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A Brief History of the Welland Jewish Community

Dedication Book to commemorate the opening of the new Anshe Yosher Synagogue and Centre. Summit Avenue West Welland, Ontario Canada

June fifth , Nineteen Hundred and Fifty-five.  (1955)

As far as can be determined, the history of the Welland Jewish Community begins some 45 years ago, when in 1909 our surviving senior member, Mr Albert  Many, arrived here to establish a grocery business. In the space of the next few years, enough Jews settled here to form a “minyan” when one was required. Prominent families of the congregation in those years were Henry Shapiro, Joseph Solomon, Joe and Paul Adelman, M. Diamond, Frank and Sam Fishman, Issie Semel, Max Burger, Jacob Lubin, Joe Benjamin, Sam Sugarman, all of revered memory; and also Morris Semel, M. Scheinzinger, I. and Z. Gottesman, Charlie Cohen, I. Adelman, the Gibbs, Blugerman and Shaletzky families. Of all these families, only the descendants of the Fishman and Adelman family reside in Welland today.

In 1914, a building was bought on Fifth St. in Crowland and this was converted into a Synagogue. This was duly dedicated in 1917, and a semblance of Jewish communal life came into existence, with the synagogue and rituals of Jewish observance acting as the rallying point for the community. Thus, a “schoichet” was retained when available, a “mikvah” was erected adjacent to the Shul, and a plot of land for a cemetery was even obtained.

By the end of World War I and in the early 1920’s there was considerable shifting about of families with some leaving and new ones arriving. We now hear of the David Goldsmiths, the William Kassirers, the Sam Mitchells, the I.Graders, the Paul Brookses and the Ben Smiths. Practically all of these were retail merchandisers. They were well-knit homogeneous group—immigrants from different parts of Europe with a similar background and way of life. They were interested in their Synagogue, in educating and raising their children in the paths of Judaism and hungry for what little morsels of Jewish and Hebrew culture that were available to them.

The late 1920’s and the 1930’s saw a fresh wave of Jewish settlement in Welland, with Morris Enushevsky, Sam Yanofsky, Harry Carrel, Henry Katzman, Hyman Merrick, Michael David(of revered memory) William Devor, and Joe Paul starting up in business here. There were other families too, who resided here for relatively short periods, namely the Bellman, Zussman, Kertzer, Gorman, Leichter, Seligmann, Zimmerman, Green, Biller, Herzog and Luvash families. Whose impact on the congregation was not as great because of their short residence here.

By and large this was a younger, slightly more progressive group so that although not as homogeneous as before, we find that the life of the Jewish community is now better organized. From 1928 on, we hear of Hebrew teachers at first part-time and later full time, being hired to look after the education of Jewish children. Some of the present members of the community remember the names of Krivey, Livazer, Kirshenblatt, Hoberman, Axelrod and Taube as their “lehrers” who inculcated in them a knowledge and love of Jewish and Hebrew letters, and an understanding of Judaism. For some seven years the classes were held in a room at Central school in Welland through the kindness and courtesy of the Welland Board of Education

The adults, too, banded together in their so-called “Cultur Club” which met regularly in the Synagogue. We hear of such celebrities in Jewish letters as Levik and Niger being literally yanked off the New York Central train passing through Welland, in order to address the Welland Jews and partially alleviate their thirst for Jewish Culture. There were community outings and picnics with mass participation of the members and their children. These were happy carefree days. There were differences of opinion which would end in disorder at times, but the combatants made up in order to be able to joyfully resume the battle the next time they assembled. In this way, the Welland Jews weathered the depression years. The 1940’s saw the entrance into the community of a new group, mostly first generation Canadian Jews, so that there was now less homogeneity and similarity of outlook among members of the community. Among these newcomers were Ben Fishman, Dr. H.O. Singer, Gordon and Harry Barrs, Bernard Pasis, Frank Gorbet, Joshua Segal, Ralph  Podwin, Dave Foreht, Leo Gorcey, Joe Aiken and Jack Nepon families. Besides these, two Jewish farmers near Welland the Jack Pearl and Harry Smith families, were members of the congregation.

By 1942, there were only a handful of Jews still living in Crowland so that the old Synagogue was sold, and the Italian-Canadian Club on Garner Ave. in Welland, was purchased. During World War II and up until the fire in 1953, this served as the Community Centre and was the scene of much activity. It was Synagogue, Hebrew School, Cultural Centre and Hall all in one large room. These were formative years which saw the emergence of such organizations as  the Welland Council of Jewish Women in 1934 with Agnes Kassirer as spearhead and dynamo; in 1939, the Jewish Federation of Welland, our fund-raising arm, was born with H. Carrel as prime organizer; the Jacob Goldblatt Lodge of B’nai B’rith was organized in 1944; the Welland-Port Colborne Chapter of Hadassah came into being It must be pointed out that in all this period, there were never more than 35 to 40 families comprising this congregation. The burden placed on a Community of this size is tremendous. In spite of limited resources of personnel and finances, provision must be made for the same basic institutions  are found in larger  cities. With the small potential of membership, there is unavoidably a great overlapping of duties, falling on interested workers in the community. In essence, this means that a disproportionate load both of labour and financing falls on the few who have the interest of the Community at heart..

With all this, we find that members of this congregation have taken their place in the affairs of the larger community of Welland and Crowland. Thus, many years ago, we see the Fishman Brothers in Crowland active in the formation of the Crowland Volunteer Firefighters. Mr Many was Alderman in Welland for many years, and also served on the Hydro and Water  Commissions. Mr Carrel was for 10 years president of the Welland Retail Merchants Association and presently heads the Welland-Crowland Red Cross and Council of Christians and Jews. Drs. Singer and Ennis are past presidents of the Welland Hospital Medical Staff and Bernard Ennis is presently on the Hospital Board. Dr. Ennis is also member of the Welland Library Board and Victoria Order of Nurses executive. Jack Mitchell is president of the Welland Retail Merchants and has been very active in sporting circles and Frank Gorbet is president of the Welland Little Theatre. Our members belong to and are active in the Lions, Optimists and Board of Trade.

In 1944, the Community was formally incorporated as the Welland Hebrew Congregation (Congregation Anshe Yosher)  with its prime duties to provide for the Community’s religious, educational and welfare needs. These duties are carried out by various committees appointed annually by the president.

Since the close of World War II. There has been a fresh influx of families, mostly young married people just starting out in their business or profession. So we see the families of Bernard Ennis, Dr. J.M. Ennis, paediatrician; Allan Goodman, attorney; Dr. David Ritz, dentist; Larry Blake, Jack Mitchell, Al Fisher, Norman Gorbet, Sam Korine, Murray Wolman, Harry Colen, Norman Kraus and Many Swadron, all taking their place in the Jewish communal life.

In 1953, although lots in the North Ward had been bought for the purpose of building a new Synagogue and Community Centre, this seemed still an unattainable dream. The suddenness of the destruction of the building on Garner Ave., in February, 1953, was a terrific shock, but acted as a definite stimulus and catalyst toward the erection of the Centre being dedicated today. In spite of many difficulties and initial setbacks, the steadfast and dogged determination, coupled with hours and days of actual work and physical effort of a handful of stalwart members was crowned with success.

The future development of this Congregation will be prodded on by the large number of Jewish youngsters of pre-school and public school age now resident in Welland. This is a young community, both in historical age and in the age of its members. With the facilities available to them in this new edifice, the achievements of the future should dwarf those of the past.

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