Adath Israel was established in 1930. The congregation worshipped in rented premises at 1357 Van Horne until the construction of the synagogue in 1940 at 899 McEchran in Outremont. This was the only synagogue in the Outremont/Plateau Mont Royal areas that was not in close proximity to other synagogues and was in an entirely residential setting. It was the first synagogue in Montreal to define itself as a synagogue centre. All of these aspects foreshadowed what would be become a predominant post-war synagogue model across North America.
This congregation’s primary definition of “community centre” focused on the establishment of a school. The original elementary school facilities were in the basement and it was, according to an anniversary publication of 1965, not only the first congregational day school in Montreal, but also only the second in all of North America. By 1947, a school building was constructed in the adjacent rear lot which was extended in 1952 to accommodate Montreal’s first Jewish high school.
The congregation has been located at 223 Harrow Road in Hampstead since 1981 having amalgamated with two other former immigrant congregations: Poele Zedek (1985) and Anshei Ozeroff (2003, officially 2008).
The building on Ducharme and McEachran marks a significant transition in Montreal synagogue architecture from traditional to modern, or more specifically, from the historic eclecticism of the nineteenth century to early twentieth century modernism, influenced by the geometric simplicity of volume and form as exemplified by the Bauhaus movement. It is both interesting, and exceedingly rare, that we have an early non-built architectural proposal by architect H.W. Davis. Though it appears to be influenced by modernism in its volumetric simplicity, verticality of arched windows, and minimal ornamentation, the overall impression is still in keeping with traditional religious architecture in Montreal in which such details as the brick work and the series of arches punctuating the roof line are prominent. The design was ultimately chosen was designed by Eliasoph and Greenspoon, Jewish architects. Its shape is entirely rectilinear broken only by a semi-cylinder on the north-west corner which houses a stairwell. The arched fenestration which typically characterized the synagogues of Montreal, is replaced by narrow rectangles topped with circular clerestory windows. The entranceway, as well, is neither peaked nor arched but a prominent rectangle divided into four bays by three square pillars devoid of any ornamentation. The building is marked as a synagogue by Hebrew inscription above the entrance topped by the tablets of the Ten Commandments which are flanked by a lion and an eagle. This is the only such iconographic symbol on a synagogue in Montreal. It has been suggested that it represents the quotation from Pirkeh Avoth, the Ethics of our Fathers: Devotion to God should be as “the speed of an antelope, the strength of a lion, the perseverance of a leopard, (and) the swiftness of an eagle.”
The interior is replete with iconographic and custom details of which the stained glass is the most important. Aside from the usual magan david, stylized elements suggest staffs of wheat indicating a renewed connection to “the land” and it agriculture. The chapel features leaded windows whose grid work forms multiple magen davids. The light fixtures in the sanctuary, incised with magen davids, are not unusual. The attention to iconographic detail extends, however, to the door knobs which are embossed with a magen david superimposed on a seven branched menorah.
The interior layout represents a first in the context of these “immigrant synagogues.” As in the earlier Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, the women’s galleries have been abandoned in favour of a women’s section which is only a few steps up from the central, men’s section. There are no railings or curtains obstructing the women’s view. The layout still retains, however, the traditional central bimah.The design of the aron hakodesh (torah ark) is a departure from the traditional “temple” form of peaked pediment flanked by columns. References to the East are still evident, though in a modernized form, in the prominent niche which forms the space housing the ark, in the curtained opening, and especially in the intricate lattice work above the ark reminiscent of Islamic decorative elements.
According to Eliasoph and Greenspoon’s plans of 1939, the three levels of the synagogue building served several functions. The sanctuary level is entered from a lobby and includes a daily chapel and the office of the sexton, or "shamash". (The shamash holds a paid position, traditionally serving as supervisor of the synagogue, equivalent to today’s executive director.) The sanctuary is two stories in height but the space above the chapel and sexton’s office is divided into a rabbi’s study and library and a secretary’s office. The lower level (actually at ground level) includes a lobby with coat room and washrooms, serving a multipurpose room. There is also space designated for the women’s auxiliary, an apartment, probably for the caretaker, and a kitchen.
Today the building is Eglise St. Antoine serving the Ordre Libanes Maronite.
Written by Sara Tauben
Adath Israel Anniversary Publication, 1960.
Tauben, Sara Ferdman. "Aspirations and Adaptations: Immigrant Synagogues of Montreal, 1880s-1945." Masters Thesis. Concordia University, 2004.
Tauben, Sara Ferdman. Traces of the Past: Montreal's Early Synagogues. Montréal: Véhicule Press, 2011.
*Images courtesy of Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives and Sara Tauben.