About Us - Edmonton Beth Shalom Congregation
Beth Shalom Synagogue is Edmonton’s largest egalitarian conservative congregation providing professional learning opportunities, practice, and services to the Edmonton and broader community.
We are part of the Conservative/Masorti movement, and have been a part of the Jewish community in Edmonton for close to 80 years.
Early Jewish Settlement in Edmonton
Jewish settlement in Edmonton began in the 1890s. By 1901 17 of Edmonton’s 2626 citizens were Jewish. The Jewish Community formally organized as The Edmonton Hebrew Association on August 12, 1906. They hired Rabbi Hyman Goldstick to perform all the religious duties required. A few years later funds were raised to build the Beth Israel Synagogue on 95th street and it opened in 1912. In 1928, because the Beth Israel was overcrowded, a group of men and women decided to hold High Holiday services in the hall of the Talmud Torah, which had been built on 103rd street, just south of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1925. The Beth Israel supplied a cantor and a reader.
The idea of a new congregation that would have a more modern approach where men and women sat together was conceived. On October 14, 1932, under the direction of J.H. Samuels, the congregation was formally organized and Rabbi Jacob Eisen was hired as spiritual leader. He gave the synagogue its name, Beth Shalom. After the Second World War, under the direction of Rabbi Leon Hurwitz, a Men’s Club and Sisterhood were organized.
The concept of a new synagogue building was suggested by H.A (Harry) Friedman and M.I. (Moe) Lieberman with other leaders in the congregation. They began fund raising and bought the lots on Jasper Avenue between 119 Street and 120 Street. The fundraising began in 1943 but the organizers decided to put the funds towards the war effort. The sod turning for the new Beth Shalom building took place on September 15, 1950 and the congregation began to use the partially finished building on April 23, 1951.
Beth Shalom was both a synagogue and a community centre for the whole Jewish community. Its purpose was to promote cultural, recreational and athletic activities specifically for youth. The lower level contained office space, class rooms and the lower auditorium. The focus shifted when the new Talmud Torah was built in 1963.
Along with the general population in Edmonton, the Jewish community continued to grow. In 1941 there were 1500 Jews in a population of 94,000. In 1943 a committee was formed to explore the feasibility of building a new synagogue for the Beth Shalom congregation. In December, 1941 the congregation was incorporated. However, building and fundraising were delayed and money raised went towards the war effort. It was felt the synagogue should serve as a community centre as well as a house of worship and the plans were changed to accommodate the needs of a younger Jewish population. When the building officially opened on November 4, 1951 it was known as Beth Shalom Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre. The main floor contained the sanctuary and a choir loft as well as a large gymnasium/auditorium with a stage at the west end. The kitchen was behind the stage. There was a mikveh which was accessed through one of the women’s washrooms downstairs. A modern administration office, library and gift shop have replaced the class rooms in the lower level. There is a large office for the rabbi next to a small sanctuary also on the lower level.
The building was designed by architect Neil McKernan and built by Dominion Construction at a cost of $250,000. Currently it is a yellow brick building prominent amongst new condos on Jasper Avenue. It’s an excellent example of Modern architecture with its flat roof and a balance of vertical and horizontal composition. The Tyndall stone entrance and broad steps invite people into the building. Stained glass windows showing Jewish holidays replaced the amber glass in the sanctuary in the 1960s. The location has made it a landmark building.
Over the years the synagogue has been the target of anti-Semitic attacks, the worst being the two fires set in 1980. More recently walls have been sprayed with graffiti and windows broken. A result has been alliances formed with other faith groups in Edmonton such as the Phoenix Society which works to prevent hatred.