Written by Ron Bing
April 1979: In the Beginning
The first temple Shabbat service was held on April 6, 1979 in our living room at 1308 Carlyle Road SW. Norm Yanofsky led the music accompanied on his guitar and Henry Zimmer read the Torah portion. We were 33 people — 13 families including children. You might wonder how and why did this happen?
The roots of the congregation trace back to Temple Emanu-El in Montreal, Quebec, where I attended weekly Shabbat services, celebrated my bar mitzvah and was confirmed as a Reform Jew in the 1950’s. My parents grew up as religious Jews in Frankfurt, Germany. They immigrated to Montreal in 1933 and 1934, respectively, where they joined Temple Emanu-El as my mom’s uncle, Joseph Aron, was a member. If you are ever in Montreal please visit the Aron Museum at the Temple to view the historical Jewish silver collection. The museum was started by my great uncle who brought my parents to Canada from Germany.
Judy and I moved to Calgary in 1974 from Montreal and joined the Beth Israel Conservative congregation. We were members for three years when Judy decided this was not the type of Judaism that she wanted for our growing family. I asked my late mother to contact the Canadian Council of Reform Judaism (CCRJ) to send someone to Calgary. Shortly after we received a letter from the late Arthur Grant who was the part time director of the CCRJ. Marilyn Glass, Judy and I phoned people and invited them to meetings at our house to be held on March 20 and 26, 1979, with Arthur Grant. At the second meeting it was decided to hold Shabbat services every second Friday evening at 8:15 PM in our living room. Arthur brought some old prayer books and we were off and running!
The year 1979 saw many firsts. We incorporated as the Calgary Liberal Jewish Congregation, received our charitable tax number from Ottawa, prepared a constitution and bylaws and elected a board of trustees. Jewish information classes began, as did religious school classes which were held at the home of Dr Joel and Sandy Fagan, (Sandy was the first principal). We even hired our first student rabbi, Avi Schulman, to conduct High Holiday services held at the I.L. Peretz School gym on 36 Avenue in Altadore, using a Torah loaned to us by the Calgary Hebrew School.
In 1980 we changed our name to Temple B’nai Tikvah (Children of Hope), a name suggested by Steven Switzer, son of the late Jack Switzer and Shauna. Our neighbour the late Saul Kustan would bring folding chairs over to our house for services. We would roll the glass coffee table behind the drapes and set up the chairs in our living room. Judy and I constructed a wooden ark to hold the Torah and I built a fold up table to act as the Bimah. The late Jack Switzer used to stroke his beard and stare at the stuffed deer head that hung over the fireplace. Our daughter, Lisa, who was a toddler at the time, would tear off pieces of her diaper and offer them to guests. Dr Fagan called her “The Shredder”.
After the first year, the Fagans renovated their basement so that we could hold services in their home. I had to cut the ark in two so that it would go down the stairs into their basement. We continued our services at the Fagan’s for two years. The following year we rented the Shaganappi Library Auditorium for $25 a night — including a security guard! In 1981 we began to hold services on the second floor of the Calgary Jewish Centre overlooking the swimming pool. Later we moved into the main auditorium when the House of Jacob moved into their own building across the street.
On Saturday February 21, 2004, we walked our Torahs to our new home in Britannia where we shared the building with Living Spirit United Church for the next four years. The inaugural service was held on February 27, 2004. Following renovations the dedication service of our new sanctuary was held on March 25, 2011. We thank Martin Cohos for turning a church building into a unique Jewish prayer hall, while respecting the original 1960 architecture.