Shaar Shalom Archives

On Thursday, May 14th, 1953, a group of Halifax people met at the Nova Scotian Hotel and with determination agreed that a new congregation be established in this city, which would give them an opportunity of expressing their religious, educational, and social aims in consonance with a Judaism that had meaning and relevance for them. The first expressed goal of such a congregation was the establishment of a family synagogue, where every member of the family, parents and children, could have an active part to play in the religious atmosphere of the synagogue.

The small group of thirty-five members realized that it was assuming a difficult task, but it immediately decided to forge ahead with an ambitious building project, appointing a rabbi and teacher, establishing a school, making provisions for a place to worship, and acquiring a cemetery plot.

On June 15th the name Shaar Shalom was chosen for this new congregation. Meaning “Gate of Peace” it expressed an invitation to all those who wished to affiliate as well as giving voice to the sacred purpose of the new group, which was Peace. By the following year, this foundling group doubled in number, validating the intent of its chosen name.

On the weekend of July 2nd, the first religious services of the new Congregation were held in the auditorium of St. Andrew’s Hall, now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Conducting worship was Rabbi David Jacobs, who was visiting Halifax with Mrs. Jacobs at the invitation of the congregation. On July 20th Rabbi Jacobs was asked to serve the Congregation as its spiritual leader, and Mrs. Jacobs as teacher in the School to be established.

At a congregational meeting on August 3rd the purchase of a Cemetery plot on Connaught Ave. near Windsor St. was approved and information was brought forth of a lot of land on Oxford and Pepperell Streets, part of the old Quinpool Road School property, which might be available to the congregation as a building site. A committee was formed to meet with Mayor Donahue. The Cemetery was dedicated on October 18th.

On Friday night, August 14th, the first regular Sabbath services of the congregation were held. Until its own structure was to be complete, the services were held at the Jewish Centre Building on Quinpool Road through the co-operation of the Baron de Hirsch Society, which organization also provided the new congregation with two sifrei Torah, prayer books and chumashim.

The first High Holyday worship of Shaar Shalom Congregation was held in the auditorium of the Arts and Science Building on the Dalhousie Campus, and these facilities were used again in 1954. During the Kol Nidre of 1953, announcement was made to the congregation of the approval by City Council of the sale of land at Pepperell and Oxford Streets, that could be used for the construction of the new synagogue.

The newly organized school of the congregation met for the first months of its existence in the finished basement of the Stern’s home. There were forty-four students. Later in the year the facilities of the Sir Charles Tupper School building were made available and were used by the school through June 1955.

At this time two Sifrei Torah were presented to the congregation and an Ark to house them was built by one of the members. This gave a sense of stability to the new organization, for its borrowed appurtenances could be returned. The congregation possessed the source of holiness that could make of any room a synagogue by their presence. During the two years of its existence without a building, the congregation carried this Ark with its sacred contents wherever it gathered to pray. For the High Holydays to Dalhousie University, for a Bar Mitzvah to the Lord Nelson hotel. That Ark and those two Sifrei Torah are presently installed in the eastern wall of the Chapel of the synagogue building.

Since its inception the Shaar Shalom congregation was affiliated with the United Synagogue of America, which is the organized body of Conservative congregations on the continent. The direction and assistance which came from that association, as well as the Jewish Theological Seminary, gave the content to the local synagogue program. Jointly with the Seminary, and through the co-operation of radio station CJCH, Shaar Shalom congregation sponsored the weekly broadcast of the dramatic series “The Eternal Light” for three years.

Established as the working arms of the Congregation at this time was the Women’s League and The Men’s Club. Both of these groups are affiliated with National bodies which are part of the United Synagogue and have, during the years, served to spearhead congregational activities.

On Wednesday, November 18th, 1953, the people of the congregation were guests for dinner at the Lord Nelson Hotel. The congenial spirit of the evening was underlined by an $80,000.00 pledge by those gathered for the Shaar Shalom building programme.

The meeting that actually decided for building the present Shaar Shalom structure was held on September 9th, 1954. The congregation learned that construction costs of a suitable building for present needs would actually be double that which had originally been expected. At that very tense gathering in the Bedford Room of the Nova Scotian Hotel, the chairman induced all those present to express their hopes and misgivings about future plans, and finally after a most exciting evening, a motion was unanimously passed approving this action.

Ground was broken for the new building on September 24th, 1954. Present for the event were the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, the premier, the Mayor of Halifax, and other provincial and local dignitaries. Mr. Max Pascal was presented with a bag of soil from Mount Zion that was placed in the Cornerstone, and Mr. Noa Heinish with a gold coloured spade tuned sod.

The building was first used for Worship for Maariv on September 15th, 1955. Rosh Hashanah services were held the next day in the almost completed building.

The dedication and cornerstone laying of the Shaar Shalom Synagogue building took place on October 31st, 1954. Guest of honor was Dr. Max Arzt, Vice-Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. Mr. Noa heinish set the Cornerstone in place and a service of worship and thanksgiving was held in the sanctuary of the new building for the privilege given the people of Shaar Shalom to building a place where God might dwell.

-History found in Shaar Shalom archives