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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.

Sunday, April 21, 2024 13 Nisan 5784