Canada’s Last Small Town Synagogue

IMG_0101Canada was once dotted with synagogues as Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century looked for new opportunities to rebuild their lives in the wake of war and conflict. Jewish merchants, tradespeople, and farmers quickly became an integral part of small town Canada, and synagogues where soon a fixture of communities of every size.

        But by the beginning of the Second World War, with Canada’s “Closed Door” policy against Jews, small Jewish communities began to decline. With immigration halted, larger centres like Toronto and Montreal had a magnetic effect on second generation Jews, offering economic opportunities, higher education, upward mobility, and proximity to a larger Jewish community.

Pesach 15 030 by AlisaIn towns and rural centres, Jewish communities could no longer sustain themselves. The synagogues closed.

        Today Owen Sound’s Beth Ezekiel Synagogue, a designated building under Ontario’s Heritage Act, remains the last example of the early small town synagogue that was once so common across Canada — the next largest community with an active synagogue is more than double Owen Sound’s population.  (List small Canadian cities with synogogues.)Band1

Yet despite dwindling numbers and concerns for sustainability over the years, Owen Sound’s Jewish community has managed to survive and today is enjoying renewed optimism. E-commuting, early retirement, and a longing for a simpler life

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are returning Jewish families to the area. Beth Ezekiel’s membership has grown nearly four-fold in the past few years. The Hebrew School and the offer of a Jewish community in this largely rural area has become an attractive feature for Jews looking to settle outside of the city, and even a drawing card for the community at large as it seeks to attract young professionals to the area.

The Beth Ezekiel synagogue has been the main stay and spiritual home for the Jewish community in the Owen Sound area for close to a hundred years. Because the community has always been small in numbers it has adapted to its surroundings over time. This has resulted in strong connections with the larger community and a genuine spirit of openness and inclusiveness, both within the congregation and without.

The Beth Ezekiel Congregation continues in the practices and traditions of those that came before us. We are a (check By-laws for wording). The congregation thrives on the challenges of maintaining regular services year round, educating its children on the meaning of the Torah and Jewish traditions, and coming together as a community. The synagogue serves as the center of our community and its presence is a source of pride to all who come to take part in events or services. We welcome all who are interested in joining with us and contributing to the Jewish presence in some way. It can be for just one day or a life time.

We hope you find our web-site informative and that it provides some insight to our community ; who we are and how we celebrate our faith.

— Mark Landy