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“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. 



Etrog Box: Origin unknown. Gift of Mrs. Freda Cohen in memory of Ann Bronfman, May 28, 1981. Photograph by Daniel Zackon. 




Etrog Box: Heavy silver (800), filigree, shape of peacock or mythical bird. The stomach opens to permit the etrog to be placed inside. Middle East, late 19th C. Donated by estate of Gertrude Lande Denbow, 1980. Photograph by Daniel Zackon. 



These three etrog boxes, each made of silver, show an interesting range in etrog holder design. While the origin of one of the boxes is unknown, the others were produced in different parts of the Jewish world—Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The first box is designed to appear as an etrog itself, as seen in the gilded pattern and the pitom (stem) at the top. The second box, which has a more common design, resembles a jewelry box, indicating the great value of the contents it is intended to protect. Especially unique, though, is the peacock design, which is a common motif in Jewish art. The craftsmanship is complicated and intricate: the bird is largely filigreed—a notably difficult and delicate form of metalwork which is lace-like in its appearance. This, of course, renders the box partially transparent. When an etrog is placed in this box, the sophisticated design would surround the fruit—making it appear like a crown jewel!  


Chag sameach! 


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



Photograph taken by Daniel Zackon


As we continue to sort through the Shaar’s vast and rich collections, this week we feature some fascinating Rosh Hashanah-related artifacts from the museum. 


This beautiful shofar (originally from Yemen) was presented to the Congregation by then-Israeli President Chaim Herzog on the occasion of his first State visit to Canada on June 28, 1989 (25 Sivan, 5749). Chaim Herzog—the father of the current President of Israel, Isaac Herzog—visited the synagogue on a Wednesday night to a well-attended evening of over 2,000 people. While some sources claim that this was the first official visit by an Israeli President to Canada, this is not entirely true—President Zalman Shazar visited Montreal in 1967 where he opened the Pavilion of Judaism at Expo 67. In any case, this shofar, while not just exquisite, also acts as a reminder of the honour Herzog bestowed on the Synagogue with his visit.


Going back a century, this silver kiddish cup (8 ½ inches tall) was made in Montreal in the 19th century and is used each year during Rosh Hashanah services by Cantor Gideon Zelermeyer. Engraved on the cup is the following: “Presented by Louis Lewis to the German and Polish Congregation, Montreal, September 22nd, 1892, Tishri 1st 5653.” Gifted back to the Congregation in 2007, the German, Polish, and English Congregation was the original name of Shaar Hashomayim before its present name was adopted. Louis Lewis was a prominent member of the Synagogue;  in the famous picture of the interior of the Congregation’s previous location on McGill College, he is seated towards the front near Lazarus Cohen (a past president, father of Lyon Cohen, and great-grandfather of Leonard). Lewis also served for some time as President of the Baron de Hirsh Institute. While the reasons for which he presented this kiddish cup to the Congregation on Rosh Hashanah in 1892 are unknown, it is a beautiful example of Montreal Judaica and a fascinating piece of the Shaar’s history.





Over the winter of 2021, Rabbi Shuchat’s file cabinets were brought out of storage and slowly the task of sifting through Rabbi Herman Abramowitz and Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat files began. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I worked alone, passionate about preserving the Shaar’s rich history, however I quickly realized that this project would require a professional archivist. As restrictions eased and with the support of a Canada Summer Jobs, we were delighted to welcome Hannah Srour,  a recent graduate of the Master of Information program at the University of Toronto, where she concentrated in Archives & Library Science. 


Since joining the Shaar at the end of June, she along with my guidance and the volunteer help of Aviya Scheier and Kinneret Finegold  have uncovered many exciting finds among Rabbi Shuchat's papers, including personal letters from Abraham Heschel, A. M. Klein, and Chaim Potok, records about Leonard Cohen's youth involvement at the synagogue, and various materials related to the Pavilion of Judaism at Expo '67 to name but a few.


Follow us in the Shaar’s enewsletter as we continue to share our discoveries and ask for your help in piecing together more of our Shaar’s history. 


Claire Berger -


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Monday, October 18, 2021 12 Cheshvan 5782