Sign In Forgot Password

President's Message - December 2019

During the November 23rd, 2019 Shabbat Service we honoured our congregants who have reached their 90th year milestone. Our congregation is blessed to have these individuals as contributing members of Beth Shalom and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Yasser Koach to each of them for their foresight, hard work, and ongoing contributions to Beth Shalom. As a part of the tribute to our long-term congregants, Shelley Weintein read out the names of the congregants being honoured, Rabbi Schwarzman congratulated them, and Marilyn Sheckter read excerpts from the following essay written, by one of the honorees, her uncle Dr. Harold Samuels. In his essay Dr Samuel provides an accounting of the formation of Beth Shalom, its early leadership and the decisions they made up to and including the 1985 calendar year. Enjoy reading the essay and may we go from strength to strength in the years ahead.

 

History of the Beth Shalom Congregation By Dr. Harold Louis Samuels

Written November 1982 Transcribed by Marilyn Sheckter October 27, 2019

 

The idea of Beth Shalom originated in 1928. A handful of men and women got together and decided that they wanted a more modern approach to services and due to overcrowding at the Beth Israel for the High Holidays, initiated services at the Talmud Torah on 103 Street. Beth Israel and its President - Jacob Baltzan, gave their blessings to this new endeavour and supplied them with a Cantor and Reader.

It wasn’t until 1932 that J.H. Samuels was given authority to interview a Rabbi - an English speaking Rabbi - and arrange to have him come to Edmonton for the high holidays. That man was Rabbi Jacob Eisen.

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. Pres. A. Cristal, Pres. J. H. Dower, Vice President Jacob Starr; Corresp Secretary Mrs. H A. Friedman; Financial Secretary, J. Cristal; Treasurer C. Margolus. Members of the Executive were J. H. Samuels, A. Goldman, H. Garfin, H.L. Baltzan, Mrs. H. Bloomfield, Mr. B. Cohen, J. Erlanger, N. Leshgold, Wm. Levine, N. H. Young, Mrs. M. I. Lieberman, and Fred Swartz. Mr. Wm. Diamond was elected as 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. J.H. Samuels was given a note of thanks for his outstanding work in those first days of the Congregation, and for his efforts which led to the engaging of the new Rabbi.

The above mentioned names mentioned - those of the first officers and executive- and their spouses, must be considered the founding members. But we must include in that category other members of the Congregation at that time, or who came along shortly afterwards; A. Dower, L. Podersky, I.R.Friedman, Max Weinlos, B. Lauer, A. Fratkin, Dr. Greenberg, Ralph Samuels, Joseph Samuels, Dr. L. Miller, A. Miller, H. Frome, I. Kline, J. Hurtig, L. Bolocan.    

Later that month, the constitution of the new Congregation was formally adopted. At the same time, the name “Beth Shalom” was suggested by Rabbi Eisen and adopted by the executive.

This was the beginning. Beth Shalom took roots under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Eisen. Although Rabbi Eisen leaned towards Reform Judaism, he agreed to conduct services along the lines of the Conservative Movement, and Conservative prayer books were brought in.

A high standard in dignified services was set in those early years under Rabbi Eisen’s leadership, one which we have always been proud of, and which we have attempted to maintain. A highly successful Sunday school was developed under Mrs. H. A. Friedman ‘s chairmanship. In that year, too, a Congregational Choir, with Beckie Bloomfield as director, was organized. Throughout the years, the choir, under Mrs. Bloomfield’s able direction, has added beauty and dignity to Sabbath and holiday services.

Rabbi Eisen did an outstanding job with regard to interfaith. He was in great demand as a speaker for various non-Jewish organizations, and spent a lot of time as well in addressing Jewish communities in western Canadian cities. He also gave numerous radio broadcasts.

I remember the first Bar- Mitzvahs held at Beth Shalom. After all, they were my contemporaries. The names of Harold Kline, Bubs Bolocan, Mandel Bloomfield, Alan Frome and Sam Leiberman come to mind. These were all done with beauty and dignity. My own, in case you wondered was held at Beth srael on 95 St. After all, my parents insisted that mine take place at the Alte Shul.

There was also the first Confirmation class of girls and boys - Goldie Hurtig, Sybil Fratkin, Bubs Bolocan and Harold Kline.

The congregation flourished during those years. Mr. Lorin Bricker used to come in from Lavoy to serve as Cantor for the holidays.

In March 1942, about 10 years after his arrival Rabbi Eisen was given leave of absence to join the R.C.A.F. to serve as a Chaplain. Rabbi Eisen, as expected continued his efforts in the Armed Forces where again he was loved by Jew and Gentile alike. Many stories could be told about this man.

Between 1942 and 1948, Beth Shalom was without a spiritual leader. During this time, services were still conducted with the help of guest Rabbis, Cantors, and lay personnel. Mr. Bricker continued to serve as Cantor on holidays, Mr. Goldstick as Reader.

In the fall of 1943, the wheels were set in motion for the construction of a Synagogue Building for the Beth Shalom Congregation.

Fund raising campaigns were held, but it was found necessary to delay the actual building for several reasons. Firstly the nation was at war, and it was not deemed advisable nor appropriate and secondly, there was a growing feeling from especially the younger people, that if a new building is to be constructed, it should have not only a house of worship, but should also provide facilities for a community centre.

On January 1, 1948, Rabbi B. Leon Hurwitz was inducted as Rabbi of the Beth Shalom Congregation. Rabbi Hurwitz came to us through the Rabbinical Assembly, having been ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He 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, and helped organize a Men’s Club. The Sunday School flourished during his years of service.

I shall always have a special place in my heart for Rabbi Hurwitz, because he was responsible for marrying me and that little girl who won a prize for best attendance at the Choir.

On Sept 15, 1950, at a brief but impressive service conducted by Rabbi Hurwitz, the first shovelful of sod was turned on this building site.

Many of you will remember the outstanding efforts of Mr. C. Margolus, chairman of the Building Committee and Mr. G. L. Baltzen , chairman of the Finance Committee and their respective committee members. Without their untiring dedication and devotion, we could not be here today celebrating our 50th Anniversary . And let’s not forget the young Men’s Finance Committee under Henry Singer’s chairmanship.

Unfortunately Rabbi Hurwitz did not stay for the completion of the building and in Sept 1951, Rabbi W.Wolfson from England was inducted as spiritual leader.

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 Barney Mass, and the Choir under the direction of Mrs. Harry Bloomfield, the services set a new spiritual uplift. A gala dedication event was held in November 1951.

Rabbi Wolfson did not remain with us long. I believe he was uncomfortable with our Conservative format.

In 1953, Rabbi Louis Sacks was engaged as our spiritual leader. Now there was a dynamic individual. Rabbi Sachs was largely responsible for the promotion and sale of the large stained glass windows in the Sanctuary. Dr. L. Miller, Henry Singer and G. Margolus also contributed much effort. The windows not only beautified the sanctuary but also proved to be a highly successful fund raising device.

Under Rabbi Sacks’ leadership, the Sanctuary was filled every Friday evening. A children’s choir under Cantor Segal was simply beautiful and this would bring their parents to services with them. The choir loft was used at that time.

After a while, there was a proposal to widen and beautify the Bimah. Dr. L. Miller led the committee at that time. The plan called for the installation of stained glass windows above the Bimah, and it was Dr. Leslie Green who was responsible for securing them. The idea for those tribal windows originated from a series of Israeli stamps. Again, these windows were highly successful as a money raising scheme.

One of the highlights in the past was the gala celebration for our 25th Anniversary held in 1958.   

Rabbi Sacks was with us for quite some time. After his departure, again guest Rabbis were brought in for High Holidays and with the dedication of some of our members, services were never interrupted, but continued with beauty and dignity.

I must mention at this time people like our beloved Gabai, Mr. Bloomfield, who has always served his Congregation with love and devotion; Earl Lyons who was always there as Cantor when we needed him. He had a beautiful singing voice, the ability to encourage Congregational participation in prayer and to organize and lead the Choir. And also Mr. Jack Klein who was always there as Torah reader, Megillah reader, leader at morning Minyanim, at any service. And too, Al Rozenberg, who as Ritual Committee chairman is following in their footsteps.

The next highlight in Beth Shalom history has to be the arrival of Rabbi Carl Klein from Mexico City as spiritual leader. I think that our services were upgraded during his tenure. He was marvellous at Torah reading , he loved to chant services. Many of you will recall his splendid job of the Neilah service over Yom Kippur. Rabbi Klein instituted a successful program of classes in Torah reading for young people. Rabbi Klein’s departure was a disappointment for the Congregation as this marked the beginning of a period of instability.

In 1967, Rabbi Alexander Graubart was engaged. He proved to be a very fine young man, loved by the entire Congregation. But alas, he didn’t stay long, preferred teaching, it seems to holding a pulpit.

Then came a short succession of Rabbis, Herbert Mandel, Sheldon Lewis, Rabbi Silver and now Rabbi Saul Hyman.

I don’t need to dwell on the disastrous fires with their consequences and financial setback. But I must single out two people to whom we owe so much: Larry Rollingher, and Alex Davis.

Rabbi Hyman has been with us since 1975 and I feel that with his warmth and sincerity, the Congregation is now experiencing a return of the stability which we need and deserve. I sincerely hope and pray that Rabbi Hyman will continue to serve this Congregation for many long years.

 

Harold Louis Samuels

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun, 15 December 2019 17 Kislev 5780