The First Minyan
Before the turn of the 20th century, the community often had to rely on transients or peddlers from Toronto who were traveling through St. Catharines to find their tenth man to form a minyan. The first services within the community were held in Philip Ginsburg’s home on Church Street. Services were later held in facilities rented by the small community on Niagara Street. The third venue the community relied on was the home of Richard Nadell at 31 Geneva Street.
By 1902, Jacob Cooperman was hired as Baal Tefillah and teacher. He maintained this position for a number of years, eventually working part-time and then leaving his job altogether to become a dry goods and furniture merchant. By 1904, the congregation secured the services of Reverand Halpern as shochet. Around 1909, the congregation legally adopted the name Chavra B’nai Israel and R.J. Hoffman became the first president. Services continued to be held at a variety of different homes, including those of Mr. Barnett and Mr. Zalavinsky. For many years the Baal Tefilla, shochet and teacher lived together in a house that was rented by the congregation on Church and Calvin streets. In 1917, after the shul was left a large bequest by the Friedman family, the congregation decided to purchase the building for $3,500. The partitions between the rooms were removed to construct a sanctuary. In 1919, the congregation paid off the mortgage and celebrated this milestone with a mortgage burning party.
Due to the expansion of the community after the First World War, the house became too small to accommodate the congregation. The community therefore began to plan for a new building. The building committee accepted a design submitted by Nicholson & McBeth and the shul was built by the Newman Brothers. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on 14 September 1924 and the west cornerstone was laid by Abe Newman and J. Levine. The east cornerstone, in turn, was laid by R.J. Hoffman.
Once the synagogue was completed, a larger ceremony took place in July 1925. Services were held in the basement of the shul and aliyahs were sold to a variety of different people in order to raise money to support the building. The reporter from the Canadian Jewish Review revealed that the key to the shul was sold to Abraham Burger from Toronto for $150 and Mrs. Morris paid $50 to open the doors to the building. A procession was held to mark the occasion, which ran from Queenston Street to Geneva Street and then to Church Street, where the synagogue was located. The parade included little girls dressed in white and blue sashes and motor cars at the end of the procession. The assembly at the ceremony sang Hatikvah and Rabbi Iser Freund from Hamilton gave the main address. The new synagogue, which could hold up to 350 people, was filled to capacity and Mayor Jacob Smith attended and presented the key to Mr. Burger. The Torah was placed in the ark and the local Hebrew Ladies’ Aid Society presented the Aron Kodesh to the congregation. Services were conducted according to Orthodox tradition and membership at that time was about 30 families.