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Edmonton, Alberta

EDMONTON, capital of Alberta, Canada. Edmonton was first incorporated as a town in 1892. At that time, there were about 700 permanent residents. Founded on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River on the site of the former Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Edmonton, it gradually began to attract settlers. Abraham and Rebecca Cristall, Edmonton's first Jews, arrived in 1893. Their children, George and Rose, were the town's first Jewish-born children. Abe became a successful businessman and encouraged Jews from his native Bessarabia to come. By 1901, there were 17 Jews in Edmonton. In 1904, Edmonton became incorporated as a city, and in 1905 Alberta officially became a province and the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived.

In 1905, William "Boss" Diamond came to Edmonton from Calgary, where his businessman brother Jacob had been Alberta's first Jewish citizen. William set up in the clothing business in competition with Abe Cristall, but the two competitors worked together to establish Edmonton's Jewish community. Together with eight other men they formed the Edmonton Hebrew Association in 1906. They hired Rabbi Hyman Goldstick of Pilton, Latvia, to be rabbi, shoḥet, and mohel to serve both the Edmonton and Calgary Jewish communities.

In 1907, Abe Cristall purchased land on the south side for a Jewish cemetery and the ḥevra kaddisha was formed. In 1912, the foundations were laid for the Orthodox Beth Israel Synagogue. Cristall served as its first president, and William Diamond its second president, a position he held for 31 years. In 1912, the newly founded Edmonton Talmud Torah Society organized classes in the synagogue basement. In 1925, the Society erected its own building and in 1933 it was incorporated as the first Hebrew day school in Canada.

In 1928, a second congregation was started in the basement of the Talmud Torah building, which in 1932 became the Conservative Beth Shalom Congregation and engaged Rabbi Jacob Eisen, who became one of the first English-speaking rabbis west of Winnipeg. Also at that time, the Peretz or New Yiddish School was organized and opened its own building. An offshoot of the Arbeiter Ring, which started in Edmonton in 1922, it had its heyday in the early 1930s, but had to close in 1939 due to declining enrollment. By 1941, Edmonton's population had increased to 93,817, and the Jewish population stood at 1,449. Of the 120 men and women from Edmonton's Jewish community who served during World War II, 11 were killed in action.

The postwar years saw rapid growth in both the Jewish and general population of Edmonton. With prosperity and a shift by Jews into the city's West End, a new Beth Shalom Synagogue was built in 1951. A new Beth Israel Synagogue building was also constructed as well as a new Talmud Torah building. In 1954, the Edmonton Jewish Community Council was formed as a community-wide umbrella organization and served as such for 28 years. On September 20, 1982, the Community Council merged with the Edmonton United Jewish Appeal to become the Jewish Federation of Edmonton.

Alberta's booming oil-based economy brought increased immigration to Edmonton including that of Jews from other provinces in Canada, as well as from Hungary, Russia, and South Africa. From a Jewish population of 1,748 in 1951, the community grew to 2,910 in 1971 and 5,430 in 1991. In 2001 it stood at about 6,000.

All these new immigrants contributed to Edmonton's vibrant Jewish community life. Local branches of prominent Jewish organizations thrive, including the Canadian Zionist Federation, Edmonton Hadassah-WIZO, chapters of ORT and Na'amat, B'nai B'rith and Emunah, all of which are actively working for the welfare of the State of Israel. Local offices of the Jewish National Fund are located at the Edmonton Jewish Community Centre, founded in 1970. The now defunct Edmonton chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women was responsible for founding the city's Jewish Seniors' Drop-in Centre (formerly the Golden Age Club) in 1954, as well as Jewish Family Services.

The community's third congregation, Temple Beth Ora Reform Congregation, was founded in 1979, and incorporated in 1980. It rented space at the Jewish Community Centre. In 1996 Congregation Beth Tzedec, a breakaway from Beth Shalom, incorporated and began to hold services at the Talmud Torah. Chabad Lubavitch arrived in Edmonton in 1991, and in 1993 a second Hebrew day school, the Orthodox Menorah Academy, was founded. In 1999, a new building for Edmonton Talmud Torah was erected and the next year a new Beth Israel Synagogue was opened reflecting a further westward shift in population.

In the fall of 2004, Edmonton elected its first Jewish mayor, Stephen Mandel. Mandel had previously served as a city councilor, continuing a long tradition of Jewish city councilors, including Dr. Morris Weinlos, Helen Paull, Mel Binder, Tooker Gomberg, and former MLA Karen Leibovici. There has also been a strong tradition of Jewish civic involvement in the larger Edmonton community, with members serving on the boards and executives of many local arts, cultural, educational, and fundraising organizations, as well as on the judiciary.

The Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta (JAHSENA) was founded in 1996 to preserve and promote the history of this vibrant Jewish community.

Sources:U. Rosenzweig (ed.), The First Century of Jewish Life in Edmonton and Northern Alberta, 18931993 (2000).

[Debby Shoctor and Ed Mickelson (2nd ed.)]

Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.