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The Whitney Pier Jewish Community evolved as a result of Immigration chiefly from Eastern European countries in the early 1900s. Most came to Canada seeking a peaceful existence for their families. Some had skills which were in demand at the steel plant and were able to obtain employment there. Some became peddlers, others went into business for themselves. They operated grocery stores, clothing stores, butcher shops and tailor shops.
The earliest members of the Jewish community held services in a rented public hall in the city, but on April 6, 1913, a meeting was held to elect officers for the porpose of building a place of worship. Israel Nathanson was elected President, Aaron Feder was Vice President, Hyman Brody was Secretary, Joseph Sadofsky was Treasurer, M. Ballin and P. Gaum were Trustees.
A week later aa building committee was formed consisting of H. Green, P. Gaum, A. Wolfson, I. Nathanson, F. Sherman, H. Brody and J.I. Sadofsky. On April 27th, land was purchased on Mount Pleasaant Street and on June 12th a contract was given to Mr. A. Cameron to construct a Synagogue. The cornerstone was laid on June 23, 1913. The new Synagogue was ready for services on the High Holidays in September 1913.
Rabbis who served the Synagogue during its first forty years were I. Jacobson, J. Bachrach, H. Director, Winer, Dianow, H. Bronstein, S.B. Bronstein and S. Spiro and H. Lecher.
In addition to a Rabbi, the community employed a Hebrew Teacher to instruct the children. Classes were held daily with the exception of Friday and Saturday after the regular school day in the basement of the Synagogue.
In 1913, the womeen formed the Daughters of Jacob Aid Society for the express purpose of assisting newcomers to integrate into the community. Once a week, the ladies met in various homes paying five-cents dues. With this money they accomplished much. Often, they bought railway tickets for persons stranded in Sydney. They acted as interpreters until newcomers learned the language. They also provided funds for persons requiring medical attention.
Within a stones throw of the Synagogue, the Young Men's Hebrew Association built a clubhouse where weddings, banquets, Bar Mitzvahs, plays, concerts and athletics were held. Unfortunately both buildings were destroyed by fire, the Synagogue in 1960 and the YMHA in 1970.
Despite the declining membership, the Synagogue was rebuilt. Spearheaded by the late Ephriam Feder, Hymie Moraff and Ephriam Newman the Synagogue was erected on the original foundation.
They came with very little worldly goods but worked hard, long hours to improve their circumstances. Education of their children was of paramount importance. Out of the community came doctors, lawyers, dentists, and academics.
Prominent among these:
The Synagogue is now a museum operated by the Whitney Pier Historical Society. The original basement and Mikvah are seen by many visitors and contains the historical mementoes of a multi-cultural community of which the Jews played a part.
[ Written using notes from the late Bertha Rusikov, from Elizabeth Beaton and Hadassah Vice President, Evelyn Davis. ]