History Of the Shul by Rabbi Sacks
Beth Shalom’s Early Years: 1932 – 1951
Established on October 14, 1932
(This history of our synagogue was prepared for the dedication of the Building in 1951. Rabbi Louis Sacks, hired in 1951, presided over the dedication ceremonies.)
This is the story of Beth Shalom. It is the story of a great purpose, great resolve and great accomplishment. It is above all the story of men and women-their dreams and their endeavors to materialize them. These are the men and women who built the things of lasting value in the Jewish Community of Edmonton. These men and women built Beth Shalom. The Beth Shalom Building is a monument to their tireless efforts and clear vision.
When was the Congregation Beth Shalom born? It is difficult to pinpoint the birth of a communal idea. Nearly a quarter of a century ago – in the fall of 1928 – a group of men and women, members of Beth Israel Congregation decided that because Beth Israel Synagogue was overcrowded, they would hold High Holiday Services in the Talmud Torah. Beth Israel gave its blessings to this plan and supplied them with a Cantor and a Reader. Chronologically and ideologically then, this must be recorded as the day Beth Shalom was born.
They were a handful of people at that time. But among them were men and women who were to play leading roles in the growth of the Beth Shalom Congregation, culminating in the erection of the Beth Shalom Congregation and Community Centre Building.
As an organized unit, with its own program and its own Rabbi, Beth Shalom did not emerge until four years later – in 1932. During This period – 1928 to 1932 – it became clear that the Congregation-in-the making favored a more modern approach to ritual and services.
On October 14, 1932, in the Talmud Torah Hall, under the chairmanship of Mr. J. H. Samuels, the new Congregation was formally organized and its first executive and officers elected: Hon. President, A. Cristall; President, J. D. Dower; Vice-President, Jacob Starr; Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. H. A. Friedman; Financial Secretary. J. Cristall; Treasurer, C. Margolus. Members of Executive: J. H. Samuels, A. Goldman, H. Garfin, H. L. Baltzan, Mrs. H. Bloomfield, M. B. Cohen, J. Erlanger, N. Leshgold, Wm. Levine, N. H. Young, Mrs. I. Lieberman and Fred Swartz. Mr. William Diamond was elected an Honorary Life Member of the Congregation.
On that day, too, Rabbi J. Eisen was engaged as the first spiritual leader of the New Congregation. It should be noted here that Mr. J. H. Samuels did outstanding work in those first days of the Congregation and that he was largely responsible for the engagement of Rabbi Eisen.
The name, “Beth Shalom” – House of Peace – was given to the Congregation by Rabbi Eisen and was adopted on October 27, 1932. The year 1932, then, saw the coming of age of the Beth Shalom Congregation. It opened new horizons for service for the men and women who comprised its membership.
From the very first, thought and effort was directed towards instituting the necessary adjuncts without which a congregation is incomplete. As early as 1932, under the leadership of Rabbi Eisen, a Sunday School was organized., Under the chairmanship of Mrs. H. A. Friedman, the Sunday School Committee developed a highly successful Sunday School which has been functioning ever since. In that year, too, a Congregational Choir, with Mrs. H. Bloomfield as director, was organized. Throughout the years the Choir, has added beauty and dignity of our services.
The story of Beth Shalom would not be complete without mention of the men and women who worked tirelessly in all phases of endeavour of the Beth Shalom Congregation.
Messrs. J. D. Dower, J. Cristall, C. Margolus, M. I. Lieberman, R. Samuels, A. Dower, H. L. Baltzan – these men and their wives who served so ably on the various committees; Mr. Harry Bloomfield, Mr. J. H. Samuels, who did outstanding work on the Ritual Committee; Dr. and Mrs. L. A. Miller; and others. The limitations of this book make it impossible to list all those who gave of themselves towards enriching the Beth Shalom Community.
From its inception and through the years, Beth Shalom set a high standard in dignified services and in friendly inter-faith relations. A new respect and understanding developed between Jew and his non-Jewish neighbor. The “House of Peace” is true to its name.
Rabbi Eisen occupied the Beth Shalom pulpit until 1942, when he left to serve as Chaplain in the R.C.A.F. For six years Beth Shalom was without a spiritual leader. During this time holiday services were conducted by guest rabbis and cantors.
On January 1, 1948, Rabbi B. Leon Hurwitz was inducted as Rabbi of the Beth Shalom Congregation. He served until June 1951 and ably carried on and broadened the activities of Beth Shalom in the pattern set by his predecessor, Rabbi Eisen. Rabbi Hurwitz instituted successful Adult Education classes. He was instrumental in the organizing of the Sisterhood. During his years of service the Sunday School flourished. He helped organize the Men’s Club – the counterpart of the Sisterhood.
The Beth Shalom Congregation now found itself in the anomalous position of having a Rabbi, a membership, a program, but no “Home” wherein to worship.
The thought of a Beth Shalom Building was born in the office of Mr. H. A. Friedman. There one evening were gathered the late Mr. A. Cristall, Mr. J. D. Dower, Mr. C. Margolus, Mr. M. I. Lieberman, Mr. H. L. Baltzan. At this informal meeting the groundwork was laid for the building of a Synagogue for the Beth Shalom Congregation. These men laid the financial foundation for the building.
On October 14, 1943, a committee was appointed to study ways and means and to report on the advisability of erecting a suitable building to be used as a house of worship for Congregation Beth Shalom.
On October 25th the Committee brought in its report and another Committee was appointed and instructed to proceed with the raising of funds and to draw. up plans for the Building. The Committee charged with these duties was to be known as “The Building Finance Committee” and consisted of Messrs. J. D. Dower, C. Margolus, I. R. Friedman, M. I. Lieberman, B. Leibovitz, A. Dower, M. Rabiner – with H. L. Baltzan as chairman.
On December 29, 1943, the Beth Shalom Congregation was incorporated. Three separate money-raising campaigns were held, spark-plugged by the Building Finance Committee. But the final step, the actual building, was delayed.
Two factors were responsible for the delay. First, the nation was at war. It was not deemed advisable to divert money, material and manpower at that time. Second, a new feeling had sprung up among the congregation members, especially the younger people. It was felt that if a new building is to be erected it should be more than a synagogue; it should have the facilities for and the aims of a community centre to serve the needs of the entire community.
It speaks highly of the broad vision of the original planners who had already raised money and made plans for the building of a synagogue that they agreed to widen the scope of these plans and proceed with the construction of a building to house both a synagogue and facilities for a community centre.
Younger people, newer names now enter the sphere of influence of the Beth Shalom Community. But we will tell of these men when we speak of the Community Centre Association.
On September 15, 1950, at a brief but impressive service conducted by Rabbi Hurwitz, the first spadeful of sod was turned on the spot where now stands the Beth Shalom Congregation and Community Centre Building.
On September 23, 1951, Rabbi W. Wolfson was inducted as the Spiritual Leader of the Beth Shalom Congregation.
One year has passed since the first sod was turned. Today Beth Shalom is a flourishing community. The Sunday School Committee, under the chairmanship of Mrs. H. Kline, has furnished the modern, up-to-date classrooms. A staff of teachers, under the guidance of Rabbi Wolfson, is at work.
Under the leadership of its chairman, Mrs. L. A. Miller, the Sisterhood has furnished the fully-equipped Kosher kitchens, and is vigorously engaged in various endeavors for communal benefit.
The Men’s Club – a relatively new branch of Beth Shalom – is getting into its stride, with J. Katzin as chairman, and William Levine as co-chairman.
For the first time in its history Beth Shalom Congregation held High Holiday Services in its own home. With Rabbi Wolfson in the pulpit, Cantor B. Mass and the Choir, under the direction of Mrs. H. Bloomfield, the services set a new spiritual uplift.
Today we are dedicating this new building to the purpose for which it was intended. It stands as a monument to the zeal, devotion and vision of the men and women who, nearly a quarter of a century ago, dared to dream and worked so selflessly to make this dream a reality.
With its high dignity of purpose Beth Shalom will stand as a symbol of unity and inspiration to the entire Jewish Community of Edmonton.