The Saint John Jewish community was founded in 1858
with the arrival of Soloman Hart and his family. The Harts sailed from England to New York, before choosing to make Saint John their permanent home where Mr. Hart established a tobacco business. A year later his brothers-in-law Henry Levy and Nathan Green, also tobacconists from New York, joined him. These immigrants were British citizens and had been established merchants in England.
By 1878, Abraham and Israel Isaacs, who were also tobacconists, joined the fledgling Jewish community. They would later marry two of Hart’s daughters. Soon the names Lipman, Weiskopf, and Whitebone were added to the Jewish community.
In 1860 Saint John was the third largest urban center in British North America and bigger than Halifax.
The death of a child prompted the establishing and consecration of the Green-Hart cemetery in 1873. The descendants of these families continue to be buried there. This ultimately led to the establishment of a community cemetery. A database of burials in the city’s Jewish cemetery has been compiled.
The integration of this first wave into the non-Jewish community was made with little difficulty due to common language and social customs. The first Jewish wedding in 1882 between Elizabeth Hart and Louis Green was a social event that included the elite of the city including top civic and political officials without regard to religious affiliation.
The second wave
of immigration began at the turn of the 20th century, as hundreds of Jewish immigrants arrived in the port of Saint John from Eastern Europe. Most were on their way to other centers. Life was not as pleasant for the new immigrants as it had been for their predecessors. The new immigrants came principally to escape religious and social persecution as well as poverty within the Russian Empire. Most had little money and therefore lacked the means upon arrival to pursue the trades and skills they possessed. They worked as peddlers before establishing their stores and factories. Those who fell ill were quarantined on Partridge Island and some are buried there. Members of the Saint John community founded the first Jewish Immigrant Aid Society in Canada in 1896. This organization, assisted by the ladies of the Daughters of Israel, helped the immigrants in every possible manner to adjust to their new environment. Within a few years, many of these immigrants became the leaders of the Saint John community.
The third wave
brought only a few families to Saint John in the years preceding and following the Second World War. Most were highly qualified professionals but by 1987 all of them had departed for other parts of Canada.
The 1920s to the 1960s became known as the Golden Years for the Saint John Jewish community.
There were between 60 and children in the Hebrew School. The Jewish community was very active in the business life of the city, with more than 80 stores lining the principal streets of the North End and uptown of the city. Numerous organizations were established and there were chapters of Hadassah, Young Judaea, Habonim, and B’nai B’rith. Children and some adults also became involved in the Scouting and Guiding movements, among them Eli Boyaner who became a leader at the national level.
The Jewish community was home for many whose accomplishments carried them far from Saint John
e.g. Louis B. Mayer, Nathan Cummings, and others. In 1977, the city elected its first and so far, only Jewish mayor – Samuel Davis. Also serving with distinction were the Hon. Erminie Cohen, who was appointed to the Senate of Canada and the Hon. Myra Freeman, who was Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia.