The Birnbaum - Ozerow Parochet

This white parochet (Torah curtain) meant to be used on the High Holy Days was created by Yehiel Isaac Birnbaum, his two daughters, Reisel and Marmish, and his son Chaskel over a year-long period in Ozerow, Poland. It was sent to Montreal in 1939.



The parochet was embroidered in the late 1930s by Reisel and Marmish Birnbaum. At that time the Birnbaum family in Ozerow consisted of parents Yehiel Isaac and Yocheved, their two daughters Reisel and Marmish, and their son Chaskel.

The Birnbaums sent the parochet to their family in Canada along with other embroidered items with the intention of raising funds to facilitate their passage to North America. However, they were unable to escape Poland before the start of World War II. Their living relatives in Canada, who continue to mourn their loss, highlight the interconnectedness of Jewish communities in Europe and Canada before and after the Holocaust.


Shloime (Sam) Birenbaum (Birnbaum) immigrated to Montreal, Canada from Ozerow, Poland in 1926, and soon after that married Rachel Kastenbaum at the Anshei Ozeroff (also spelled Ozarow/ Ozarov) synagogue of Montreal. Rachel was the daughter of Shmuel and Chava Kastenbaum, who had come to Canada after World War I through the efforts of her uncle Shloimeh Dov Kastenbaum, himself a native of Ozerow, who had settled in Smith Falls, Ontario in around 1909.

Sam Birenbaum/ Birnbaum was trained as a carver and served as Reader and Secretary of the Anshei Ozeroff Congregation until his death on December 16, 1943. Founded in around 1918 by members from the town of Ozerow in Poland, the synagogue also served as a landsmanschaft, or grouping of Jews from a particular region. The congregation merged with the Adath Israel Poale Zedek in 2003. 

The parochet was used in the synagogue after it arrived in Montreal in 1939. In 1979 it was donated to the Canadian Jewish Archives, then known as the Canadian Jewish Congress National Archives, by the female descendants of the Birnbaum family.


The textile consists of two separate pieces, the valance with tassels, and Torah ark curtain, approx. 92cm x 107cm in size. Both are on white silk bordered with blue, and lined with linen. The embroidery depicts two lions atop columns, with a star between the lions, a crown above, and Hebrew text reading 'crown' 'Torah', and 'Let the redeemer come speedily and let him build the cities of Judah' (in part from Psalm 69:36 'For God will save Zion and build the cities of Judah').

The fabric was stained by water and rust and also shows some signs of previous insect activity. Some of the rings used to suspend the curtain are missing. These details were noted in 1985 when the materials were assessed by a textile conservator. Both valance and curtain are very fragile.


The Birnbaum - Ozerow parochet was on loan to the Montreal Holocaust Museum from 1991-1999, serving as the focal point in the first room of their exhibit "Splendor and Destruction, Jewish Life That Was, 1919-1945". Since its return it has been kept under wraps in controlled conditions, but it has figured in virtual form in numerous illustrated lectures, allowing its poignant story to be heard in many contexts.