The First Minyan and Synagogue

In the early years of Jewish settlement in Berlin (Kitchener) and Waterloo, there was little organized religious life. Religious services were held in people’s homes and the Jewish education of children was left in the hands of their parents. By 1907, there were about 10 families living in Berlin (Kitchener), and the community came together to form an Orthodox synagogue called Beth Jacob. The letters of incorporation empowered the following trustees to purchase a property and engage a rabbi: Wolfe Feldman, Samuel Florence, William Clavir, Harry Matlow, and Max Rosenberg. Wolfe Feldman served as the congregation’s first president.

Rabbi Joseph Krivy was engaged in 1907 as Berlin's (Kitchener's) first shochet and rabbi. In his house on Eby Street, he provided instruction to children and hosted religious services. This was the first organized effort of the Kitchener-Waterloo Jewish community. By 1916, Rabbi Krivy’s house was too small to hold everyone, so the congregation bought a house at Weber and Cedar Streets. Within four years, they moved again to a house on Albert Street (now Madison Avenue). Religious services and general meetings were held on the ground floor, and the community’s shochet and educator since 1913, Mordeccai (Max) Highman, lived on the second floor with his wife and five children.

In 1923, a site for Kitchener’s first synagogue was purchased from Jacob Cohen, on a hill half a block from the house on Albert Street, which was sold. Construction began in 1924 and was propelled by the fundraising efforts of four men: Jack Davis, Wolfe Feldman, Samuel Florence and Max Migdal. In recognition of their dedication, their names were inscribed on stones at the base of the new synagogue.

Jacob Cohen’s son Max remembered how beautiful the original shul was and how “it became the centre of everything” for Kitchener’s Jews. There was a women’s section on the main floor until a gallery was built for them upstairs. True to classic Jewish sanctuary architecture, the Bimah was in the centre. The stately building was adorned with beautifully carved wood and stained glass windows. It included a sanctuary, meeting rooms and space for a Talmud Torah. The synagogue opened in 1925 under the guidance of Rabbi Levine, with 61 founding members’ names inscribed on a plaque inside.