History of Shaarey Zedek - Origins
Early Jewish immigrants came from Eastern Europe with the majority coming from Russia and Poland in the 1880's.
Escaping poverty and persecution, many Jews arrived penniless and with little knowledge of the English language. North America was seen as a guarantee of a better life. Following the fire of 1871, which destroyed much of Windsor's downtown core, there was a period of growth and prosperity.
Windsor became an attractive alternative to Detroit for many early immigrants. William Englander, considered the first Jewish resident of Windsor, established himself here in 1876. Englander started out as a peddler and then opened a poultry business on Mercer Street in the city's downtown. He was an alderman for Ward 3 and worked as an immigration officer and court interpreter. Many of the early Jews were peddlers. They settled in the downtown city market area known then as the "Jewish Colony". Another early resident was Aaron Meretsky. He came here in the late 1880's working as a junk dealer; as well he served on city council and was eventually a President of the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. It was he who in 1917 purchased property for a Jewish cemetery on Pillette Road.
Life in Windsor was challenging; peddling goods door to door was not always easy. However, over time, many of the peddlers opened second-hand stores; some eventually opening general stores. Religious services were first held in individuals' homes until the first synagogue, known as Shaarey Zedek, was established. Located on Pitt Street in a storefront owned by Herman Benstein, it was opposite the city market and next to the fire station.
Prior to 1900, marriage services were either held in Detroit or a rabbi from Detroit came to Windsor to conduct the service. Demand for a new synagogue increased as the population continued to grow. A new Shaarey Zedek Synagogue was opened in 1906 at the corner of Brant and Mercer Streets with Morris Gitlin as Rabbi. This building served the community for over 50 years.
By the late 1950's, the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue was no longer big enough to accommodate the growing congregation. It was torn down in the late 1950's and was replaced by the present Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, which has served the community since 1958 at the corner of Giles and Lillian.