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Remembrance Day 2023 – Remembering Rabbi Dr. Samuel Cass 


With Remembrance Day around the corner, this week we pay tribute to a member of our community- Rabbi Dr. Samuel Cass z”l—who served as army chaplain to Canadian Jews in World War II and was for many years the Rabbi of the community hall service at the Shaar. 


Born in Toronto, Rabbi Cass gradated from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1933 after which he served congregations in Vancouver and Seattle before World War II. He would also occasionally substitute for Rabbi Herman Abramowitz at the Shaar during the latter’s summer vacation. His relationship to the Shaar was cemented when he married Annabel Goldfine who was also of the synagogue’s community. 


In 1942, Rabbi Cass along with Rabbi Gershon Levi (a past educational director of the Shaar) were named as the two full-time Senior Jewish Chaplain to the Canadian Armed Forces, with Rabbi Cass stationed at home. Later, in 1944, Rabbis Cass and Levi swapped positions, and Rabbi Cass was sent overseas. Among his many services to Jewish soldiers, he oversaw religious services and holiday celebrations. In 1944, he organized a Chanukah party in Antwerp for soldiers as well as for 250 local children.  



In 1945, he organized a seder in Brussels. 



In March of 1945, he held a service in Kleve, Germany outside the Reichswald Forest – which in February of that year had been the site of the Battle of the Reichswald fought by Canadian and British forces (allied victory). Following this Battle, it became the site of the largest Commonwealth cemetery in Germany.  


Rabbi Cass’ service was to make its mark beyond his chaplaincy services to Canadian soldiers – in that same year, he was the first Jewish chaplain to enter concentrations camps which were liberated by the Canadian Army and played an instrumental role in rehabilitating the survivors, and in helping Belgium and Dutch Jewry.  

After the War, he was honourably discharged with the rank of Major and would then go on to work for many years as the Director of Hillel before his tragic death in 1975. 


Further Reading 

Rabbi Herman Abramowitz and Jewish Chaplaincy Services During World War II 



In Tribute to Yehouda Chaki z”l


Early last month, prominent Canadian Jewish artist Yehouda Chaki z”l passed away at the age of 84. Among the many wonderful contributions to art in Canada, Chaki, a long-time member of our own Shaar community, was behind the design of the two beautiful tapestries sewn by the Sisterhood, depicting scenes from Bereshit, which hang in our building. This week, as we begin another Torah reading cycle on Simchat Torah, we pay tribute to Yehouda Chaki and the two tapestries.



In The Beginning


The first Chaki-designed tapestry “In The Beginning” was unveiled by the Sisterhood in 1982 and took two and a half years to complete. In the fall of that year, at the reception preceding the Slichot services, the Sisterhood sponsored a vernissage of the tapestry as part of the Westmount Arts Festival. This was the first public viewing of the tapestry, and was attended by guests and officials of the City of Westmount along with Sisterhood members who made squares in the tapestry and Yehouda Chaki himself. 








Let There Be Light


In 1992, in time for the Congregation’s 145th anniversary, the Sisterhood unveiled its second needlepoint tapestry designed by Yehouda Chaki titled, Let There Be Light . This was another great undertaking by members of Sisterhood who each completed squares of the tapestry. The Committee for  this  project was chaired by Mildred B. Lande, C.M., and Carol Koffler.



Further reading on Yehouda Chaki

Brownstein: Chaki was one of Canada's most prominent and prolific artists

Obituary: Yehouda Chaki, 84, expressed both joy and pain in his vibrant paintings


Remembering the Yom Kippur War, 50 Years Later




“Yom Kippur will never be the same again,” begins a message written by Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat in 1973. This year we mark the 50th 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

Back to School – The Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Educational Annex


This Fall will mark 75 years since the Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Building (Educational Annex) was formally dedicated. As we gear up for back-to-school we’re looking back on the day the school building was officially opened.



The educational centre was a longtime the goal of Rabbi Herman Abramowitz, who was a strong advocate for Jewish education. In the years leading up to it’s opening, the Shaar’s Westmount building (which had been built just 26 years prior) was already bursting at the seams and the need for additional space for the synagogue’s educational activities was abundantly clear. While World War II did delay progress, by the time the Shaar’s centennial year in 1946-7 the necessary funds were secured.



On October 31, 1948, the building officially opened following a beautiful dedication ceremony during which then Shaar President Moses J. Heillig was presented with a commemorative silver trowel



(The trowel reads: 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)



Unfortunately, Rabbi Abramowitz would not live see the building’s completion as he passed away after a long illness in October 1947. However, his legacy of dedication to Jewish education as the building was dedicated in his name. 


Read the programme from the dedication service

Stained Glass Window




It’s been a very interesting week for us at the Shaar Archives and Museum! On Monday, we were visited by Simcha Shtull, who is in Montreal filming a documentary about the stained-glass windows of the old Shomrim Laboker synagogue building on St. Dominque, one of which is in the Shaar’s Museum collection. For the documentary, our archivist Hannah Srour-Zackon was interviewed about the window, the history of the Shaar, and the importance of preserving Jewish history.

The Shtull family purchased the Shomrim Laboker building in the 1950s (when the synagogue moved to Plamondon and Westbury) and used it for their egg and butter distribution business. When the business closed, the stained-glass windows all ended up in different places. For the documentary, Simcha Shtull is tracing the journey of each of the windows. We are so excited to be a part of this story and look forward to seeing the documentary when it’s finished!

Meet our summer Archives Assistant!

by Molly Lohner


Hi everyone! My name is Molly Lohner and I will be your Archives Assistant this summer. I was born and raised in Montreal and I just graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a minor in Philosophy. This summer I am also working as a tour guide leading the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s Beyond the Bagel food tour, which explores historic and modern Jewish food businesses in the Mile End. As a Montreal Jew, I have always been curious about what life was like for this community in decades past. I feel so lucky to get to investigate this history as part of both of my jobs this summer. 


What will I be doing?

As Archives Assistant, my role is to help the Archivist, Hannah, with various archiving tasks. So far, I have been writing blog posts and going through a box of papers from Rabbi Abramowitz. I am also excited to start helping to curate material for the museum.


What have I found so far?

Rabbi Dr. Herman Abramowitz was the Rabbi of the congregation from 1902 to 1947. He was recruited shortly after he graduated with a doctorate and a rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, the rabbinical school associated with the Conservative movement. 


I was surprised to find how much material in his box was related to the education programs that took place at the Shaar. He seems to have been very passionate about the Jewish value of educating one’s children and dedicated much of his time to overseeing the afternoon Hebrew school and Sunday religious school. 


I have also been fascinated by the material related to the Rabbi’s chaplaincy work. He was a chaplain for the Jewish Canadian members of the British forces during the First World War; during the Second World War, he chaired the committee that appointed Jewish chaplains for the Canadian forces.

School Graduations Through the Years

by Molly Lohner

As we approach the end of June, students of all ages are celebrating graduations from elementary schools, high schools, CEGEPs, and universities. Throughout the years the Shaar has hosted various ceremonies of this kind and I will highlight a few of them in this post. 



This picture shows, from left to right, Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat; Rabbi Dr. Louis Finkelstein, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Nahum Gelber, honorary past president of the synagogue. It was taken at the JTS convocation that the Shaar hosted on April 23, 1972, as part of the 125th anniversary celebrations of the congregation. At this ceremony, His Excellency the Right Honourable Roland Michener, Governor General of Canada, received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the JTS chancellor. It also featured Saidye Bronfman and Hon. Lazarus Phillips becoming fellows of the JTS Society of Fellows. Over a thousand people attended this ceremony, as can be seen in the picture below. 




The above picture is a program from the dedication service of the Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Building which functioned as an Educational Annex. It now houses Akiva School but used to be a Sunday and afternoon Hebrew school administered by the Shaar. The congregation decided to build this annex, which was dedicated in 1948, to expand the size and increase the quality of the synagogue’s educational space. 




These pictures are of the graduating classes of the Hebrew school from 1931 and 1960 (donated recently by Ron Vineberg), respectively. The graduates would have been around fifteen and had the option to continue attending classes at the Shaar during their high school years. You can find lots more of these graduation pictures up along the walls in the synagogue building today. 




The above image is the diploma of Ronald Vineberg, a former student at the Hebrew school and lifelong member of the congregation. This is one of many documents kindly donated by Ron Vineberg to the synagogue’s archives which are helping to fill gaps in our collection.



Here we can see an image from a Hebrew school graduation ceremony from sometime in the early twentieth century. 

Wedding Season at the Shaar

by Molly Lohner

It’s wedding season! As we get ready to celebrate the rush of weddings this summer, let’s look back at some Shaar wedding celebrations from the past century.




The congregation dedicated its current sanctuary in 1922 after leaving its second building on McGill College Avenue. The above image shows the sanctuary decorated for a wedding in the 1920s, making it one of the first weddings held in this building. 


In 1953, in an effort to increase recently married young women’s involvement in the congregation, the president of the Women’s Auxiliary instituted annual bridal teas. All the brides married that year would gather to meet the women of the Auxiliary and the inner family of the synagogue. This image shows a bridal tea hosted by Saidye Bronfman in 1954. The initiative was successful, resulting in many young women joining the Auxiliary.





This invitation and souvenir program are from the golden wedding anniversary of involved members of the congregation Harris Kellert and Esther Matts. Married in 1867, they held their 50th anniversary at the Montefiore Club in 1917. The event was chaired by Michael Hirsch, who was a prominent philanthropist, lifelong Shaar member, and one of the founders of the Montefiore Club. It also included toasts by Rabbi Dr. Herman Abramowitz, Lyon Cohen, and family members and friends of the couple.




These three benchers celebrate Shaar couples in different ways. The one on the far left is from the wedding of Connie and Charles Solomon. The one on the far right is from the golden anniversary of Lillie and Moe Heillig, also lifelong active members of the congregation. The one in the middle is from the wedding of Miriam Sochet and Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat, the Shaar’s rabbi from 1946 to 1993. You’ll notice that Rabbi Shuchat’s first name was misprinted on his own wedding bencher! As pictured beside these, the couple signed the inside of the bencher with their real names, Will and Miriam.

A Yemenite Manuscript Book of Haftarot

Hannah Srour-Zackon

On Shavuot, we celebrate the receiving of the Torah – the Book of Books, the source of the Jewish People’s designation as the ‘People of the Book’. It is fitting, then, that the Shaar has a wonderful collection of rare books in our collection. Among them is one particularly fascinating book: A handwritten manuscript book of haftarot produced in Yemen in the early 19th C.  


The first page of the manuscript book.


Little is known about this fascinating volume – we don’t know anything about its scribe nor what year it entered the collection. The hand of the scribe, with its occasional unevenness and ink smudges, suggests a true human quality to each production. Each haftarah begins with an embellished title, indicating a new section. Note also that each page ends with the word to look for on the following page. The following pages show the haftarot we will read on Shavuot.



Shavuot haftarah, 1




Shavuot haftarah, 2





Shavuot haftarah, 3. The haftarah for the second day of Shavuot begins midway down the page on the right. 






Shavuot haftarah, 4

The Shaar Archives & Museum Receives Investment to Develop Online Exhibit


The Shaar Archives & Museum Receives Investment to Develop Online Exhibit

The Shaar Hashomayim Archives & Museum is delighted to share—just in time for Canadian Jewish Heritage Month—that we have been chosen as a recipient of an investment from Digital Museums Canada (administered by the Canadian Museum of History) to develop an online exhibit celebrating 100 years of the Shaar in Westmount. Among the many exciting aspects of this project include that it will be bilingual, increase our outreach in the digital sphere, and will boost the profile of our synagogue’s long & fascinating history as the virtual exhibit will be hosted on the "Community Stories" platform run by Digital Museums Canada. You can read the official news release here and read more about the Community Stories platform here.


The Digital Museums Canada (DMC) investment program helps build digital capacity in Canadian museums and heritage, cultural and Indigenous organizations, and gives people living in Canada unique access to diverse stories and experiences. DMC is managed by the Canadian Museum of History, with the financial support of the Government of Canada.

Israel at 75: Celebrating the Shaar’s long connection with Israel


Beginning in the evening on April 25th, Israel will be marking its 75th year since Independence. On this milestone occasion, we are celebrating the close connection between the Shaar and Israel--which dates back to long before the establishment of the State. In this digital photo gallery, see how the Shaar has celebrated, marked, and memorialised important moments in Israeli history, both in Israel and in Canada, beginning in 1912. 

As we celebrate Israel's 75th, the Shaar Museum and Archives wants to see your Shaar/Israel memories! Do you have an photographs, papers, or other documents from across the years? If so, please get in touch with us at





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!

Contact us at or 

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).


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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