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Beth Jacob Jewish Community

Beth Jacob Synagogue, Regina.
Regina Leader-Post

There were nine Jewish residents living in Regina as early as 1891. This number declined to one in 1901, before rising to 130 in 1911. There are three key elements that signify a sense of permanence for a Jewish community: a Talmud Torah, or school of Jewish religious study; a synagogue; and a Jewish cemetery. The first synagogue was built in Regina in 1913; the Regina Jewish cemetery, although officially deeded to the Jewish community by the city of Regina in 1915, had been operating since 1905. In fact, the Chevra Kaddisha (Jewish Burial Society) was officially formed in 1904. To emphasise the founding of the Chevra Kaddisha is not to deny the importance of either the building of the first Regina synagogue or the organizing of the Talmud Torah, both of which were certainly signal developments in the emergence of a functioning community: what is significant is that the priorities were Jewish priorities—building a community meant standing together and supporting each other in death as in life, from generation to generation. In that sense we may take 1904 as an appropriate date for the founding of a sense of community amongst Regina Jewry.

The first Minyan or prayer meeting took place in 1905 in a private home and shortly after that a group gathered at the home of Jacob Shachter to organize a Jewish community. It was then passed by all members that since the gathering took place at Jacob’s home, the congregation be called Beth Jacob Congregation. By 1910 the House of Jacob congregation had hired a ritual slaughterer and established regular weekly worship services. By 1912 the community numbered twenty families, and Samuel Pearlman had become its first president. In 1912 the community organized its first building committee; an active canvas of the Jewish community was undertaken, and in the spring of 1913 the foundation stone was laid in the presence of the Lieutenant-Governor and the Mayor. The raising of funds proceeded apace with the building operations, and the new “Beth Jacob” synagogue was completed and ready for worship on Rosh Hashanah, free of all debt or encumbrance. In 1913 the founders of the House of Jacob synagogue opened a Talmud Torah in rented quarters, with forty children and two teachers. Within a year the congregation had rented a double lot on St. John Street, moved a two-storey frame building onto the site, and renovated it for use as a Hebrew school. The community now had a Chevra Kaddisha, a name, a synagogue, a Talmud Torah, and legal title to its own cemetery; it had also grown substantially in size, numbering by now almost 400 persons.

By 1931 the population of the Jewish community peaked at 1,010, and although the Great Depression took its toll, they still numbered 944 in 1941 and continued to be an active part of the larger Regina community. In 1937 the Credit Union Act received royal assent, and on August 2, 1937, the Regina Hebrew Savings and Credit Union Limited received charter number one and became the first credit union incorporated under the law. The Depression of the 1930s precluded plans to build a larger synagogue to accommodate the growing needs of the community, and the war years saw the community preoccupied along with the rest of Regina in the war effort. Finally, in April 1948, the decision was made to build a new synagogue, and on September 3, 1950, the building was officially opened.

From a religious perspective, the synagogue has undergone changes over the years that are reflective of the changing make-up of the community: it has shifted from orthodox to conservative in its outlook, and embraced equality between men and women in the ritual aspects of religious Jewish life. The Beth Jacob Jewish community continues to be a strong and active partner in the larger Regina community.

Jeremy Parnes

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