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The First Jews in New Brunswick
The Aboriginals were already here, the military and the VIPs came as soon as there was a British presence, Blacks came with the Loyalists, but Jewish settlers were later arrivals in New Brunswick.
There probably was an occasional transient Jewish peddler from New England, but the Jewish community in Saint John began with the arrival of Solomon Hart and his family in 1858. They were joined by his brother-in-law Nathan Green and his family a year later. Both families came from England, though their origins trace back through Holland and Alsace-Lorraine to Spain. In 1878 the community was joined by two Isaac brothers, Abraham and Israel, who then married two daughters of Solomon Hart.
The story is told in fascinating detail by Eli Boyaner in “The Settlement and Development of the Jewish Community of Saint John”, New Brunswick Historical Society Collection #15, (1959), reprinted in Generations, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 2000, pages 2-5. He tells how, on January 11, 1898, the first Synagogue, Avath Achim, was consecrated in the presence of the entire Jewish community, the Mayor and “many prominent citizens of Christian Faith.” One of the elders was Jacob Mayer, whose son, Louis B. Mayer became head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The exodus of Jews from Europe at the end of the 19th century saw thousands pour into Montréal and Toronto, but some arrived at the port of Saint John and stayed in the Maritimes. There were five Jewish families in Chatham when Rabbi Silverman came from Montréal in 1895 to celebrate the beginning of the Hebrew year, but there were others around the north shore and a synagogue was built in 1907. They may not have been welcomed with open arms, but they prospered and multiplied.
By 1959 Eli Boyanar could write “The Jewish population of Saint John at the present time consists of 175 families made up of some 650 souls”.
By 1959 there was also a thriving Jewish community in Moncton. Most of the first Moncton Jewish settlers came from Dorobjny (or Durbonne) in Lithuania around the turn of the century, coming alone and sending for wives and families after they were established. By 1982, according to Ned Belliveau, Moncton had one of the largest Jewish communities in the Maritimes. In 1926, when there were only 26 Jewish families, the cornerstone for a synagogue was laid. About 1930 a small plot of land was purchased for a cemetery. Until then burials had taken place in Saint John, and some still were since no one wanted to be the first to be buried in the new plot.
Shaarei Zedek Cemetery, Saint John
A database of burials in this Saint John cemetery was compiled in 1998, giving name, date of birth, date of death, spouse, and residence, and this is printed in Generations, starting in Spring 2000 (Abrahamson-Gilbert, Rachael), Summer 2000 (Gilbert, Samuel-Meltzer, Celia), and Fall 2000 (Meltzer-Zides).
Jewish Historical Museum
The same issue of Generations, Spring 2000, contains an article on the “Saint John Jewish Historical Museum” by Katherine Biggs-Craft, the Curator.
The article describes the extent of the collection, what has already been microfilmed, and the important genealogical collection, as well as the Dr Moses I Polowin Memorial Library which has close to 2,000 volumes.
- Fraser, By Favorable Winds, op.cit, page 135.
- Lloyd A. Machum, A History of Moncton (1965), page 206.
- The Monctonians, Volume 2, Chapter 26, "No Fiddler on the Roof."
- Douglas, Althea. "New Brunswick Jews (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/New_Brunswick_Jews_%28National_Institute%29.