Kehillat Beth Israel was created in July 2016 by the amalgamation of two long-standing and storied Ottawa-area synagogues: Agudath Israel Congregation and Congregation Beth Shalom.
In the spring of 2015, members of both synagogues decided by an overwhelming majority to amalgamate and become a congregation of over 800 families. Members decided that strength lay in numbers by combining the rich traditions of both synagogues to create a modern, egalitarian Conservative congregation for Canada’s capital.
Despite becoming one, we remember the pasts that brought us together as Kehillat Beth Israel.
Agudath Israel Congregation
In September of 1932, 16 families living in the newly developed west end of Ottawa met in Jacob Taller’s mattress factory for High Holy Day services. The group started meeting for daily and Shabbat services in the homes of Alex Kelman and Shnair Blushinsky. In 1936, the group decided to organize itself into a permanent congregation chartered under the name of Congregation Agudath Israel.
With the expansion of the Jewish community into the west end of Ottawa, the congregation was growing rapidly and soon outgrew its small sanctuary. In 1948, a building at 30 Rosemount was purchased. Expansion was swift: the religious school had over 100 children; youth groups, including Brownies and Boy Scouts, were started; the Men’s Club held regular Sunday morning meetings; there was an active Sisterhood.
Mixed seating was introduced in the early 1950s. In 1951, the synagogue became affiliated with the United Synagogue of America movement.
As the congregation continued to grow, the synagogue purchased eight acres of land between Coldrey Avenue and Laperriere Avenue to construct a new building. By 1966, the complex was completed with the dedication of the new sanctuary.
Congregation Beth Shalom
Congregation Beth Shalom was the oldest synagogue in Ottawa, with congregational roots as far back as 1892. That’s when Adath Jeshurun was formally founded with 35 families from the Ottawa Jewish community. In its formative years, the congregation moved from its very first location on Murray Street in 1895, to King Edward Avenue in 1904. As the Jewish community grew in this city, so too did the need for more synagogues. The early 1900’s saw the establishment of Agudath Achim (1902), Machzikei Hadas (circa 1906), and B’nai Jacob (1910).
Congregation Beth Shalom emerged in 1956 when the two oldest congregations in Ottawa, Adath Jeshurun and Agudath Achim, amalgamated. B’nai Jacob joined 15 years later, in 1971. With the construction of a building on Chapel Street, Beth Shalom became the only downtown Jewish congregation in Ottawa and occupied the same complex as the Jewish Community Centre and the Hebrew day school.
Congregation Beth Shalom had a long and memorable history in downtown Ottawa, maintaining a downtown presence until 2015, when it relocated to the West End to temporarily rejoin the Jewish Community Centre, the day school and the elder-care facility.