Birth: July 12, 1846
He was born in what is now Kaunas, Lithuania, but at the time of his birth the city was known by its Russian name, Kovni. It was part of the Russian Empire from 1843 to 1915.
Death: February 22, 1927 (age 80) in Victoria, B.C.
Elias Friedlander was a highly educated man, scholar, teacher, and rabbi. He was a distinguished baritone singer. Elias spoke English, Lithuanian, Russian, German, and Hebrew. Most sources say that he was born on July 12, 1846 in Kovno (Kaunas, Lithuania); however, August 5, 1846 in Kepno, Posen, Poland and 1848 or 1849 were also quoted. His parents were born in Lithuania.
Elias studied at the rabbinical academy of Kovno before immigrating to Germany. Most sources say that Elias was ten when he went to Germany where he continued his studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. There he was taught a blend of traditional Judaism, as well as rituals from the newly emerging moderate reform perspective. He received his rabbinical ordination at that Seminary.
In 1871 Elias was hired by the Sunderland Hebrew Congregation in Sunderland, Durham, England. He worked with the first full time rabbi; Rev. Israel Aaron Levy, by leading the liturgical prayers and reading from the Torah. As cantor, Elias created a choir of six boys and four men. He left this position in 1878.
Almost nothing is written about Elias’ personal life, but it’s possible that he met and married Esther in England.
From 1879-1882 Rabbi Elias was the spiritual leader of the English and German Congregation in Kingston, Jamaica. He was also one of the founding members of the Jamaica Masonic Benevolence Association.
According to the 1921 Canadian Census, Rabbi Elias immigrated to Canada in 1883. He was hired as rabbi of the Congregation of English, German and Polish Jews in 1884. Their philosophy of Judaism was a blend of more traditional elements as well as some Reform rituals. At that time, Congregation of English, German and Polish Jews was one of the largest non-Orthodox congregations in Montreal.
In 1885, John E. Moss, president of the Congregation of English, German and Polish Jews laid a cornerstone on McGill College Avenue for their new synagogue building. The following September, at the dedication of the ‘magnificent’ synagogue building, Rabbi Elias declared that the congregation would henceforth be known as Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.
Rabbi Elias and others established the first Zionist Society in Canada. Although it never flourished, Rabbi Elias remained at Shaar Hashomayim until 1896. His resignation was due to conflicts with the Trustees of the Congregation. One source cited “long standing issues” between the rabbi and his wife becoming widely known and stressful for the congregation.”
The dedication of the first synagogue of the Baron de Hirsch Hebrew Benevolent Society took place on February 19, 1895, in Halifax. Rabbi Elias was guest rabbi and presided over the Dedication Day events. Dressed in their ecclesiastical robes, both he and the Rev. S. Schwartz, the Halifax rabbi, followed a procession from the President of the Congregation’s home to the synagogue building. Rabbi Elias carried a Torah Scroll. As he neared the Synagogue building he exclaimed; “Open unto us the Gates of Righteousness; I will enter them and praise the Lord.” Rabbi Elias gave an invocation, chanted prayers and delivered a lengthy address. After the other speakers brought their messages and greetings, Rabbi Elias thanked all the participants and ended the celebration with a prayer.
From 1896 to 1899 Rabbi Elias lived in New York City and Chicago.
He returned to Montreal in 1899 to be the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El. Founded by many former members of the Congregation of English, German and Polish Jews it was incorporated on March 30, 1883 as a Reform Congregation. Temple Emanu-El of Montreal was one of the first congregations in Canada established as a Reform Synagogue.
It soon became the largest and most influential congregation in Montreal. That year, Rabbi Elias was initiated into the Montreal Lodge of B’nai Brith, Canada’s oldest independent Jewish Human Rights and advocacy group. At the initiation it was said that: “Mr Friedlander by both Hebrew and Gentile is held in the highest esteem in this community. He is learned, eloquent and public spirited and his congregational work has been of the highest order.”
According to the 1901 Canadian Census, Rabbi Elias was 58 years old, living in Montreal and married to Esther who was 56 years old. Also living with them were their two daughters Clara (age 16) and Annie (age 27) and their son Abraham (age 26).
Rabbi Elias left the pulpit at Temple Emanu-El in 1901 and moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1903 a Reform Congregation called Holy Blossom was formed. Rabbi Elias acted as spiritual director. The congregation flourished at first. However the radical Reform views held Rabbi Bonhein of Las Vegas, caused a backlash within the congregation.
The congregation was comprised of mostly liberal, acculturated Jews looking for a blend of modern and traditional rituals and observances. In 1905 they formed Shaarey Shomayim Congregation (now Shaarey Zedek Synagogue). Rabbi Elias accepted the position as rabbi. On May 7, 1907 a cornerstone laying ceremony was held with provincial and civic dignitaries present. Rabbi Elias participated and for unrecorded reasons resigned later that year.
The next rabbinical position that Rabbi Elias held was in Vancouver at Temple Emanu-El (named after Victoria’s congregation). He brought a highly cultured, spiritual and scholarly approach to the congregation. His Friday night sermons attracted full to overflowing crowds. However, Rabbi Elias found the congregation too small and immature to meet his financial and intellectual needs. He stayed two years before returning to New York.
In January of 1910, members of Victoria’s Congregation Emanu-El began the search for a rabbi. Rabbi Elias was hired starting October that year. Pre-war economic recovery in Victoria allowed the congregation to afford to pay him$1500 a year; well above the average salary of the day. Rabbi Elias was the first rabbi to serve the congregation in Victoria without incident since the first rabbi; Dr. M. R. Cohen (1863-1866). Rabbi Elias’ moderate ways, broad experiences and the wisdom of his years were credited for his success.
On September 9, 1911, The Victoria Daily News reported that a large number of members of Congregation Emanuel attended the third annual meeting. The increase in membership was attributed to Rabbi Elias’ “beautiful and stirring sermons.” He was unanimously re-elected for another two year term as rabbi.
Rabbi Elias resigned in 1913. Rabbi J.E. Elkin replaced Rabbi Elias, but Rabbi Elkin resigned a year later following an unnamed controversy. WWI precluded the congregations’ ability to recruit another rabbi. As was the case for most of Victoria’s Jewish history to that point, the congregation returned to having lay people lead services. Rabbi Elias agreed to officiate for the High Holidays.
On January 8, 1919, the Victoria Daily Times reported that a banquet was given in honor of the Diamond Jubilee of the founding of B’nai Brith. Rabbi Elias was installed as assistant monitor. He sat at the head table and gave a speech at the event.
On May 16, 1919, at the age of 70, Rabbi Elias was hired for a second term. He completed his contract and resigned on December 9, 1920. Despite efforts by members of the congregation to convince him otherwise, Rabbi Elias did not agree to reconsider his retirement.
The 1921 Canadian Census reported that Rabbi Elias was 73 years old, widowed, and living as a ‘roomer’ at the Douglas Hotel on Douglas Street in Victoria BC. It also showed that Rabbi Elias had become a naturalized Canadian in 1915.
On February 22, 1927, after having been ill for a few months, Rabbi Elias died in the Jubilee Hospital. Rabbi Solomon Wohlgelernter of Seattle officiated at Rabbi Elias’ funeral. He is the first rabbi to be buried in the Jewish Cemetery.
Gravesite Details: Row C – Plot 33
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
BORN JULY 12 1846 KOVN RUSSIA
DIED FEBRUARY 22 1927 VICTORIA
David Elkan Friedlaender (1808–
Rebecca Wreschner Friedlaender (1815–
Esther Friedlander (1845-
Mrs. Annie Frankenburg (Mrs. Lewis Frankenburg) (1874-
Clara Alice Friedlander of London, England (1885-
Leopold Friedlander: Journalist in Philadelphia
Abraham Friedlander Photographer in New York (1875-
Israel Friedlaender (1836
Juda Friedlaender (1837
Jacob Friedlaender (1839–1840
Lobel Friedlaender (1842–1843
Moritz Friedlaender (1843–1844
Wolf Friedlaender (1844–1846
Pincus Friedlaender (1845–
Vancouver Island Masonic History Project: