The Schara Tzedeck Synagogue is the oldest and largest Orthodox Synagogue in Vancouver.
It has been in existence since 1907, when it was known by the name of Benei Yehuda. The first services were held in a small rented home, at 14 West Cordova st. in 1910 the ‘Sons of Israel’ purchased property at Pender street and Heatley ave., and by 1911 a Synagogue was built large enough to hold 200 worshipers.
The congregation was renamed “Schara Tzedeck”, upon being legally incorporated on June 14th 1917.
In 1921 a new synagogue opened at Heatley and Pender and it was used until the end of 1947. This building had a capacity of 600.
On September 13th 1945, the site of our present Synagogue was purchased, building was started in 1947 and completed by the end of September of that year. The Synagogue was officially opened on January 25th 1948. At that time it was the most modern and largest Synagogue west of Montreal. The Synagogue was designed to be a house of prayer (Bait Tefila), House of Learning (Beit Midrash), and House of Meeting (Beit Knesset). The oak Aron Kodesh which we presently see on entering the main sanctuary was built originally in about 1921 for the Synagogue at Heatley and Pender.
The Congregation acquired property on October 2nd 1957, which was immediately to the north of the Synagogue. The purpose was to accommodate offices, Classrooms, a large Auditorium, and other facilitites. Construction began in the early part of 1963 and it was completed for the High Holidays of the same year.
The 11 panels of stained glass windows on the south wall of the Sanctuary with their appropriate symbols represent significant dates in the Jewish calendar. These include Chanuka, Purim, Tish’a B’av, and Yom Ha’atzmaut; events which represent critical turning points in Jewish experience -tragic and joyous. All have continuing relevance for our people, reflecting the ongoing relationship between God and His people throughout Jewish history.
The other major Jewish holidays represented include Shabbat, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the three Pilgrim Festivals, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Pesach, and Shavuot, reminding us of the holy convocations of God and His people.
In the two large stained glass windows on the Eastern side of the Temple flanking the Aron Kodesh the artist, with line and color through evocative symbolic imagery drawn on from Biblical, Jewish and Liturgical mystical writings, boldly relates the process of creation from its beginning. The right window focuses on the heavens, the left window on the earth… these complex categories, heaven and earth , not only designate places in the cosmos, but are terms with deep meaning in Judaic thought. The two windows representing the spiritual world and the physical world are to be seen as one. The theme common to both, interlocking them, is the concept of knowing God; knowing Him through the Torah which He gave us from on high, and through nature, the physical world that He created. These are not, however, two distinctly different ways of knowing Him. The quotation from Psalms 96 seen in the ‘heavens’, which the artist said ‘expresses the concept of this window and served as the inspiration of its content’ seems more appropriate for the window ‘the earth’ which depicts the physical world of nature. The quotation from the Siddur etched in the upper part of the earth window, glorifying God and His truth, might seem more appropriate for the window ‘the heavens’. The artist in reversing the quotations emphasize the interdependence of both spheres. A cloistered study of spirituality unrelated to the world in which we live and in which we are constantly challenged would be excluding an essential source of knowledge of God the creator and of His relationship to us and to nature-to the physical world in which we act. On the other hand our awareness of a magnificent and bountiful material world without an awareness of God its creator and of his glory would deprive us of the same truth and of the spiritual dimension that impart divine glory to our lives.
In the window the heavens, the principal colour is blue containing various hues of blue, azure, and white. In the lower part, the window is dark with many allusions to the ‘tohu vavohu’-the primeval chaos, the cosmic condition before the creation. As the eye moves upward however, the window brightens and the light emanating from above from the world of the ‘sefirot’ illuminates in the middle of the window the ‘shem Hameforash’-God’s proper name. Our attention is focused then on the creative power of God.
When the world of God was formed the order of creation; the order of the stars, the structure of the heavens and the universe, and the existence of all things which live, develop, and grow within them. From around the name radiates a temporal order which is alluded in the names of the Hebrew months of year. Other Hebrew letters soar through the expanse symbolizing the formative power of the Hebrew alphabet which according to our mystics imposed form upon nature and signifying the sanctity of the Hebrew language through which the Torah was given to the children of Israel. The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the elemental building blocks of creation, totaling 32-לב, comprise the 32 paths which are the ‘lev לב-the heart of creation.
The light which comes down into the ‘shem hameforash’ in the ‘heavens’ window, streams across into the other window, the earth, linking the two. This light is the inspiration for man’s creativity, and at the same time reflects that creativity. In the center of the earth is the city, which, like Jerusalem, is elevated upon mountains, the product of man’s creativity, of his wisdom, understanding and skills. Below these elements nature is depicted- streams and minerals, mountains and valleys with vegetation upon them. The dominant color for this window ‘the earth’ is green. This world of nature in habited and dominated by man who is depicted somewhat higher in the order is also the creation and gift of God. Above the center of the window, the tablets of the covenant, which are raised aloft facing the city, symbolize the divine commandments and the ethical imperatives that bind man to his creator and to his fellow man. The God given tablets are a source of light for man in this physical world but the light can also be seen as beaming heavenward, the result of man’s Torah inspired behavior, and Torah directed prayer. This reciprocal relationship between God and man, the eternal covenant binding both is symbolized by the rainbow in the clouds.
About The Artist
Ami Shamir was born in Israel in 1952 and studied both in Israel and the U.S. Recognized as an accomplished and versatile artist his painting, sculptures, and stained glass works have been exhibited and commissioned in Israel, the United states, and Canada, by Universities, schools, Museums and Synagogues.
About The Donors
The gift of these splendid stained glass windows to Schara Tzedeck Synagogue by Morris J. and Dena Wosk, was made in 1989. Their appreciation of the importance of the arts to add to the quality of life prompted the Wosks to donate these windows which enrich our religious services and enhance the beauty of our Sanctuary.