HISTORY OF ADATH SHALOM CONGREGATION
(with an emphasis on the early years, circa 1978-1990)
Members can obtain a fuller version by emailing
The idea for an egalitarian Conservative synagogue was uninitiated by Rabbi Roy Tannenbaum. Roy was rabbi at Agudath Israel Synagogue in 1977. His eldest daughter was approaching Bat Mitzvah age, and he wanted her to have a more active role in the service than the rules at Agudath Israel would permit. When he learned that his contract would not be renewed at Agudath Israel, rather than looking for another position in some other city, he decided to stay in Ottawa and try to establish a new congregation with more female participation. He approached a number of congregants at Agudath Israel who he knew were very supportive of his ideas. Many non-affiliated individuals were also contacted, and soon it appeared that a new congregation might be possible.
When enough prospective members were gathered, the congregation was launched. A constitution committee was immediately formed to come up with a new constitution. Meetings were held at least once a week until the constitution met everyone's satisfaction (although the rabbi had misgivings about some parts). By September 1979, Adath Shalom was officially affiliated with the United Synagogue of America (now called the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism), and it was welcomed as a member of the Ottawa Vaad Ha’ir.
Front page coverage on the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin and lots of "talking up" by the founding members resulted in 93 individuals signing up by the date of the first service, July 22, 1978. Although the list of "paper members" was long, the number of active participants was small at the beginning. Our approach to finding members was based mainly on word-of-mouth, although a few ads were placed in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. (One of the first advertisements suggested, "If you prefer a Honda to a Cadillac, try the new Adath Shalom Congregation (Conservative)..." It was decided from the beginning not to target any members of existing congregations for full membership, but to concentrate on unaffiliated Jews and newcomers to Ottawa. To that end, over 700 pamphlets were distributed in the west end community and to recent arrivals to Ottawa attending Welcome meetings run by the Jewish Community. We also successfully solicited Associate membership from those affiliated with other synagogues.
On August 3, 1978, Adath Shalom had a general meeting and held its first election.
Some basic ideas for the new shul were formulated in early organizational meetings and in negotiations with Rabbi Roy (as he was called at the time).
With regard to the liturgy, the new synagogue was firmly rooted in main-stream Conservative practice. At Shabbat services, we first used second-hand copies of the traditional Silverman prayer book and Hertz Humash (donated by Agudath Israel and other synagogues), but we were anxious to adopt a more progressive service and anxiously awaited the completion of the long-promised "Sim Shalom" prayer book being prepared by the Rabbinical Assembly at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. A leading member even went to see Rabbi Harlow (editor of Sim Shalom) while on a trip to New York to see exactly when the book would be appearing. As soon as the new siddur was available, we were among the first congregations to order copies for everyone. In the meantime, the congregation adopted the newly published Machzor, also edited by Rabbi Harlow. Members were asked to purchase their own copies, as they still are.
Although established as an egalitarian synagogue with women being called to the Torah for aliyot and leading prayers, women were not counted as part of the minyan until February 7, 1982, after a full congregational meeting and discussion concluded with a vote on the issue. As a meaningful gesture of egalitarianism, an early Ritual Committee decided to include mention of the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) together with the patriarchs in the Shacharit and Musaf readings of the Amidah. Because even the newly acquired “Sim Shalom” siddurim did not do so, Leah Schnitzer wrote them by hand into dozens of copies so that we would get used to the practice. (The second edition of Sim Shalom, which we now use, does include the matriarchs though, only as an option.)
Strict observance of kashrut was part of Adath Shalom practice from the beginning, and was written into the constitution.
The first Shabbat service of the new congregation was held on July 22, 1978, at the Greenbank Public School. Until the hoped-for senior residence was built with our chapel, we had arranged to meet at the Greenbank Public School in the school library. School lockers (3 of them) were used to store the prayer books and even our Sefer Torah (borrowed from Beth Shalom Synagogue) and kiddush wine. An ark and bimah were built in the shop of one of the congregants and these were stored in the school's storage area. Each week, the ark, bimah, sidurim, chumashim and podium were taken out by volunteers. All the library tables had to be moved aside and the chairs set up by these same volunteers. One of the interesting creative innovations, designed by a member who was an engineer, was a system for creating an ark from a curtain on a curtain rod hung over a Greenbank library table standing on its side so that the heavy wooden ark did not have to be carried in each week.
Minyans were often late or didn't materialize at all, even after women were counted. We experimented with different starting times, but that didn't seem to make much difference with regard to when people showed up. (Sound familiar?) Although the membership list included 105 names by the first High Holy Days period, getting ten congregants for a minyan proved to be an on-going problem.
Rabbi Roy was a great rabbi when it came to providing ideas for programs, discussions, and general leadership, but he took a back seat when it came to leading the davening. Instead, he encouraged all the members to learn various parts of the service.
The optimistic plans of the congregation began to unravel early in the spring of 1979 when Rabbi Roy submitted his resignation. The reasons were complex, and they differed according to different perspectives. Fortunately, the lack of rabbinic leadership did not lead to the dissolution of the congregation. If anything, it forced the new group to re-evaluate its goals and role in the Jewish community. Soon afterward, CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) cancelled its planned support of the senior citizen's residence in Centrepointe, and the dreams of occupying a chapel in such a facility vanished. The congregation was now without a spiritual leader and without the prospect of a permanent home.
Adath Shalom still had its rented facilities in the library of the Greenbank Public School, and so it was decided that the library would continue to be the meeting place for Shabbat services until a more permanent home was needed.
Another early challenge was the creation of Beth Shalom West, an orthodox synagogue, in nearby Craig Henry. Several of our active members decided to move their affiliation to the new shul, and so Adath Shalom suffered a sudden and significant loss of membership.
6. Accommodation Problems for High Holiday Services and Special Events
Holiday services could not be accommodated in the library both because of space and conflicts between the school's schedule and the dates of the holidays, and summer services were also impossible at the school. For the chagim and during the summer, we therefore met at the homes of congregants. Members provided space for these small but wonderfully haimish services. For the large space needed for the High Holy Days, Adath Shalom rented the party room at Riviera Gates Apartment Buildings (Greenbank and Baseline Roads). The room was large enough but lighting was poor. We therefore tried various ways to beef up the lighting, finally purchasing about a dozen large floodlights that were clamped to the ceiling supports. It wasn't perfect, but it served the purpose for a number of years.
Because of limited space and an awkward layout in the library of the Greenbank school, Bar and Bat Mitzvah events were usually held elsewhere. Many were held in the council chambers of the Nepean City Hall, a very nice space even though the bimah and chazzan were necessarily below (at a lower level) than the congregation, a very untraditional arrangement for a service. Other Bar and Bat Mitzvah events were held at various hotels around town, most frequently the Chateau Laurier or Embassy West.
With the opening of the new Jewish Community Campus on Broadview near Carling Ave., some members of the congregation wondered if we could find a more permanent home there, which would give us more Jewish surroundings. The late Gerald Berger had indicated to us that the Property Management Committee might be open to our using space in the chapel for our services. At the Annual General Meeting in 1990, the congregation approved a move to the Broadview Campus of the Jewish Community Centre, pending approval by the JCC. An effort was made, with a number of letters and meetings, but approval was not forthcoming. A Building Committee was formed (or reinstituted) in 1992. The spring and summer were busy with exchanges of letters and meetings with the JCC culminating with a presentation to the Property Management Committee (PMC) of the JCC in September. Approval was given to Adath Shalom by a vote of 10-1, and an agreement was worked out in the fall for occupancy early in the spring of 1993. The first service at the Broadview Campus was in April 1993. The initial arrangement was that the youth program would be in the junior cafeteria in the basement, but this turned out to be unworkable. The school later became more flexible and allowed us to use classrooms, which were better designed for young children.
After the congregation moved to Broadview, High Holy Day services were held first in the downstairs cafeteria, and later in the gymnasium of the school, with curtains, artwork and other amenities added to make the space look festive. Shabbat services were held in the chapel, which can accommodate about 40-50 people comfortably. When more space was needed, as on the chagim, for a shabbaton, or for Bar or Bat Mitzvah events, services were moved into the gymnasium. The space was first put to the test with a Bar Mitzvah on May 22, 1993 in the chapel, and both Bar Mitzvah boy and the accommodation came through in great style.
In the early days of the shul, the congregants did not feel competent to lead High Holy Day services, and so Adath Shalom hired a professional chazzan for the holidays. For the first three years, a talented and very agreeable young man came in from Montreal to lead services. The congregation then availed itself of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s program of placing rabbinical students in various shuls throughout North America for the holidays. Rabbinic leadership was provided over the years by a number of enthusiastic, knowledgeable and dedicated students. Being an egalitarian synagogue meant that we could benefit from the talents and perspectives of a number of excellent women rabbis. Indeed, Adath Shalom had the first female rabbi to lead a service in any congregation in Ottawa. More experienced rabbis were invited to lead the services from time to time all adding their special talents and perspectives to the fabric that now constitutes the Adath Shalom character.
Only after a number of years and many different chazanim and rabbis did the congregants themselves take on the responsibility of leading services for the High Holy Days. In 1986, a “davening group" was formed. Using taped recordings purchased from the JTS, each member of the group learned different parts of the service with the proper holiday tunes (tropes). At first, only a portion of the service was led by the congregants, with the rabbinical student, or some other invitee, asked to fill in the gaps. Finally, in about 1990, the davening group was able to conduct the entire service. Nevertheless, the need for a rabbi or rabbinical student to provide spiritual leadership, learning and sermons, and to keep us "on track," remained, as it does today.
Shabbaton weekends gave us the opportunity to invite not only rabbis but other spiritual leaders as well, such as storytellers and scholars.
Our first Bnei Mitzvah was in May 1980 in the Greenbank Public School. In the first years, with such a young congregation, the Bnei Mitzvot were few... in fact, only one or two a year. As the congregation and the kids got older, many more such happy events occurred each year.
One of the special features of Adath Shalom is its small size, and the accompanying feeling of havurah... fellowship, and being “family”. Although the shul has never had a Brit Milah (except at the homes of the happy parents), baby namings for girls have frequently taken place at our Shabbat services. We enjoy seeing our children grow, having their first try at leading Ein Kelohenu, later Ashrei, and then celebrating their Bat or Bar Mitzvah. Some of these young people have remained committed and active as adults in the congregation.
Adath Shalom has always had a strong social conscience, starting from the earliest days. In the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict, refugees flooded into North America, many families being welcomed by church or synagogue groups. Adath Shalom, together with the Jewish Philosophy and Ethics Group, was among the first Jewish congregations to volunteer to look after a refugee family. In January 1980, the Tran-Thi family arrived. Only recently, the shul again jumped in to help a family of Kosovo refugees.
The stories about our Sefei Torah are many and are interesting. As stated before, our first Torah was lent to us by Beth Shalom Congregation. A brand new Sefer Torah was purchased in 1981 from Rodal’s, a Jewish book store in Montreal, and was inaugurated into service at a special celebration ceremony at the home of the Brodos in April, 1982. Rabbi Sam Prager, a skilled sofer as well as the official rabbi of the Quebec City congregation, came from Montreal to fill in the final letters and complete the Torah with all of the congregants honoured by a chance to participate in this momentous event. The Sefer Torah turned out to be less than perfect and had to be checked from beginning to end by Rabbi Prager, but finally, it was corrected and brought into weekly use, giving us two Sefer Torahs for use on holidays.
Beth Shalom recalled their Torah in 1986 apparently after a congregant of theirs complained that he heard that women were being called to the Torah and were carrying it on Simhat Torah. Less than a year later, however, Agudath Israel Congregation voted to lend us a scroll. They had no problem with our running an egalitarian service with their scroll, although they were not egalitarian themselves.
Very recently (1998??), another Sefer Torah was purchased, this time a used scroll from New York City. All three scrolls get regular use at our Shabbat and holiday services.
The Bulletin has always been the most important means of communication within the shul. (The shul phone was added much later, in the late 1980s.) Each Editor added something of themselves to the publication. Internet communication is even more recent. Our first web page was designed and put onto the Internet in 199?. E-mail serves the Board members very well, and within the past two years, an electronic discussion group has been formed, and an up-to-date web page has been designed and maintained by David Steinberg.
We are unique among modern synagogues in having no fundraising committee or any fundraising events, although in the early years, fundraising was a major preoccupation. We tried raffles, selling stencilled T-shirts (with the buyer’s Hebrew name), home-made dreydles and shopping bags at Arts Alive, art auctions, “fashion parties,” and other make-money schemes. One of the most successful and innovative fund-raisers was a services auction where members of the shul auctioned their services to other members. Few of these efforts netted us much cash and all of them took loads of time. On principle, we decided never to get into the Bingo business. Finally, it was decided to keep our expenses within a budget that could be supported with membership dues and unsolicited donations alone, and all active fundraising efforts ceased.
Adath Shalom celebrated its ”Bat Mitzvah” year on April 4, 1992 with a gala celebration at the Jewish Community Centre on Chapel Street, with the Zemer Trio providing the entertainment. For the 20th anniversary, Sharon and Mark created a video of Adath Shalom through the years, and this was shown at a party. Another celebration is planned for the 25th anniversary with a Shabbaton led by our founder, Rabbi Roy Tannenbaum and his wife, Loretta. This will take place the weekend of February 8, 2002, at our regular venue.
Those are some aspects of the history of Adath Shalom Congregation. The future seems secure, although we are aware that as we grow, albeit slowly, we will eventually outgrow the chapel at the Broadview Campus and will again need to look for alternate accommodation. If our future includes a new building or professional rabbinic leadership, fund raising will again become a necessity. For the time being, however, our congregants seem happy with the status quo.
revised January 2003
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Last Updated Jan. 1, 2003
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