History of Har El
In 1971 Horst and Else Sachs moved to Vancouver. They were perturbed by the lack of an active North Shore Jewish community and set about establishing one. Using a Vancouver Jewish Directory and searching it for telephone numbers indicated North Shore residences, they contacted numerous Jewish families who were invited to coffee meetings at several participants’ homes.
On January 13, 1974 one hundred people attended a meeting at the West Vancouver Community Centre, proving the interest was there. Half a dozen people, including Horst formed the first committee under the presidency of Allan Black. The first services, led by Hy Ross were held in a formed convent on Keith Rd. Temple Shalom loaned a Sefer Torah. Although the momentum was slow to develop, gradually the Adult Education evenings, picnics, BBQs, bowling league (at Brunswick Lanes) and Casino nights drew the fledgling group into a cohesive community.
In 1975 they moved to the social hall of the Gloria Del Lutheran Church where Friday night and High Holy Day services were held. 14 children attended Preschool and a Community Seder was held.
By 1977 fifty five families were members. They met for monthly services followed by Oneg Shabbat, and to celebrate their very first Bar Mitzvah: Mark Lecker, Jack Beizberg donated a scroll. The congregation was becoming established.
In 1978 Rabbi Daniel Siegel arrived to lead the congregation and remained for four years. He was replaced by Rabbi Richard Messing in September 1982. Three years later Rabbi Imre Balla became Har El’s spiritual leader.
Funds were generated by the sale of lottery tickets until 1982, followed by special evenings like “Putting on The Ritz”, and lately by Casino nights.
The landmark figure of 100 families was reached in 1981, with the congregation’s activities becoming progressively more diverse. This stability could not be racked even by the turbulence of 1983, and on May 13, 1983, energetically and ably guided by, amongst others, Horst Sachs, Norman Greenberg (who found the location and did the negotiating), Alan Woolf (Architect), Victor Setton (Contractor), Andro Blitz (Treasurer) and Jack Chivo (President), Har El moved into a new semi-permanent home: Inglewood.
The 1993 membership list includes 131 families. The Hebrew School enrolment stands at over 90 children. The strength of Har El lies not merely in these impressive numbers but in the dedication they represent. We are a unified family, led by our very own Rabbi, and our wandering is over. The time has come for a final move to a home we can truly call our own.
History of the North Shore Jewish Community Association
ON 15 September 1959, spearheaded by Henry Shoore, the North Shore Jewish Community Association was registered as a society. Its president was Basil Clements, its cantor, Ernie Rothschild. Aser Rothstein and Athur Guttman assisted in running some of the services. Members met for monthly Friday evening services and High Holy Days in the West Vancouver Community Centre. The first Bar Mitzvah celebrated was David Rubenstein’s, on the 21st of January, 1961. Har El’s current Past Chairman, Barry Promislow, was an active committee member.
In 1962 a full schedule of adult education speakers was arranged by Jerry Halpern, and an Ark, the gift of Hindy and Leon Ratner, was used for the first time at the High Holy Days. Initially Sunday School was for 4-5 children was held in Buddy Smith’s Rec Room, expanding eventually into facilities at the West Vancouver Community Centre. Despite a temporary setback in 1963, when low enrollment suspended Religious School classes, by 1964 there were 5 teachers instructing 22 children.
IN June 1963 a Hebrew name was added to the name of the Congregation: SHAAR HARIM (Gate of the Mountains). Forty nine families were members. By 1965 thirty children attended classes.
This thriving community enjoyed socializing together at any events typical of their times. In addition to Purim and Channukah parties, film parties, picnics, Gala Square Dances, Box Socials and Annual Balls were held. A bowling league, set up by Sid Mannis, was active at the West Vancouver Bowladrome. Five local newspapers announced the 1961 Ladies Coffee Party and Spring Hat Festival. Both the Ladies’ Auxiliary and the Men’s Club were active in Shaar Harim.
By the late 1960’s Services were being conducted in the Unitarian Church at the base of the Baden Powell Trail east of Taylor Way. There was an influx of young Jewish families to the North Shore at the same time as many of the resident community were moving over to Vancouver or out of province.
Several problems began to beset Shaar Harim. They had no Rabbi, no home of their own, no CORE to hold the community together. New residents were bringing varying backgrounds with them – Conservative, Reform, Orthodox – making consensus difficult to achieve. Philosophical and organizational disagreements between some board members led to disenchantment, and many of the “old guard” were moving away.
Shaar Harim fizzled from a vital, active community to a dormant invisible one. The interest lay hibernating, waiting to be re-awakened by a new visionary.