Monday, August 20, 2012

Jews in Vancouver

Today I want to look at a bit of the history of Jews in Vancouver.

The first Jewish settlers in Vancouver congregated in the stores in Gastown and the Strathcona neighbourhood. A man by the name of Louis Gold was Vancouver's first Jewish businessman and he opened a general store on the waterfront in 1872. His wife and son were also prominent businesspeople. Louis's son, Edward, not only served as a councillor in South Vancouver in 1914 but he also willed valuable land to the Jewish community for charities and building projects.

Perhaps our most notable politician who practised the Jewish faith was David Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer moved to Vancouver in 1885 - before the city was Vancouver - and in 1888, he became our second mayor. He served in that position until 1891.

Oppenheimer secured a Jewish-burial area in the Mountain View Cemetery (though he isn't buried there. His body went back to New York where he was from.) Our second mayor was also responsible for starting much of our civic infrastructure and industry.The Oppenheimer brothers were successful in the industries of real estate, groceries and transportation. The grocery business is still operating today under the -name of The Oppenheimer Group. In addition, the Oppenheimer name is affixed to many of our local fixtures such as Oppenheimer Park.

While I am mentioning prominent Jewish settlers, I can't forget Zebulon Franks. Franks arrived in Vancouver in 1887 and by 1896; Franks had opened a hardware store. Franks was involved with the formation of our city's Jewish religious and community institutions; hosted the first Orthodox prayer services and was a founding member of B'nai B'rith. He and Henry Sigler negotiated the purchase of land for Vancouver's first synagogue. 

As for the businesses, parts of them still survive and Y. Franks Appliances and Y. Franks Parts and Service. 

When Vancouver was in its early years, there wasn't a synagogue here. The closest was Temple Emanu-El in Victoria. (That temple started in 1894 and was active through 1917.) Vancouver didn't have a synagogue until 1911. That is when the Orthodox congregation, B'nai Yehudah (also known as Sons of Israel) built a synagogue at the corner of Heatley and East Pender Streets.

(here is a photo of that synagogue, which appeared in a blog entry I wrote in 2010.)

For High Holy Days, larger halls had to be rented because the synagogue seated 200. Doesn't that give you an impression of how large the community was at the time?

There were also several community organizations in this building. Children's Judaic classes began shortly after opening and in 1918, The Vancouver Hebrew School/Talmud Torah started at the synagogue. In 1914, the temple was saved from foreclosure during an economic depression by an emergency fundraising campaign.

In 1917, B'nai Yehudah was incorporated as a society by the name of Schara Tzedeck. Now, the building is condominiums.


Thanks to Wikipedia for the information here.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


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