“There are a lot of memories here,” he told me. “We pioneered the concept of the suburbansynagogue in
Others, I believe, followed our example.” Montreal
|Rabbi Sidney Shoham|
Rabbi Shoham, who died suddenly Sunday evening, September 20 was a living legend in the Montreal Jewish community. For decades he was front and centre with local community organizations, holding top positions locally and nationally. He also had the distinction of being the only rabbi to ever chair the Combined Jewish Appeal campaign, primarily because of talents as a superb orator.
I met Rabbi Shoham as a toddler. As a lifelong member of Beth Zion, I would see him when I attended Hebrew school at the synagogue and I had the honour of him being at the pulpit at my bar mitzvah. I sat at my seat during the High Holy Days each year mesmerized by every word he uttered. He was often very controversial. And that is what his audience expected.
Rabbi Shoham was a “very young” 86 years old. It was shocking enough nine years ago this Yom Kippur to hear his announcement on Kol Nidre that he was retiring after 50 incredible years at the bima and to become rabbi emeritus. His death does not seem real. This is a man who beat cancer. I saw him on numerous occasions in the last few weeks, at the benefit Cats Concert I organized and golf tournament I co-chaired. He was the picture of health. Ironically, his last public appearance was only hours before he died at home – attending the annual Beth Zion Cantorial Concert.
When Rabbi Shoham retired, a synagogue executive member asked. “How do you replace a legend. He has been the only rabbi this synagogue ever had.”
The synagogue had to go through three rabbis to find his proper successor.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland the son of Rabbi Yechiel and Rebbetzen Ethel Shoham, Rabbi Shoham attended the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore grade school and then went to Mesivta Rabbi Chaim Berlin Rabbinical, Brooklyn, New York. While studying in the Yeshiva, Rabbi Shoham attended
at night and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in
psychology. Later, he attended graduate school at Brooklyn College ,
New York University and continued his studies in School of Psychology at the Montreal – Allen Memorial
where he furthered his courses in Pastoral Psychiatry. McGill University
Rabbi Shoham arrived in Montreal in 1955 to visit his brother Gilbert, who was Rabbi of the Beit Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue on McKenzie. While here, he met with an enthusiastic group of individuals anxiously waiting to build a new community in the western suburb of
After discussions with the committee, several weeks later he was hired as the
Rabbi of Beth Zion in the winter of 1956. Over the years he had been active
with nearly every Jewish organization in the city, notably Combined Jewish Appeal,
B’nai Brith and State of Israel Bonds.
Many Jewish organizations held
testimonial dinners in his honour. He even hosted radio and television shows. Montreal
The synagogue itself began in a congregant’s home in 1952, four years before they hired Rabbi Shoham and moved into their present quarters on
“There are a lot of memories here,” Rabbi Shoham, told me. “I have overseen five decades of torah studies, services, counselling, weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. It’s like home to me.”
Rabbi Shoham recalled the early days of the synagogue. “At the time,” said the rabbi, “the park across the street from us had a baseball field. There were times when we did not have enough people for a minyan (10 men are required for prayer in the Jewish religion) so I’d go out to the baseball field and ask for a few volunteers. I was a pretty fair player myself and they wanted me to be part of their club. My message was simple. I’d join their team if they’d join mine. It worked.”
In fact, when he was young, Rabbi Shoham was considered a prospect for Major League Baseball.
From the 100 members it had when Rabbi Shoham arrived, that number rose at one time to more than 1,000.
“To quote Hillary Clinton," said past president Eli Cohen, “it takes a village to build a community. And it's taken Beth Zion to help build the community. It is Rabbi Shoham who was innovative and who brought Beth Zion to the attention of the greater
Funeral services will take place at Beth Zion Congregation in the main sanctuary at 10 am Tuesday, September 22, erev Yom Kippur. Shiva will be at 5703 Melling Avenue until 4 pm, Mincha at 3:30 pm.
To Rabbi Shoham's wife Jewel and the entire family, allow me to extend my deepest sympathies.