Although the territory on which it is located has been occupied by First Nations people for centuries, Hamilton itself is quite young, only becoming a city in 1846. The first Jews to settle in Hamilton arrived not long after, and by 1853 the city was home to thirteen Jewish families. From these humble beginnings, Hamilton’s Jewish community grew to become one of Canada’s larger Jewish communities, such that by the start of the new millennium it was the eighth largest Jewish community in Canada with 4,765 Jewish residents. Today, Hamilton remains home to a vibrant Jewish community with its own Jewish ,, a , and four synagogues. Of these, Temple Anshe Sholom is the oldest, its origins going back to , the year a group of German Jews formed the Hebrew Benevolent Society Anshe-Sholom of Hamilton. By 1856, the group had initiated religious services, and in 1866 a rented room above a leather-goods shop served as the synagogue’s first formal location.
Temple Anshe Sholom’s age—the congregation celebrated its 170th anniversary in 2020—makes it not only Hamilton’s oldest synagogue but also Ontario’s oldest Jewish congregation and Canada’s first Reform congregation! Reform Judaism itself came into existence in Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century and was brought to North America by German Jews. Consequently, the synagogue has played an important role in Reform Judaism’s development in Canada.
Members of Temple Anshe Sholom were the first to form a Jewish women’s charitable society in Canada: the Deborah Ladies Aid Society. Today, Temple Anshe Sholom continues to value women’s contributions to Jewish life, noting on its website that, as Reform Jews, they are “committed to the absolute equality of women in all areas of Jewish life.” The congregation has also declared itself as being “committed to the full participation of LGBTQ in synagogue life as well as society at large.”
In 2021, the OJA acquired nearly four metres of material documenting Temple Anshe Sholom. Included in this material are photo albums, administrative records, event materials, and issues of the synagogue newsletter. Together, these records paint a rich portrait of Jewish life in one of Ontario’s largest and oldest Jewish communities.
The records of the Temple Anshe Sholom are invaluable as a witness to the growth of Hamilton’s Jewish community, the role played by German Jews in helping to found some of Ontario’s first Jewish communities, and the evolution of Reform Judaism in Canada. For all these reasons—and more—the records constitute important documentary evidence of the Jewish experience in Ontario. In addition to being sites of prayer and reflection, synagogues serve as places of education, celebration, and mourning. Being among the first institutions to be founded by Jewish settlers, they often preserve some of the oldest records of established Jewish life in a given location.