Shul Stories from Vilna to Winnipeg

Memories and Stories about Synagogues from the Wexler Oral History Project

A range of memories and stories about synagogues from St. Petersburg to Washington, DC, Vilna to Winnipeg, from our growing Wexler Oral History Project collection. These reflections illustrate the role of synagogues in fostering a sense of community and Jewish identity across space and time. 

A zis, gezunt yor—wishing you a sweet and healthy year!

Walking My Great-grandfather to Shul

Monty Hall, z’’l, media personality, philanthropist, and original host of Let’s Make a Deal, shares fond memories of walking his great-grandfather to the synagogue on Saturday mornings as a young boy in Winnipeg, and then doing the same thing ten years later with his blind grandfather. Both experiences involved an element of ritual, and both remained in Monty’s mind as touching and poignant routines.

Visits to the Rebbe in Ger 

Rabbi Peretz Weizman, z”l, born in Lodz, Poland, in 1926, shares vivid memories of the atmosphere in the synagogue in Ger, Poland, where thousands of Hasidic Jews would gather to see the rebbe speak and enjoy holiday meals. He also recalls the quality of the rebbe’s voice and his own special role relaying the rebbe’s prayers and speeches to those who struggled to hear.

Finding My Voice in the Synagogue 

Sara Klompus, singer and Yiddish enthusiast, describes her childhood synagogue B’nei Israel in northwest Washington, DC, as an awe-inspiring sight and a home away from home. She recalls “shul-hopping” on Fridays and learning to sing from a welcoming, caring cantor with a booming voice.

Memories from the St. Petersburg Synagogue in 1998

Annie (Anye) Kaufman, pattern maker and Yiddish activist, recounts her experiences going to synagogue while studying Russian in St. Petersburg. She recalls the services and the people she met there, including a rabbi from Brooklyn who gave sermons in Yiddish. 

A Tale of Two Shuls

Murray Lubin, former linotype operator and printer, describes the many differences between the shuls of his childhood, one in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the other on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Memories of a Hasidic Synagogue in Vilna 

Baruch Shoob, native Yiddish speaker and former Jewish partisan fighter, was interviewed in Yiddish by Agnieszka Ilwicka in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2015. In this clip, he remembers the Hasidic shul he attended growing up in Vilna. 

The Reopening of Kiev’s Podil Synagogue 

Marina Vaysberg, reference librarian at the College of Saint Rose, speaks about the changes Kiev has undergone since her girlhood. In particular, she recalls the opening of the grand Podil Synagogue in Kiev in the 1970s. 

A Secular Child’s Reaction to Gender Separation at Her Friend’s Synagogue

Miriam Forman was raised in a secular home, the daughter of Yiddish author and Jewish educator Solomon Simon. In this highlight, she tells the story about the first time she entered a synagogue as a child.

Photo of synagogue in Zamosz, Poland courtesy of Mark Gerstein, z"l.