The Saint John Jewish community was founded in 1858 with the arrival from England of Solomon and Alice Hart and their family. The first synagogue, Ahavith Achim (Brotherly Love), was dedicated in 1899. The community consisted of about thirty families, many of them affluent cigar makers. The second wave of Jewish immigration began in 1892 and continued through the 1920s. Many men supported themselves as peddlers. Within a few years they opened stores and factories along Main, Mill and Dock Streets. A second synagogue was established on Hazen Avenue to accommodate the larger population. The merger of the two congregations into Congregation Shaarei Zedek in 1919 ushered in the Golden Years for the Saint John Jewish community. The Golden Years lasted until the 1960s. There were 250 to 300 families comprising more than 1400 people.
A number of Jewish organizations flourished during this period. Many individuals held office at the national levels of Hadassah and other Zionist organizations. There were more than 85 Jewish businesses throughout the city offering clothing, shoes, furniture, and groceries. More than seventy men and women gave distinguished service in all branches of the armed forces in World War II. Later, others would take on leadership roles in a number of service organizations in the city.
By the 1960’s the grandchildren of the immigrants were leaving the city to pursue educational and employment opportunities in larger Canadian and American cities. Most would not return and many parents joined their children after retirement.
By 2000, the Saint John Jewish community was composed of less than thirty families, most descendants of those who had arrived in the early years of the 20th century. In 2010, a dedicated committee of community members created a committee to encourage Jewish immigration to the city. To date more than 40 families have moved to Saint John from Israel and they are contributing to Synagogue services and the sounds of their children are a reminder of the “Golden Years”.
The Saint John Jewish Historical Museum was created in 1986 to preserve our history and to share it with visitors from around the world. Our mandate is to collect, preserve and display documents and artifacts related to the Saint John Jewish community. The museum features a number of permanent and changing exhibits.
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