Our HistoryHow we came to be...
Nineteen fifty-three is a good year to begin this story of our founding. Cote St. Luc was at the time considered to be real hinterland with respect to the rest of Montreal, yet by this time close to 2100 families had moved into the area. Among the newly arrived residents were approximately 25 Jewish families. From amongst these earliest “pioneers”, a group of ten men met early in 1953 to plan for a synagogue. There was a belief amongst them that the soul of a Jew was in his religion and that the soul of that religion resided in the synagogue. At this early stage, this visionary minyan of highly motivated individuals hoped to create a house of prayer, a house of study, a place for the growing Jewish community to meet and a magnet for Jewish youth.
A first step was to organize afternoon Hebrew classes. They were attended by 50 children in the basement of the home of Mr. Harold Levy in the Westluke section of the town. Other homes were also recruited for classes as well as for volunteer-led services, initially held on Sunday mornings. The first Shabbat Service was held in the home of Mr. Norman Goldenberg, firmly establishing the seed of Jewish worship in the western part of Montreal.
By 1955, with slightly over 150 members, land was purchased in the centre of Cote St Luc and a ground-breaking ceremony for our first house of worship took place. The building, a modest six-room cottage, was built with the enthusiastic participation of all members and their families, and early in 1956 this little house on Hudson Avenue became the home of Beth Zion Congregation.
Our urgent need for an outstanding spiritual leader was fulfilled when Rabbi Sidney Shoham of Baltimorewas engaged to lead us. By October 1956, with 300 members, our newly built synagogue was too small to meet our needs for Yom Tov, and so High Holiday Services were conducted in a large tent so that hundreds could participate in prayer.
At this time, the Beth Zion was the only available meeting place able to accommodate the activities of the burgeoning numbers of Jewish youth moving into the area. We had the only kosher kitchen for miles around and we gladly opened our facilities to the growing west-end community. Thus, from the beginning, Beth Zion was the community centre of Cote St. Luc.
In 1957, the distinguished Cantor Tibor Holczer joined the Congregation, and High Holiday services had to be conducted in a local school in order to accommodate the many hundreds of new, young families that continued to swell our numbers.
In 1958, High Holiday Services were once again held at the school, but the day after Yom Kippur ground was broken for the present building on Hudson Avenue. The new building was dedicated in 1959, and a new era of pride, accomplishment and communal service had begun. In fact, it was the dynamic leadership of Beth Zion that drove the growth of the Jewish community of Cote St. Luc. By the end of 1960, the Congregation membership exceeded 700 families with over 2000 children.
By 1965, our ranks had swelled to almost 1000 families, and on June 20 we broke ground once again for a new Sanctuary that was connected to the existing structure. Not only did the new Sanctuary provide an extraordinary place for worship and prayer, but with completion of this building program, Beth Zion was able to offer the community a wide array of resources to support a variety of communal activities.