Saskatoon’s Jewish community has been productive and colourful ever since 1907, when William and Fanny Landa, Saskatoon’s first Jewish family, moved into their dugout along the South Saskatchewan River bank. Other Jewish people followed. In spite of difficult pioneering conditions, formal religious services began around 1908. In 1910, the community hired its first religious slaughterer and a Hebrew teacher. Classes were held in the Cahill Block; a year later, the community moved the classes to a permanent Talmud Torah. Land was also purchased for a Jewish cemetery; the following year, 1912, a synagogue was built. Saskatoon’s early Jewish residents were a very diverse group of people with little or no money and few skills. Some were Americans, the progeny of families who had emigrated from Europe to the United States. Some, like the Landa family, homesteaded first, then moved to the city. Most, however, had immigrated from many eastern European countries to Saskatchewan’s larger cities. With the exception of the Americans, very few spoke English on their arrival. They spoke Yiddish; some never learned to speak English fluently, and the Americans rarely learned to speak Yiddish. They ranged in religious belief from free-thinking communists to ultra-orthodox. While the members of the new community came from different parts of Europe and the United States and integrated in the society-at-large in different ways, they not only helped but sometimes also supported one another financially. On the other hand, their differences on occasion created tensions within the community.
Perhaps it was these tensions and the diversity which gave energy to the community. As early as 1912, Jewish organizations mushroomed. Despite their small number, the American English-speaking members exerted considerable influence. During the earliest days, social life was centred in the Jewish community itself, in the homes and the synagogue. With time, entertainment, both home-grown and imported, became significant: for example, in 1915 the B’nai Brith produced minstrel shows. Sports also played a prominent role in the lives of young Jewish men: the Jewish hockey team was part of Saskatoon’s “Church League,” and during the 1930s and 1940s the Young Men’s Hebrew Association had a very successful softball team. The dominant society’s attitude towards Jews was restrictive: the Bay, for instance, did not hire Jews. However, some non-Jewish businesses and organizations had their “token Jew” on staff.
Married women who wished to work outside the home faced anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, Saskatoon’s Jewish women have always been involved in many fund-raising ventures: the Talmud Torah’s Ladies’ Aid had a bazaar in 1922 in support of the Talmud Torah and other charities; the Hadassah bazaar was a mainstay in Saskatoon for many years; and Clare Boothe’s play “The Women” was presented in 1956 by the Greystone Theatre of the University of Saskatchewan, with the co-operation of the Saskatoon Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. In more recent times the annual Silver Spoon Dinner, sponsored by the Saskatoon Jewish community and Saskatoon Hadassah-Wizo, has presented the Silver Spoon Sterling Award to a woman from Saskatoon and area for her voluntary contribution and service. Their proceeds are divided between the Saskatoon Crisis Nursery and Interval House to combat prejudice against married women participating in the workforce. Many Jewish women worked with their husbands in family businesses. Knowing from the time of their arrival what conditions prevailed, most Jewish people in Saskatoon either worked for other Jews or opened their own small businesses. World War II had a profound effect on the Jews of Saskatoon: there was hardly a home which was not touched by it. Of the city’s 700 Jews, 111 were part of armed forces. After the war ended, an increasingly large number of Jewish young people went to university and became professionals.