Congregation Shaar Hashomayim

Congregation Shaar Hashomayim (Hebrew: קְהִילַת שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) is an Ashkenazi synagogue in Westmount, Quebec. Incorporated in 1846, it is the oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in Canada and the largest traditional synagogue in Canada.[2][3]

Congregation Shaar Hashomayim
קהילת שער השמים
The synagogue in 2023
AffiliationTraditional Judaism
LeadershipRabbi Adam Scheier,
Cantor Gideon Zelermyer
Location450 Kensington Avenue
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
Geographic coordinates45°29′06″N 73°35′54″W / 45.4849°N 73.5982°W / 45.4849; -73.5982
Date established1846; 178 years ago (1846)
CompletedSeptember 17, 1922 (1922-09-17)
Capacity1,800 (main sanctuary), 260 (chapel)[1]
View of the synagogue from Sherbrooke Street
View of the synagogue from the top of the hill


Former building of Shaar Hashomayim on McGill College Avenue

Congregation Shaar Hashomayim was founded by a group of English, German and Polish Jews, who had previously attended the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.[4] The Congregation originally rented space on Saint James Street (now rue Saint-Jacques).[3] The first synagogue was built on Saint Constant Street (now rue de Bullion) in the Mile End in 1859. A new synagogue was built on McGill College Avenue between 1885 and 1886 at a cost of $40,000.[3]

In 1920, the Congregation purchased land on Kensington Avenue in Westmount. The cornerstone was laid by president Lyon Cohen in 1921, and the synagogue was dedicated on September 17, 1922.[3] Herman Abramowitz served as rabbi from 1902 to 1947 and he was joined by rabbi Arthur Saul Super between 1933 and 1936.[5] Wilfred Shuchat then served as rabbi from 1948 to 1993.[6]

In 2013, Shaar Hashomayim became one of the first synagogues in North America to hire a Maharat.[7]



Shaar Hashomayim is one of the few remaining synagogues in the world to maintain, on a weekly basis, the traditions of the Choral Synagogues of Europe. The early by-laws of the synagogue in fact prescribed that the prayers be read according to the practices and traditions of the Great Synagogue of London; the Congregation established an all-male choir in 1887. A hazzan, accompanied by an all-male choir, lead services every Shabbat and on Jewish holidays.

The members of the clergy of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim are robed for every Shabbat, Festival and High Holy Day service, with the Cantor and Ritual Director wearing traditional cantorial hats. Clergy and officers wear morning suits, with the President, parnass and other congregational officers seated on the bimah wearing top hats. On Festivals, tailcoats replace the morning coats. Male congregants typically wear business attire and women are required to cover their shoulders.



Shaar Hashomayim's choir performed on Leonard Cohen's Grammy and Juno Award-winning album You Want It Darker. Together with Cantor Gideon Zelermyer, the Choir provided the backing vocals for "You Want It Darker" as well as "It Seemed the Better Way". They performed the album's title track and Cohen's "Tower of Song" at the 2017 Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen concert, in collaboration with Willie Nelson, Céline Dion, Peter Gabriel, and Chris Martin.[8] The Choir also appeared on Cohen's posthumous album Thanks for the Dance, performing backing vocals for "Puppets".

Notable members



  1. ^ "Facilities and Rentals". Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. 2012. Archived from the original on April 15, 2013.
  2. ^ "Congregation Shaar Hashomayim". Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. 2012. Archived from the original on October 2, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d Shuchat, Wilfred. "History of the Congregation". Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. Archived from the original on May 26, 2012.
  4. ^ Shuchat, Wilfred (2000). The Gate of Heaven: The Story of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim of Montreal, 1846–1997. Montreal: McGill–Queen's University Press. ISBN 0-7735-2089-9.
  5. ^ Arthur Saul Super Dead at 71 Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 31 July 1979
  6. ^ "History". Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. Archived from the original on November 7, 2018. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  7. ^ "How We Worship". Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  8. ^ "Watch Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen on Wednesday, January 3 on CBC". CBC Arts. December 29, 2017.
  9. ^ Shapiro, Lorne (December 8, 2017). "From synagogue to Bell Centre: A chorister's Leonard Cohen adventure". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  10. ^ Kreitner, Richard. "Lyon Cohen - Freedman Company". Museum of Jewish Montreal. Retrieved November 10, 2018.
  11. ^ Karby, Rosalind (February 27, 2009). "Sheila Finestone". Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved November 15, 2020.
  12. ^ "Max Kalman - Residence". Museum of Jewish Montreal. Retrieved November 15, 2020.
  13. ^ Congregation Shaar Hashomayim (February 16, 2016). "Mazal Tov to our member, Victoria Kaspi, on being the first female awarded the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal!" – via Facebook.
  14. ^ Derfel, Aaron (January 10, 2020). "Former senator Leo Kolber dies at 90 after Alzheimer's battle". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved November 15, 2020.

Further reading