New shul planned for Winnipeg

Rabbi Pinsker helping stepson Keithen Harris put on tefilin.

WINNIPEG — A new shul just in the process of being formed in Winnipeg has the potential to affect the membership of the city’s largest and oldest congregation.

That’s because Rabbi Larry Pinsker, currently in his final months as associate rabbi at the Conservative Shaarey Zedek Synagogue – which has more than 1,000 member families and last year welcomed 1,500 people to High Holiday services – will become spiritual leader of the new entity, to be called Beit Knesset Hadash, or the New Shul.

He’ll take up the post as of Rosh Hashanah, after his contract with Shaarey Zedek expires.

Prior to coming to Shaarey Zedek in 2004, the Reconstructionist-trained Rabbi Pinsker served as the rabbi of Toronto’s only Recontructionist shul, Congregation Darchei Noam, from 1991 to 2002 and as interim associate rabbi for a year at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue, a Conservative congregation, also in Toronto.

About a year ago, the Shaarey Zedek executive told Rabbi Pinsker that the synagogue would not be renewing his contract. The executive didn’t give shul members an explanation for the controversial decision.

Pinsker’s wife, Laurelle Harris Pinsker, is president of and spokesperson for Beit Knesset Hadash. In an e-mail, she stated the New Shul is planning to hold regular Shabbat services at a location still to be determined, as well as High Holiday services at the Fort Garry Hotel, one of Winnipeg’s most prestigious inns, which has kosher catering under the supervision of Chabad Rabbi Avraham Altein.

“Spearheaded by a growing group of Winnipeg Jews from diverse backgrounds,” Harris Pinsker wrote, “we have come together to build a centre for Jewish thought, creation, learning, volunteerism and prayer, intent on building connections between all members of the Winnipeg Jewish community as well as people with other backgrounds.

 “We are committed to seeking the best in Jewish tradition in all existing Jewish movements and schools of thought, and to providing for the religious needs of our members and the community at large. The New Shul is committed to – and recognizes the benefits of – maximum inclusion in our congregation by Jews and their families, irrespective of race, sexual orientation, gender, age, geographic or cultural background and [believes] that everyone can find a home at the New Shul.”

Harris Pinsker told The CJN that since the announcement about the New Shul on April 27, there have been a number of inquiries, and several families and individuals have committed to joining.

“We are excited that the response has been so positive, especially from Jews who have previously not been affiliated with other synagogues in Winnipeg,” Harris Pinsker said.

“It’s too early to tell what our numbers will be, but we believe we are offering a creative and viable option to which Winnipeg Jews will respond.”

When asked about the new congregation, Ian Staniloff, Shaarey Zedek’s executive director, would only say that “we wish Rabbi Pinsker well in his future endeavours.”

The New Shul could also have an impact on the last new congregation to be established in Winnipeg.

Congregation Shir Tikvah was formed in the aftermath of the merger of three large north Winnipeg synagogues in June 2002, which resulted in the creation of Congregation Etz Chayim.

Some members of the three synagogues involved in the merger were unhappy with the result and started their own congregation, initially for the High Holidays only. While Shir Tikvah will be hosting its 10th High Holiday services this fall, there has been little interest among attendees in expanding the congregation’s activities year-round.

Shir Tikvah holds High Holiday services at a Winnipeg hotel and generally draws close to 200 worshippers.

Shir Tikvah president Sharon Bronstone, said she had no comment on the formation of Beit Knesset Hadash.

 “We at Shir Tikvah are proud to be celebrating our 10th anniversary,” she says. “We intend to continue to provide a positive and warm environment for our Yom Tov services.”

Meanwhile, Shaarey Zedek and Congregation Etz Chayim are in the early stages of their own merger negotiations that would presumably see Etz Chayim move from the north end to the south end at some future date.