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Winnipeg Reform shul marks 50 years

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Temple Shalom marks 50 years. [Myron Love photo]

WINNIPEG — On April 20, Temple Shalom, Winnipeg’s only Reform congregation, will host a special evening in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

“We will be having a concert and a dessert buffet,” said Miral Gabor, Temple Shalom’s current president. “We’re hoping to have about 100 people.”

It hasn’t been easy for Temple Shalom over the years. Winnipeg’s Jewish community has always been quite conservative. It’s not that it was a stronghold of Orthodoxy – it had a strong socialist, Yiddishist strand for the first half of the 20th century. Nonetheless, Jewish Winnipeggers brought up in Orthodox or Conservative families, have tended to remain loyal to the synagogues their families first belonged to.

These days, that would be the Shaarey Zedek Congregation, this community’s largest synagogue, or Congregation Etz Chayim in northern Winnipeg, which used to be the Rosh Pina before merging 11 years ago with two other large north Winnipeg congregations.

Gabor said Temple Shalom currently has about 110 member families, a figure that has remained relatively constant over the years.  On an average Friday evening Oneg Shabbat, it attracts 40 people, though many more attend Cantor Len Udow’s special music services, held every two months, more than 200 people attend High Holiday services.

Temple Shalom was founded in 1963 by three couples and two individuals. Initially, the small shul met in members’ homes. In 1970, the growing group relocated to a building in the old North End that housed the National Council of Jewish Women’s Golden Age club. At around the same time, the congregation hired its first spiritual leader. For Rabbi Jerry Steinberg, it was also his first pulpit. Rabbi Steinberg, who grew up in Regina and went to university in Winnipeg, wrote about his tenure at Temple Shalom in his recently published memoir, Rogue Rabbi. The congregation and the rabbi agreed to a parting of the ways after a few years.

After a time, Temple Shalom hired Rabbi Eric Silver. He was succeeded in 1986 by Rabbi Tracy Klirs, the first woman to serve as a rabbi in Winnipeg. By that time, the congregation has acquired a renovated house in south central Winnipeg.

Rabbi Klirs only stayed for a couple of years. She was succeeded by Rabbi Jeffrey Gale, whose 10-year tenure was the longest of Temple Shalom’s spiritual leaders. The congregation moved into its current building in south Winnipeg in 1989, coincident with Rabbi Gale’s arrival. Rabbi Michael Levenson, spiritual leader from 1999 to 2003, generated controversy in the larger community when he publicly announced that he’d perform mixed marriages and gay marriages.

After his departure, the temple relied on visiting student rabbis until Rabbi Karen Soria moved to Winnipeg in 2008 and became the current spiritual leader.

The congregation has long been blessed with popular cantors. Richard Yaffe, a lawyer by profession, served as its cantor and choir director for more than 20 years. When he left in 1998, he was succeeded by Udow, a longtime children’s entertainer and folk singer who released an album of cantorial music last year.

Gabor and her sister, Sima Schachter, joined Temple Shalom when they were in their early 20s. They persuaded their parents, Phil and Lee Schachter, to join as well, and Phil Schachter has twice served as president.

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