Edmund Scheuer, Father of Canadian Reform Judaism
By: Sheila Smolkin
Who is this distinguished gentleman now looking at us from the wall in the Bloomberg Jewish Leadership Centre, just outside the Max Enkin Board Room? He is Edmund Scheuer (1847-1943) generally regarded as the father of Canadian Reform Judaism.
Scheuer moved to Hamilton, Ontario from Paris, France in 1871 where he became very involved in Anshe Sholom Congregation. Under his influence, Anshe Sholom became the first Reform Congregation in Canada in 1882. He had a dream in this new land; Jew and Christian, Synagogue and Church would work shoulder to shoulder for the ideals which both religions held in common, “The fatherhood of God who has created us all, and the brotherhood of all men.”
Scheuer moved to Toronto in 1886 where he established his business as a jeweller. He immediately joined Holy Blossom and was elected to the Board. He saw Jewish education as a privilege. He took charge of the synagogue’s school where he served as superintendent for several years, he wrote a number of young people’s textbooks, organized and taught a Confirmation class for girls, aged 13, which culminated in 1899, and he organized and financed the Zionist Free School for Girls run by 16 volunteer teachers from Holy Blossom.
Scheuer was dedicated to the Jewish community in many other ways as well. He founded the first Jewish Benevolent Society in Toronto and was the first president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.
During the 57 years that he was a member of Holy Blossom, Edmund served in almost every capacity in the synagogue. For his lifelong service, he was appointed Honourary President in 1934.
In 1920, influenced by the thinking of Scheuer, Holy Blossom took the first step to affiliate with the North American Reform Movement when it hired Barnett Brickner, ordained at the Reform theological school, Hebrew Union College, as its rabbi.
In 1943, at the age of 95, Edmund Scheuer was killed when hit by a streetcar on Yonge Street. As the historian, Michael Brown has written, Edmund Scheuer remained to the end of his life both an advocate of modernization and acculturation in Jewish life and a dedicated and proud Jew.
You may wish to visit the Archives Committee displays at the far end of the atrium as well as the Living Museum display by the elevator.
If you have any items of archival interest to contribute to the Holy Blossom archives, we would love to hear from you. Please e-mail us at [email protected].