Left to right: Michael Schwartz of the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, Rabbi Philip Bregman, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, Mike Harcourt and Chris Gorczynski. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
Lisa Wilson, special projects coordinator at Vancouver Heritage Foundation, welcomed the approximately 60 people who gathered at Trimble Park on the afternoon of Oct. 23 for the presentation of a plaque commemorating Temple Sholom’s first building, which was firebombed in January 1985.
A joint effort between VHF, Temple Sholom and the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, the plaque was the 86th presentation of a planned 125 in VHF’s Places That Matter project, which started in 2011, said Wilson. “Our goal is to raise awareness about the people, places and events that tell Vancouver’s history,” she said, “and we invited the public to nominate and vote online, and an independent site-selection committee selected 125 sites to receive a plaque.”
In anticipation of a website for the project, Wilson invited people to submit their memories of the original Temple Sholom building.
“I moved here in 1984 and I lived just down the street,” said Vancouver Deputy Mayor Heather Deal. “I had been here for less than a year when the fire happened, and I was shocked…. I moved here from Cleveland, Ohio, a city deeply, deeply divided along racial lines … and I was shaken to my core when this happened just down the block from me.”
Deal said Vancouver is a “great city in striving to overcome” intolerance. “I think we’ve come a long way and have a long way to go, and this is a great reminder of not forgetting that it is much closer to the surface than we think it is sometimes.”
She noted the importance of the Jewish community to the city of Vancouver, and acknowledged specifically the growth of the Temple Sholom community. “I welcome you all here to acknowledge something that’s happened and, out of that, the good that has come and the better city that we are today because we learn from our mistakes and we learn from other people’s lack of tolerance, so that we continue to move forward as a peaceful and tolerant city.”
Temple Sholom spiritual leader Rabbi Dan Moskovitz spoke of the Holocaust-related memorials he and his wife Sharon witnessed on a mission to Central and Eastern Europe this summer, stumbling blocks that indicate where a Jewish family lived or a Jewish business stood. This local memorial plaque is different, however. “This notes where we were, but it also acknowledges that we are still here,” said Moskovitz. “And though not in that physical space on West 10th, we are very much a part of the city in our ‘new’ home on Oak and 54th…. This is not a memorial plaque, but a testament rather to the roots – the seeds that were planted, the roots that grew – and to what has blossomed into a wonderful Reform Jewish community in Vancouver and, I think, an incredible member and partner in the larger faith community of our city.”
Cantor Arthur Guttman then led the group in Psalm 100, after which Philip Bregman, rabbi emeritus of Temple Sholom, briefly shared some of the congregation’s history, including the story of the firebombing and his role in helping save the synagogue’s Torahs, as the building was burning. There had been a previous arson attempt and vandalism to his car, which led the congregation to start putting iron bars on all the windows, as the police were not motivated to act. The job was almost complete when the arsonist struck again, throwing a Molotov cocktail into the one window without a grate.
Bregman spoke of his disbelief that such antisemitism could exist in Canada. He spoke of his phone call to then-mayor Mike Harcourt, who was at the plaque ceremony, and Harcourt and his wife Becky’s support of the congregation in its work to rebuild. The Harcourts attended services, said Bregman. “Mike and Becky showing up made a statement that was so very important: it was not the Jewish community that was attacked, it was Vancouver, it was Canada, it was our society that had been attacked.”
After the Temple Sholom bombing, said Bregman, there was also an attempt to torch the Chevra Kadisha, which was on Broadway and Alma at the time. “These were targeted events that were taking place,” he said. “The police were tremendously responsive then and thereafter.”
Bregman expressed his pleasure at the work that had been done to mark the place where Temple Sholom once stood, and how the congregation has grown since.
The plaque – which will be placed at 4426 West 10th Ave. – was presented by VHF board member Chris Gorczynski, who read it aloud. The event ended with Guttman leading those gathered in Oseh Shalom.