Beth Israel Synagogue (Kingston, Ontario) is celebrating a milestone. It has been 100 years since its formation and members and former members are gathering for a homecoming weekend.
The history of the Jewish community in Kingston is rich, varied and one of perseverance. In the late 1800s, a group of Jews arrived in Kingston, one of which was Simon Oberndeorffer. Of German descent, he owned and operated a cigar factory in Kingston and was also a founding member of a Jewish congregation. He became the first Jew elected to the Kingston Board of Aldermen in 1892.
There were several Jewish congregations at that point and in 1908 those congregations came together after a man named Isaac Cohen promised to build a synagogue if they agreed to come together. They became known as the Beth Israel Congregation, and the synagogue opened in 1910. The congregation left the original building in the mid 1950s and the new building was opened in 1961 at 116 Centre Street.
When the congregation was formed there were approximately 200 Jews in Kingston; most came from Germany, Poland and Russia to escape the trials and tribulations of persecution.
Some of these early families —Abramsky, Abrams, Malinoff, Robinson, Smith, Morris — are still prominent here today. In Kingston they found acceptance and a place where they could become very productive members of society.
Many Jews chose to be peddlers and retailers because they needed to have professions which allowed them to be able to practice their religion and honour the Sabbath. Traditionally the Sabbath runs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
In 1857 there were five Jews in Kingston; by 1922 that number had grown to 300. Currently, the Orthodox congregation numbers approximately 350, but there are as many as 800 Jews in Kingston.
Beth Israel did not have a rabbi leading the congregation until 1942 when Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman took the position. His appointment evolved because of a Jewish organization called Hillel that opened branches on campuses across North America beginning in the late 1930s. Kingston was one of the first Hillels in North America. Rabbi Daniel Elkin has been at the synagogue since 1997. (Kingston This Week)
Click here to read the entire article and here to visit the Beth Israel Synagogue website.