Toronto’s first Jewish businessman was Judah Joseph who arrived in 1838 and opened a jewelry shop on King Street. Since then, the entrepreneurial spirit of Jewish Torontonians has promoted commerce and industry in the city, while Toronto’s art’s scene has flourished with the help of its Jewish benefactors, participants, and artists.
Among Jewish landmarks in the city are Mount Sinai Hospital, which evolved from a 1909 dispensary on Elizabeth Street; and the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, which began in 1917 as the Jewish Home for the Aged.
The late 1830s brought European Jewish families to Toronto from England and Germany, the United States, and Quebec. In 1856, the Toronto Hebrew Congregation was established at Yonge and Richmond streets, providing services for some 20 families. The congregation still exists as Holy Blossom Temple, the largest Reform synagogue in Canada.
Following the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, Jewish refugees fleeing the Russian Empire arrived in Toronto. They first settled along York and Richmond streets and gradually moved to the area known as The Ward, bounded by University Avenue and Queen Street, and College and Yonge streets.
Jewish businessmen in the salvage trades could be seen pushing their carts through the streets of The Ward. The neighbourhood was close to the factories where labourers worked and contained the shops of Jewish barbers, shoemakers, grocers, bakers, and pawnbrokers. Ice-cream parlours became centres for socializing and holding meetings.
Of the dozen synagogues that were established, Goel Tzedec was founded in 1883 on Richmond Street, followed by Beth Hamidrash Hagodol Chevra Tehillim in 1887. Both merged in 1952 to form Beth Tzedec, Canada’s largest synagogue. Shomrai Shaboth, established in 1889, is the only early Toronto institution to remain traditionally Orthodox.
The first lodge of B’nai Brith Canada was founded in 1875, and today it is the oldest Canadian Jewish service organization in the world. At the turn of the century, the Mozirer Sick Benefit Society was formed as well as the Pride of Israel Sick Benefit Society, which is now the largest organization of its kind in the city. The Toronto Hebrew Religion School was established in 1907 on Simcoe Street and is the ancestor of today’s Associated Hebrew Schools.
The Jewish neighbourhood eventually moved west to Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street where Jewish clothing stores, garment factories, and delicatessens thrived and Kensington Market developed into a Jewish marketplace. In the 1920s and ’30s, approximately 60,000 Jews lived around Spadina Avenue, building synagogues and operating small shops as tailors, furriers, and bakers. Spadina was nicknamed “Little Jerusalem” for its Jewish establishments.
Following the Second World War, 60,000 survivors of the Holocaust arrived in Canada, and Toronto’s expanding Jewish community moved to the suburbs, as far north as Thornhill. Today, North York and Thornhill form the heart of Toronto’s Jewish neighbourhood, where synagogues, bookstores, kosher markets, and delis stretch along Bathurst Street, reflecting the presence of the 180,000-member community.
In the 1960s, Jews arrived from Israel and the United States, and non- Yiddish-speaking Sephardic Jews immigrated from North Africa. The community now includes additions from Iran, Iraq, India, and Russia.
Jewish Torontonians have been entrepreneurs in almost every kind of enterprise, from mining to paper mills, real estate to manufacturing. There are more than 2,000 Jewish doctors and lawyers practising in the city. In politics, Phil Givens was one of the city’s most respected mayors, and Nathan Phillips Square at City Hall is named after Toronto’s first Jewish mayor. In North York, Mel Lastman Square recognizes the mayor who dominated North York politics for close to two decades before being elected first mayor of the Toronto “megacity.” A library at the University of Toronto and a museum of Canadiana arts are named after steel merchant and collector Sigmund Samuel. The Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre was named after its benefactor.
Late businessman and patron of the arts Ed Mirvish has his name in lights on two city blocks. Located in the Annex is Honest Ed’s, the world-famous bargain shopping centre, and on a lively stretch of King Street West are Mirvish’s Royal Alexandra and Princess of Wales Theatres. Other prominent Jewish Torontonians include the Reichmanns, real estate developers of such enterprises as First Canadian Place and Harbourfront’s Queen’s Quay Terminal.
PURIM (THE FEAST OF LOTS) falls in February or March. It is based on the story of the Book of Esther and acts as a reminder that evil can be defeated. During the celebration, a three-cornered pastry is eaten that represents the hat of Haman, whose plan to kill all Jews was thwarted by Esther and Mordecai.
PASSOVER OR PESACH, in March or April, celebrates the exodus of the Hebrews from the land of Egypt, where they were enslaved by the pharaohs. During the eight-day festival, matza (unleavened bread) is eaten as a reminder of the bread the Jews ate when they departed from Egypt. On the eve of Pesach, the family gathers for Seder, a meal and worship service performed according to an ancient book called the Haggadah. As the meal is eaten, the symbolism of each of the traditional foods is explained.
WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING is commemorated in April. It honours the heroism of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and the memory of Jews who perished during the Second World War. The day of celebration is Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Memorial Day.
ISRAELI INDEPENDENCE DAY, April or May, celebrates the anniversary of the 1948 declaration of Israeli independence.
SHAVUOTH, OR PENTECOST, falls seven weeks after Passover. It is a commemoration of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai.
HIGH HOLY DAYS take place in September or October. Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are the most important festivals of the Jewish religious year, during which Jews reflect on their lives and ask God to forgive their sins. The days between the holidays are known as the Days of Awe.
ROSH HASHANAH (NEW YEAR), sees people pray in synagogues for a year of peace and happiness. The blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) reminds the congregation of the need for doing good and for living a God-fearing life. Families celebrate with a festive dinner that includes the eating of an apple or other fruits dipped in honey in hopes of a year filled with sweetness.
YOM KIPPUR (DAY OF ATONEMENT) is for the confession of sins and prayers for forgiveness. An evening service, called Kol Nidre, is followed by prayer which continue until sunset the next day. The holy day of prayer and fasting ends with the long blast of the shofar, and the congregation says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One,” followed by “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
SUKKOTH. In September or October, Jews celebrate Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles), a eight-day harvest festival commemorating the time the ancient Israelites gathered in the harvest and offered thanks to God. During the synagogue service, a palm branch, myrtle twigs and willow branches are held in the right hand and an ethrog (citron) in the left. These are waved in all directions to symbolize the universality of God’s presence.
HOSHANA RABBA is observed as the final judgement day of man. With lulav (palm branch and a few sprigs of myrtle and willow) in one hand and ethrog in the other, members of the congregation parade around the synagogue seven times singing hosannas, the prayers for salvation.
SHEMINI ATZERETH, the seventh day of Sukkoth, sees the congregation offers special prayers for rain.
80th annual Toronto Hadassah-WIZO bazaar.
SIMHATH TORAH is the eighth and final day of Sukkoth. And celebrates the end of the year’s reading of the Torah and the reminder that the study of God’s word is an unending process. The last chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Genesis are read on this day.
HANUKKAH OR CHANUKA, in December, is the Feast of Dedication. The festival honours the first victory for religious freedom, when the Jewish people refused to convert to the ways of Antiochus IV, a Syrian-Greek Emperor who reigned in 165 B.C. The eight-day festival is celebrated with gift-giving and a candle-lighting ceremony at home and in the synagogue. The candles are arranged in a special candelabrum (called a menorah) and are lit with a shamos (helper candle), one every night until all eight candles are lit. During the holiday it is traditional to serve latkes (potato pancakes).
B’NAI BRITH JEWISH TRIBUNE, (Tel. 416-633-6224, 15 Hove St). Publisher: Frank Dimant.
SHALOM, CHIN 100.7 FM, (Tel. 416-531-9991, 622 College St). Monday to Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Host: Zelda Young.
SHALOM, CHIN 1540 AM, Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS, (Tel. 416-391-1836, www.cjnews.com, 1500 Don Mills Rd., Suite 205). A weekly newspaper founded in 1960. Editor: Mordechai Ben-Dat.
SHALOM TORONTO ISRAELI NEWSPAPER INC., (Tel. 416-744-1385, 61 Alness St. Suite 201).
CANADIAN JEWISH CONGRESS, ONTARIO REGION, (Tel. 416-635-2883, 4600 Bathurst St), represents the Jewish community to fellow Ontarians and to government. It acts as a vehicle for advocacy on a broad range of public policy and social justice issues. Congress promotes intergroup relations and combats antisemitism and racism. It is committed to preserving and strengthening Jewish life throughout the province, stresses the centrality of Israel for Jews and Judaism, and fosters concern for the status of Jewish communities abroad.
UNITIED JEWISH APPEAL FEDERATION OF GREATER TORONTO, Lipa Green Building, (Tel. 416-635-2883, www.jewishtoronto.com, 4600 Bathurst St). Established in 1937 as the United Jewish Welfare Fund to support local institutions, and later for overseas relief. Houses Jewish service organizations, including the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, President: Moshe Ronen, The Canadian Jewish Congress is the parliament and official voice of Canadian Jewry set up to reflect the concerns of the Jewish community. The CJC represents the Jewish community before government on matters affecting the community’s interest.
At the same address:
CENTRE FOR THE EDUCATION ENHANCEMENT OF JEWISH EDUCATION, (Tel. 416-633-7770).
JEWISH FAMILY AND CHILD, (Tel. 416-638-7800).
JEWISH INFORMATION SERVICES OF GREATER TORONTO, (Tel. 416-635-5600).
UNITED ISRAEL APPEAL OF CANADA INC., (Tel. 416-636-7655).
TORONTO JEWISH LOAN CASSA, (Tel. 416-635-1217), gives low-interest business, educational and personal loans to recent immigrants to Canada.
B’NAI BRITH CANADA, (15 Hove St., 2nd floor, M3H 4Y8, Tel. 416-633-6224). The members sponsor programs in aid of Israel as well as adult education programs, youth activities, and senior citizen programs. At the same address: B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, an agency which fights racism and anti-Semitism and promotes inter-community relations; and The Institute for International Affairs, a think-tank that addresses international human rights abuses.
CANADIAN COUNCIL OF CHRISTIANS AND JEWS, (Tel. 416-597-9693, www.cccj.ca, 4211 Yonge St., Suite 515).
CANADIAN YOUNG JUDAEA, (Tel. 416-781-5156, 788 Marlee Ave).
Bar Mitzva, Beth Sholom Synagogue.
JIAS (JEWISH IMMIGRANT AID SERVICES) TORONTO, (Tel. 416-630-6481). Helps settle and intergrate jewish immigrants.
CIRCLE OF CARE, (Tel. 416-635-2860, www.circleofcare.com, 530 Wilson Ave., 4th Floor). Provides an extensive range of services to the non-institutionalized elderly and their families.
HADASSAH-WIZO, (Tel. 416-630-8373, 638A Sheppard Ave. W., Unit 209). An organization with 4,000 members in 72 chapters dedicated to furthering health and welfare in Israel.
JEWISH NATIONAL FUND, (Tel. 416-638-7200, 1000 Finch Ave. W., Suite 700).
JEWISH RUSSIAN COMMUNITY CENTRE, (Tel. 416-222-7105, 18 Rockford Rd).
JVS TORONTO, (Tel. 416-787-1151, 74 Tycos Dr), provides vocational guidance and job placement.
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN OF CANADA, Toronto Section, (Tel. 416-633-5100, 4700 Bathurst St).
REENA FOUNDATION, (Tel. 905-889-6484, www.reena.org, 927 Clarke Ave., W). Serves adults and children with developmental disabilities and their families.