OTTAWA — At a time when many cities are seeing the demise of synagogues in their downtown cores as Jews continue their migration to the suburbs, Congregation Beth Shalom is bucking the trend.
Located in Ottawa’s downtown Sandy Hill neighbourhood, the Beth Shalom will be celebrating its 50th anniversary with an “Evening of Bubbles & Bites,” June 18 at the shul.
Vera Klein, who is chairing the event, is the daughter of one of the synagogue’s founding members, Bill Grossman.
“Besides celebrating the 50th anniversary of the synagogue, the evening is also an opportunity to celebrate its rebirth and renewal, a coming alive again with a new vibrancy,” she said, noting that although over the years many families have moved away from the downtown core, there are young couples and families moving into the area and joining Beth Shalom.
There have, of course, been challenges and changes along the way for the formerly Orthodox and currently unaffiliated Beth Shalom.
By 2002, after much of Ottawa’s Jewish community had moved out to the suburbs, the congregation had shrunk to about 400 member families, about half the number it had 25 years earlier.
In an effort to attract new members, in 2003, two-thirds of Beth Shalom’s members voted to secede from the Orthodox Union and introduce mixed seating in the sanctuary. The shul also decided to allow bat mitzvah girls to read haftarot – though not to read from the Torah – but it retained its Orthodox liturgy and kashruth standards.
The changes led to the resignation of the shul’s chazzan and rabbi, and about 40 to 50 people split off to form a new downtown minyan that eventually became the Orthodox Community Ohev Yisroel.
Membership now stands at about 400 families and is growing, said parnass Allan Baker.
The June 18 celebratory evening will have a number of nostalgic components.
A documentary video tracing the shul’s history is being prepared by a committee under the leadership of shul member and former CBC reporter Jason Moscovitz. The video will feature interviews with congregants sharing their favourite stories of bygone eras.
Pictures are also being gathered for a “walk down memory lane” display of storyboards to be mounted in the foyer, which guests will enjoy while meeting old friends during the opening reception.
Other highlights of the evening will be a tribute to Issie Rose, “a stalwart member and fixture in the life of Beth Shalom,” said Alyce Baker, whose family has also been involved with the synagogue over the decades. There will also be a ceremony honouring the founding members of the synagogue, many of whom are still active and will be present that evening.
There will be music from the five decades of the synagogue’s existence, and a cocktail reception will feature food kiosks with delicacies from each decade.
Organizers are hoping that many former Ottawans will come “home” to join in the celebration.
Tickets are available through the synagogue office at 613-789-3501, ext. 223, and the cost, following the theme of the evening, is $57.17, commemorating the year on the Jewish calendar that Beth Shalom was founded.