The Adath Yeshurun was established in about 1908 by Lithuanian Jews. Abandoning the original rented premises on St. Lawrence and Pine, the congregation built an impressive synagogue in 1916 at 4459 St. Urbain. With the movement of the community to post-war neighborhoods, a new synagogue was built in 1955 at 5855 Lavoie near the Jewish General Hospital. By the 1970’s the front of the building was marked by a lengthy name recalling and preserving the legacy of six congregations from the older neighbourhoods: Chevra Shas Adath Yeshurun Hadrath Kodesh Shevet Achim Chaverim Kol Israel d’Bet Avraham.Witness to history
Hirsch Wolofsky, founder and editor of the Keneder Adler, reported on an incident which occurred at the dedication of the St Urbain Street synagogue (January 15, 1917) which is illustrative of the tensions between the established “uptown” community and the “downtown” immigrant Jews.
“Yesterday there was held the Chanukos Habais of the new uptown synagogue, the Adath Yeshurun, at the corner of St. Urbain and Mount Royal…Mr. Fromson, in introducing "Mr. Lyon Cohen", paid tribute to the board of officers and the executive on the achievement of the construction of the new synagogue.” [Lyon Cohen was then president of the Shaar Hashomayim and honourary president of the Adath Yeshurun during the construction process.]
“Mr. Lyon Cohen, however, did not deliver his address due to the disturbance caused by numerous strikers who were present at the ceremony. ("A strike in the needle industry was then in full swing"; in view of the fact that Mr. Cohen was Chairman of the Manufacturer’s Association, the full wrath of the striking workers was being directed against him.) Mr. Wolofsky was then called upon to calm the gathering, after many other attempts to address them had failed. Mr. Wolofsky who through his journal had thrown his support in the industrial dispute to the side of the strikers, succeeded in bringing order to the assembly, persuading the strikers that it was not fitting for Jewish workers to disturb a religious ceremony.”
On the occasion of the celebration of the 80th birthday of Rabbi Hirsch Cohen in 1940, the Adath Yeshurun-Hadrath Kodesh congregation offered the following greeting:
“Today our shul plays a significant role in the community. Our shul always was and remains receptive to a dvaar Torah…and for everything that carries a divine word in the heart and a Jewish sentiment in the soul.
"The Adath Yeshurun-Hadrath Kodesh deserves one hundred percent the great and beautiful name as she is indeed a hadrath kodesh [awe-inspiring grandeur or a thing of holy splendour ] as well as an adath yeshurun [a congregation of Israel]. Would that all our houses of worship would be conducted with such commitment and sincerity as our shul and for this we are indebted to a great extent to the inspiration which Rabbi Hirsh Cohen has always given us and which he is still ready to give.”
The recollections of ordinary members suggest that the congregants were not necessarily as observant as such formal words of the leaders implies:
Irving Halperin recorded his memories of the shul from the thirties to the sixties. “Because the Adath Yeshurun meant so much to my father, we were drawn into it. There were no activities for young people. It was a place to davin. There was a solemnity and warmth that my family and I appreciated…Though we had a very orthodox home, my father had to work on Shabbos in the early years. He didn’t go to the shul every Shabbos and I didn’t go alone to the Adath Yeshurn…”
Lawrence Popliger recalls attending the shul with his grandfather in the thirties. His parents were members of the Beth David.
“I had one grandfather who lived on Esplanade [near the shul]. I took a street car to join my grandfather at the Adath Yeshurun shul. [Note that for the sake of joining his grandfather at shul there was no hesitancy in taking the street car on Shabbat.] …My grandfather was thrilled that I would come there. My grandfather, Sam Popliger, was an officer and sat in the mizrach section. The seats alongside of the aron hakodesh facing the congregation were reserved…for officers or major donors to the synagogue…
The Chenneville Street Synagogue [the old Beth David location] was comparable to the Adath Yeshun in that they felt older and attracted an older congregation….The Adath Yeshurun was my grandfather’s shul, The Beth David was my father’s shul…”Physical description: 4459 St. Urbain
The St. Urbain Street location was a purpose built brick building with concrete trim featuring a prominent arch over the entrance door which was topped with a stained glass magen david inscribed in a circular window. A former member described the interior as having a traditional layout: the main sanctuary for the men, Aron Hakodesh on the eastern wall, a central bimah, and women’s balcony. They also recall roughly painted illustrations on the balustrade of the balcony, possibly of biblical scenes. The wood furnishings were simple and the floor covered in linoleum. As Harry Berger related, “I wouldn’t say that the synagogue filled me with a sense of awe nor would I say that there was a sense of splendor...” In addition to the sanctuary the building had an office and a small chapel used for daily minyans and study. The door on the back wall led to a yard where a succah was built during the holiday of Succoth.
Written by Sara Tauben
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 Arie Subar and Sara Tauben.