be going through some of the synagogue’s music and choir papers, and we look forward to sharing more of these fascinating pieces in the future.


Link to Shabbat Shirah Service Program 1970


Link to Jacob Rosemarin’s music manuscript for Mi She’asa Nisim


Link to “Hazzan Nathan Mendelson – Shabbat Morning Service”


A little bit of Déjà Vu


Though things may be a bit more closed again these days, the Shaar’s archives are still open and at work. While January 2022 is looking a lot like January 2021, it is also looking a lot like September 1904! For our first item of 2022, we’re featuring an unusual (but incredibly familiar item) that was rediscovered some months ago in our collections – two cards certifying vaccination protection from around 1904 that allowed the card-carrier passage onto ships and any subsequent railroad travel in Canada. 


The back of both read “Keep this card to avoid detention at quarantine and on railroads in Canada.” These may have been issued as a response to ongoing smallpox outbreaks in the United States. The signature of the certifying medical professional on both is visible. It is unclear at this time how the Shaar came to be in possession of these fascinating documents. Though from over 100 years ago, these vaccination passes are similar to our own vaccine passports today. Things that seem new and novel, such measures that encourage vaccination, may not be so novel after all! 


As we start the new year, we at the archives want to know, what kind of items would you like to see and what kind of stories from the Shaar’s collections do you want to hear?

1924 President's Speech by Lyon Cohen




Lyon Cohen (1868-1937) was a benevolent philanthropist, not just in the Montreal Jewish community, but across Canada and played an integral part in the establishment of many Jewish organizations. Cohen devoted his life to the Jewish community and served in many leadership roles, including as the first president of Canadian Jewish Congress and as a founder of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society (JIAS) and co-founder of The Jewish Chronical among many others. Lyon Cohen was also a long-time President of the Shaar, serving two terms (1904-1907; 1914-1932) for a total of 21 years. The synagogue and the congregation grew immensely during those years, during which time Cohen oversaw the construction of the Shaar’s current building on Cote St Antoine.



“From an historical point of view, a period of one and a half years can be summarized in one sentence. In Lyon Cohen’s case, he admitted in one of his reports that he spent more time at the construction site than at his business. First thing in the morning, on the way to his office, he would visit the construction site, and if there was a crisis there, he might never get to the office that day.”

                  -  The Gate of Heaven, Chapter 7. Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat


Link to full text of 1924 AGM address

Chanukiyot of the Shaar - Part 2



Continuing from last week, this week we’re featuring chanukiyot from around the world in the Shaar’s museum collection.




This bronze oil chanukiah from Morcco (c. 1860), though corroded over time, is still a remarkable piece. The back depicts the Tree of Life and the lions of Judah along with other motifs of Moroccan folk art. Unlike the chanukiyot we commonly use today, this chanukiah has a hook on the back and was meant to hang from the wall. 




An early Bezalel chanukiah made in 1915. Written on the back is the following: “Made in Palestine at the art workshop of Sharar Betzalel, Jerusalem, P.O.B. 729.” The ornate design depicts biblical imagery of a lion and deer in front of palm trees. The centre shows the high priest (Kohen Ha-Gadol) lighting the menorah in the temple, assisted by a young boy carrying two jars of oil. At the top is written: “Ha-neirot hallalu kadosh hem.” Gift of Mrs. Esther G. Heller in memory of her parents, Adela and Maurice Goldenberg (parents of Senator Carl Goldenberg).



A silver and alloy handcrafted chanukiah made in Canada, between 1915-1925. The back shows two lions holding a crown.




This absolutely stunning chanukiah from Poland (c. 19th C) is made of German silver. The back plate is made of brass and depicts two lions around a menorah. This chanukiah interestingly has two shamushim. The company that made this chanukiah was a Warsaw-based silver foundry called the “Brothers Henneberg” which was founded in the mid-19th century. Gift from wedding of Mrs. Jeanne (Lazare) Rosemarin. Donated to the Shaar in January 1987. 




A chanukiah from East India (19th C.) Brass engraved, crude pattern on surface. Gift of Mrs. Morris Gelber, 1986

Chanukiyot of the Shaar - Part 1



The Shaar has remarkable chanukiyot that are displayed around the synagogue and are in its collections. In the next two weeks we will be featuring a selection of some of those beautiful chanukiyot. 



This chanukiah was made by the brass foundry W.R. Cuthbert and Co, of which Lyon Cohen became president in 1895. It is probably the oldest Canadian-made chanukiah. Inscribed at the base is the following message: “Presented to Shaar Hashomayim Congregation by Lyon Cohen, President, on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of his eldest son, Chanukah 5665 – December 3, 1904.” Lyon Cohen’s eldest son was Nathan B. Cohen, the father of Leonard Cohen. 



This ornate, silver chanukiah was presented initially as a gift in 1950 to Mrs. Jeanne (Lazare) Rosemarin on the occasion of her wedding and was later donated to the Shaar in January 1987.



Presented to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in honour of the Bat Mitzvah of Caroline Hoppenheim, April 5, 2003 / 3 Adar II, 5763, by Rosemary & Mel Hoppenheim & Family.”



Presented to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in loving memory of Betty Rudnikoff

Commemorating Kristallnacht: The Story of the last Chief Rabbi of Danzig



Behind every item is a wealth of stories. As we commemorate the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht on November 9–10, and as part of ongoing commemorations for Holocaust Education Month in Canada, this week we’re telling the story of one such object in Shaar Hashomayim’s collection. It is an account of a beautiful menorah emblem and of the man who gifted it to the Shaar: Rabbi Dr. David Weiss (1876–1966), the last Chief Rabbi of Danzig, who escaped to Montreal shortly before the Nazis occupied Danzig in 1939. The menorah is reminder of the persecution Jews faced in the wake of Nazi terror, of the lost Jewish community of Danzig, and of a bond between it and our own community in Montreal.

This emblem, made of brass, was once displayed upon the rabbinical chair at the Danzig synagogue which Rabbi Weiss served. On the branches, Tehillim 67:2 is inscribed: “May God be gracious to us and bless us; may He cause His face to shine to us, Selah.” Along the stem is written: “Hand-crafted by the young man Avigdor and the young man Tzvi, for the sake of the soul of their upright father, Yehuda Leib ben Akiva Cleiman, of blessed memory.” And the following is written at the base: “A gift from Israel Lifshitz, 1883, for the sake of the Rebbetzin Mrs. Robris (1850) and Joseph Chaim, may he live a long life.” 


Rabbi David Weiss


Photo courtesy of the Montreal Gazette (January, 21, 1966, p. 23)


Rabbi Dr. David Weiss was born in Galicia in 1875 or 1876, and studied at the Universities of Berlin and Bern. In 1920 he took up his first rabbinical post in Danzig. At the time, Danzig had the special status as a Free City following World War I. As a result, the city saw a mass influx of Jews from Eastern Europe seeking refuge. This greatly increased the Jewish population and intensified the need for more religious and rabbinic services. Prior to the War, under 3,000 Jews lived in Danzig; by 1923 there were over 7,000, reaching a peak of around 12,000 by 1937. As the strain of supporting this largely refugee Jewish community became too big for then-Chief Rabbi Dr. Robert Kaelter, Rabbi Weiss assumed much of the burden of his work. During his next years in Danzig, Rabbi Weiss operated primarily at the Orthodox New Synagogue in Langfuhr. 


Clockwise from Right: (1) The Choir of the New Synagogue in Langfuhr, Danzig, 1928, photo ID 121591, courtesy of The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Abraham Sherman. (2) The rear exterior of the New Synagogue. (3) The front of the New Synagogue, courtesy of JewishGen


While the horrific pogrom of Kristallnacht largely took place on the 9th and 10th of November, 1938, Danzig was beset with anti-Jewish riots from the 12th to the 14th, during which four synagogues in the city were near-totally destroyed, including Rabbi Weiss’s New Synagogue (the building was later restored and as of 2007 has primarily operated as a music school, with some use by the Jewish community). The Jewish community of Danzig quickly organized itself and emigrated en masse. Many of the community’s Judaica and other memorabilia were rescued and brought to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in the summer of 1939. By the end of the year, merely 1,600 Jews remained. Rabbi Weiss was one of the last Jews to escape the city before the Nazi invasion; he delivered his final sermon to his congregation on May 25th, 1939 (the text of which is below). As he left, he saved one item from the synagogue: the emblem of a menorah which adorned the rabbi’s chair.


Rabbi Weiss in Montreal

Rabbi David Weiss arrived in Montreal in 1939, via St. Albans, Vermont. While he never took another pulpit position, he continued his humanitarian and aid work until his retirement at age 85, working as a hospital chaplain for the Baron de Hirsch Institute and as part of the Jewish Chaplains’ Service of the Montreal Federation of Jewish Community Services. Though he learned little English or French in his time here, he faithfully served the European Jewish immigrant community, many of whom still could not speak the local languages.


He passed away on January 18th, 1966. His obituary, which ran the following month in the Canadian Jewish Review, reads: 


“Rabbi Weiss had always had an interest in all those requiring solace, encouragement, and help, whether they were orphans, hospital patients, or prisoners. At the age of sixty-five years, when others think of retiring, he embarked on a new voluntary career of visiting systematically the Montreal hospitals providing a service not existing at that time. In fair and foul weather, Dr. Weiss would travel throughout the city and went as far as the Military Hospital in Ste. Anne de Bellevue to visit the sick.” 


Rabbi Weiss is buried next to his wife Hortense, who predeceased him on March 23rd, 1960, in the Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery on Mount Royal.




Other Sources


Honouring our Congregants who fought for King & Country 1914-1918 & 1939-1945 




Major Moses O. Kirsch 


Moses O. Kirsch had a sense of adventure and yearned to travel, and because he was too young, he lied about his age to join the infantry. Moe Kirsch fought overseas in World War I with the 10th field battery RCA as a signaler which usually meant you were close to the frontline troops, providing signals communications back to your Company and Battalion H.Q. Wired telephones were used where possible but this involved laying landlines which was a hazardous job due to enemy shelling. He would often joke that he had survived the war due to being so short that the bullets missed him. At the outbreak of World War II, Moses O. Kirsch re-enlisted and took an officer's course to become an instructor at Petawawa Ont.  as he was too old to be deployed overseas. He retired from the army as a Major. All those who knew Major Kirsch and the soldiers in his battery always spoke very highly of him. He was a true gentleman, intelligent with a wonderful sense of humour. His great involvement at the Shaar included leading the Scout Troop for many years joined by his wife Ruth Salomon Kirsch who was the Girl Guide Captain. 


In the photos below, he can be seen with his nephews Sidney, Lionel and Arthur Kirsch who also bravely fought in the Canadian Armed Forces in WWII 




Below: The 10th Canadian Medium Battery CA before deployment overseas.

Moses Kirsch with comrades in WWI with host family in France. Moses Kirsch’s Soldiers prayer Book 1916, Major Moses Kirsch with nephew Lionel Kirsch whose plane was shot down over Europe.


Stories and photos provided by his granddaughter Marjorie Kirsch Heft.


Colonel Bernard J. Finestone 


 "B.J. Finestone, an honorary colonel of the B.C. Dragoons, was decorated for his service as an officer and a tank squadron leader during World War II. After the war, at home in Montreal, he was ever mindful of the challenges that maintaining a democratic way of life present. As such, he readily put his training and experiences to work wherever and whenever he saw they were needed. In Quebec and in British Columbia, he regularly met with soldiers serving in the Canadian Forces. Security was of utmost concern to BJ. 


In uniform or out, he served his country, community and family with distinction. Canadians are forever grateful for the steadfastness shown by Colonel Finestone in defence of the values of freedom."


 - Marc Garneau, address in Parliament February 2014 




Interview with Colonel B.J. Finestone by member Erica Fagen, October 2007 

Among our museum artifacts are the ID tags of Captain Finestone that he wore throughout WWII. For more information, please scroll to B.J Finestone’s story of the tags, in his own words, as shared with Terry Lightman, Museum curator  in 1990. 










With Remembrance Day coming up soon on November 11th, over the next few weeks the archives will feature some interesting and relevant highlights from our collections!


Rabbi Herman Abramowitz and Jewish Chaplaincy Services During World War II



Congregation Shaar Hashomayim’s spiritual leader from 1903 to 1947, Rabbi Dr. Herman Abramowitz, served as chaplain to Canadian Jewish soldiers during World War I. Some rediscovered documents in the Congregation’s archives now shed some light on Rabbi Abramowitz’s service on the Canadian Jewish Congress’s Religious Welfare Committee during the Second World War.



As chairman, he oversaw the religious needs of Jewish Canadian soldiers and, above all, selected Jewish chaplains for the Canadian Armed Forces. The Committee faced some distinct challenges. For one, the Committee was at first uncertain where Jewish chaplains would sit in the overall chaplaincy structure of the army. Another issue the Committee addressed at its formation in 1942 was the structure of chaplaincy appointments: where chaplains should be placed, and the expected time commitment of the position. The geographic vastness of Canada and the large number of Canadian soldiers overseas complicated matters. After much deliberation, the proposed solution was to install multiple part-time chaplains across the country (and some full-time chaplains), and appoint Rabbis Samuel Cass (later the director of Hillel at McGill until 1967) and Gershon Levi (the Shaar’s then educational director) as the senior-level full-time Jewish chaplains at home and overseas.



The Committee met on a regular basis to discuss the matter of these appointments, the work of individual chaplains, and any concerns that arose, such as the publication and distribution of religious materials for Jewish soldiers and the accessibility of kosher food.


Rabbi Abramowitz and his colleagues maintained a regular correspondence with the Committee’s sister organization in the United States—the Jewish Welfare Board’s Committee on Religious Activities, chaired by David de Sola Pool—which oversaw the appointment of Jewish chaplains for the American Armed Forces. Rabbi Abramowitz also kept Jewish Theological Seminary chancellor Dr. Louis Finkelstein informed on the activities of the Committee and sought, at times, his recommendations for chaplains. In one particularly notable letter, Dr. Finkelstein and Rabbi Abramowitz discuss the potential appointment of Rabbi Shuchat to a chaplaincy role. Regrettably, 24-year-old Rabbi Shuchat was two years younger than the minimum age (26) to serve as a chaplain.



For a more in-depth look into the activities of Rabbi Abramowitz and the Religious Welfare Committee during World War II, see the excerpts below.











“Yom Kippur will never be the same again,” begins a message written by Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat in 1973. This past week, on October 6th, marked the 48th anniversary of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, one of the greatest threats to the State of Israel since its independence in 1948. There to bear witness to the conflict was none other than Rabbi Shuchat, who wrote back messages to the Congregation as it unfolded (full letters at the end).


 Rabbi Shuchat was honoured with a sabbatical soon after celebrating 25 years with Shaar Hashomayim and went with his family to spend the year (from July 1973 through the summer of 1974) in Jerusalem. Though Rabbi Shuchat returned to Montreal for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he went back to an Israel embroiled in war.




The words Rabbi Shuchat wrote in his messages to the Congregation as the Yom Kippur War progressed deeply reflect the severity of the situation, while also foreseeing its lasting impact and significance. “For the past two weeks I have been living in the very center of those dramatic events that will determine Jewish history for the future and will certainly have a momentous effect upon the course of the world.” 



Writing on October 23rd, 1973, just two days before it officially came to an end, Rabbi Shuchat offered three conclusions to be drawn from the War as Israel, the Jewish Diaspora, and the world moves forward, the third of which is a resounding and heartfelt declaration of the bond between Israel and the Diaspora as one Jewish people.






READ:  A message from Rabbi Shuchat, War Letter from Israel


From the Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat Archives, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim


Get in touch with us! Claire Berger and Hannah Srour at  



As we head into Sukkot, amid the rush to put up and decorate their sukkahs, many Jews will also be pulling out their etrog boxes. Since the etrog must be in near-perfect condition and is rendered unusable on the holiday if damaged, these boxes prove useful in maintaining the beautiful condition of the fruit.  Their designs range from simple to intricate, signifying and enhancing the beauty of the etrog itself, as a form of ḥiddur mitzvah (‘beautification of a mitzvah’). The Shaar Hashomayim Museum collection contains a number of elegant historical and contemporary etrog boxes. 



Etrog Box: Silver (800), gilt lined, patterned and pomegranate design on top. Galicia, Austria (southeastern Poland and western Ukraine), c. 1890. Purchased 1987. Photograph by Daniel Zackon.