Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg says a bittersweet farewell to their old building as they prepare to move

Taking the Torahs out of Etz Chayim Synagogue in Winnipeg, as the congregation moves to a new building. Nov. 29, 2023

For members of Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg, a Nov. 29 deconsecration service was a chance to say farewell to a building that had served them well for 71 years.

The Conservative congregation, an amalgamation of the Beth Israel, Bnay Abraham and Rosh Pina synagogues, had been meeting together in the building at 123 Matheson Ave. E. in the northern part of the city since 2002.

Earlier this month they sold the building, which had been home to Rosh Pina since 1952, to the Debre Sahl St. Michael Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, a congregation made up mostly of newcomers to Canada from Eritrea.

Early next year, Etz Chayim members will begin meeting in a new synagogue in south Winnipeg. Until then, the congregation will gather at Gray Academy, a Jewish school located on the Asper Jewish Community Campus.

For Etz Chayim Rabbi Kliel Rose, the Ma’ariv service was a way to “acknowledge the sanctity of that space… the holiness that filled the building for many years.”

It was also a way to “express how grateful we are for the building, how indebted we are to it.”

During the service, the Torah scrolls from the three congregations were removed from the building and the mezuzah was removed from the front door.

Rabbi Rose acknowledged there is no formal deconsecration ritual in Judaism, but rather something he borrowed from Christian friends.

At the same time, the congregation wanted to do something to show their gratitude for a place that had been “sacred in nature, filled with prayer and learning, a place of deep and meaningful connections for many people,” he said.

Moving to a new location is “bittersweet,” Rabbi Rose said. “It’s hard not to feel a little sadness leaving this building, but we are excited for what’s ahead.”

What makes leaving feel a bit better is knowing the building will continue to be a place of worship.

“The fact another religious community will use it is appropriate and comforting,” he said. “It’s so special to be able to see that happen.”

What is especially gratifying is knowing it will be home to another community made up mostly of newcomers and immigrants–just like the Jews who came to Winnipeg in the early part of the 20h century and founded Etz Chayim’s predecessor synagogues.

“Members of the Jewish community know a great deal what it is like to start over in a new land,” Rabbi Rose said, noting that places of worship were important religious, social and cultural spaces for them at that time, too.

“Now a new group of immigrants can use the building to start their lives in Canada,” he said. “We give them our blessing as they begin meeting in our old synagogue.”

Etz Chayim decided to move to the south part of Winnipeg since 80 percent of the more than 400 member families live there. The new location is a former Khartum Shriners’ building at 1155 Wilkes Ave.