Drama meets history: a $60,000 offer for the shul

Deed Cast and Crew
Cast and crew of The Original Deed (Photo: Penny Tennenhouse)

“I am two of your characters.” An animated Ben Levinson approached me after the final performance of The Original Deed last Sunday. “I was the one who crawled up into the attic and I was one of those who searched for land for a new shul.”

The play depicts a young Jack Abelman falling to the floor as he climbs out of the attic and tells his father Sam that some of the beams holding up the roof are in bad shape. But when Ben prowled the attic some 50 years ago, it was what we now know as the balcony. At the time the building was covered in stucco and had a false ceiling so when Ben accessed the upper story through a trap door he saw the magnificent domes and boarded up windows for the first time.

The Original Deed tells the fictional story of a battle between the older people represented by Sam and the younger generation over a plan to sell the shul and relocate the community.

“But that’s how the real story unfolded,” Ben told me. He and Stan Fisher were dispatched by the board to search for a new location. At a special board meeting on October 20, 1968, they presented six options, including three lots behind our cemetery available for $25,000 in total. The cost of building the new synagogue would be $100,000, Stan told the board.

And what would they get for the old building?

From the board minutes: “Lou Bloomfield (president) again reminded the board that we are being unrealistic to discuss $100,000 or more with an offer of $60,000, and at best a hope for $80,000.”

The offer was from Horwood, who owned the car lot next door, and the board authorized Morris Greene to approach him with a counter offer of $85,000. (In the play, the roles are reversed and the shul buys the car lot.) “Realistic or not, the whole plan eventually floundered under opposition by the elders, led by Bernice Packford,” Ben recalls.

I’d like to thank the congregation for the opportunity to delve into our fascinating history and present this play for four nights in the sanctuary. We filled the shul to near capacity each night, and, from the list of names of ticket-buyers and the men without kippot, I’d say the large majority of the audience were not members of our congregation.

For a review of the play, please read this week’s edition of The Jewish Independent http://www.jewishindependent.ca/.

Sid Tafler


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An inclusive, warm, and progressive Conservative synagogue in Victoria, B.C.

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