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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 at 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



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.