In 2002, three North End synagogues, struggling to cope with changing demographics and smaller congregations, merged into one.
"The Jewish faith has survived Communist Russia, pogroms, Nazi death camps and terrorist suicide attacks, and it can certainly cope with the challenge and change of amalgamation," Rabbi Henry Balser told the Winnipeg Free Press back then.
But that is not all that has survived.
A walk through this synagogue reveals depictions of the ancient symbols of the Jewish faith, symbols that not only connect the people to their rich faith, but to the generations as far back as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Such symbols dominate the vibrant and colourful stained glass that lines the walls of the Etz Chayim Synagogue today.
Jonathan Buchwald, executive director of Etz Chayim Congregation, points to the stained glass surrounding the ark in the main sanctuary. The Torah scrolls, or text of the first five books of the Bible, are treated with great respect in the synagogue and are kept in the ark or holy chamber "which faces East towards Jerusalem," says Buchwald.
The glass was designed by Lucinda Doran of Prairie Stained Glass of Winnipeg. Artifacts of the Jewish faith and animals that represent the 12 tribes of Israel are shown here. "You won't see images of people or individuals -- it's traditional to only depict Jewish artifacts or animals that represent the 12 tribes," says Buchwald.
The symbols, dating from ancient times, stand for the 12 tribes that originated from the sons of the patriarch Jacob. They are considered the ancestors of the Jewish people.
Above the ark hangs the Eternal Light. Buchwald explains it is a "tradition taken from temple times wherein the Eternal Light is always kept on."
A smaller chapel sits nearby where daily services are held. In this much more intimate setting, three immense stained-glass windows illuminate the room in various shades of blue and purple. Consisting of six panels of glass forming three corner windows, they depict various elements of Jewish faith.
Conceived and drawn by Andrew Cordner of Western Art Glass of Winnipeg in 1970, the windows were installed about the same time.
According to Alice Hamilton's book, Manitoban Stained Glass, one of the main dual-pane windows depicts the Kingship of David and includes King David's spear, shield, trumpet, horn and royal crown. Below is a lion (the lion of Judah) surrounded by stars. To its right are the menorah of six candles (to commemorate the six million Jews exterminated in the Second World War), a lighted lamp (a sign of God watching over His people), a plate of unleavened bread and the door lintels of the Passover.
A second main window shows the emblems of thanksgiving and includes the Torah, a sheaf of wheat, the harp and shield of King David and the two tablets of the law. To its right are a cluster of grapes, a token of the fruitfulness of the Promised Land, a mitre of the high priest and an altar. Encompassing both panes is the six-pointed Star of David.
A third window bursts with flames, signifying, according to Hamilton, "power in the creation and in the appearance of God in the burning bush."
Etz Chayim was designed by architect Charles Faurer at a proposed cost of $250,000 in 1952. Known then as Rosh Pina Synagogue, it was built to replace the older Rosh Pina on Martha Street and Henry Avenue, which dates to 1892 and was one of the first synagogues in Winnipeg.
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Etz Chayim Congregation is located at 123 Matheson Ave. in Winnipeg's North End.
Records of the old Rosh Pina synagogue on Martha Street and Henry Avenue, from 1892, were placed in the cornerstone of the new Rosh Pina, now Etz Chayim Congregation.
If you would like a tour, contact the synagogue at 589-6305.