3 Interesting Synagogues in Toronto

If you want to think about a Jewish megacity, Toronto is as close as you will get to that in Canada. This wasn’t always the case, with Montreal holding that “crown” until Bill 101 in the 1970’s. Blessed with (roughly) 200k Yiddishe Neshamas, our “steital” features a large assortment of Kosher and Israeli restaurants, Jewish Community Centres, theatres and restaurants. 

The Toronto Jewish Community is strong and stands with Israel. Here is the annual UJA walk, occurring in the Spring.

I want to preface this article by stating that I am not an Orthodox Jew, a body of people that I have the utmost respect for. With that being said, I have been made welcome in a whole range of their institutions, without any hint of stigmatization. From Sephardic to Askenazi to Mizrahi, every Nusach is rich and full of spiritual depth. Regardless of your personal Edah or Hashkafa, I encourage everyone to visit different synagogues, allowing them to connect with the larger Kehilla. 

The Kiever

Finished in 1927, this synagogue is located in the Kensington Market area of Downtown Toronto. Built to accommodate immigrants from the Kiev region of imperial Russia (which turned Soviet in 1917), it served as the cultural and religious centre for the growing  Jewish population in the area.

This is the building as it stands today. You will notice an plague placed beside the external gate, alerting tourist as to it’s cultural significance.

Keep in mind that the Great Depression started only two years after construction, with many families facing poverty and other barriers. To alleviate these concerns, the synagogue offered a social welfare program, comprising both loans and financial grants. Services were led by Rabbi Solomon Langner and the Cantor was Herschel Litvak, the owner of York Furniture (College Street). Ensuring that youngsters got a proper education, Fishel Cooper offered both vocational training and trips around Toronto. Sporting his signature bowler hat, he led boys around High Park and the Toronto beaches. Adding a personal element to this story, Fishel was my great-great grandfather, the first of my family to arrive in this beautiful country. We came in stages, with Toronto hosting most of my mishpacha (besides New York and Israel). While most of the Jews have moved north, the shul is still active, hosting both Shabbat and holiday services. 

My great-great grandfather and his crew. I am very proud of him.

The synagogue is categorized as Modern Orthodox, which blends Torah observance with secular studies and careers. This makes sense considering the large number of hospitals in the area, many of whom employ many Jewish doctors. The santuary is split by a Mechiza, or a division between the sexes.

kiever synagogue,
This is the santuary with the Binah (platform) featured in the middle.

Sephardic Kehila Centre

2022 marked their 25th anniversary as a community, situated on Bathurst just north of Steeles. You really cannot miss it, being a magnificent example of Jewish architecture.

While Askenazi Jews are given a Tallit at their wedding, Sephardic boys are given one at their Bar Mitzvah. Here is a man (post 13) praying in front of the open Ark, featuring 5 Torah Scrolls. The four Torahs on the right are Sephardic (vertical) while the white one on the left is Ashkenazi.

More than just a synagogue, they offer banquet halls, classrooms, offices, and even a pool! (I know for sure that they used to have a pool but cannot seem to find it referenced on the website. There is a chance that this has changed but it does not take away from the enormity of this complex, with nearly every amenity imaginable). Rooted in the Sephardic Hashkafa, the founding members came from Morocco, Spain, Israel, Mexico, Lebanon, Algeria and more

This is a view from the female section, which sits above the main santuary where the men pray.

. With so many Jews marrying Jews from other ethnic communities, the Kehilla is more “multicultural” than it was before. The Kehilla was led by Hacham (or Rabbi) Amram Assayag, a skilled orator and Halachist. After his retirement two years ago, Rabbi David Kadoch has taken over as the spiritual leader of the centre. A native Torontonian, he was educated in the local Jewish system in addition to receiving Smicha from a highly recognized yeshiva in Jerusalem. Furthermore, they offer a whole variety of different social events, including bowling and sports. If you are looking for a beautiful wedding (or event) venue, their property is among the best in the city, both in aesthetics and in food quality.

This is pretty lit.

Featuring Gladstone’s Kosher Catering, this is a great place for business meetings, corporate events, Bar Mitzvahs and more. There is certainly lots of life “being lived” at the Kehilla Centre!

Chabad Flamingo

I was Bar Mitzvahed here back in 2001, reading my portion in front of Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, my family, friends, and Hashem. I come here every couple of years, whenever I have free time and in the area.

The Aron HaKodesh reminds me of something from the Middle Ages.

The people here are warm and considerate, accepting people without caveat or pretense. My body is chalk-full of tattoos, something that is explicitly prohibited by Halacha. In spite of this, I was always welcomed in and treated as an equal. The shul is located at Bathurst and Flamingo (in Thornhill), serving Thornhill Woods and beyond. The structure is absolutely stunning, a reflection of the taste profile and generosity of its builders.

This is Rabbi Mendal Kaplain with former Canadian PM Stephen Harper. Despite coming from different religious traditions, they both value the Torah and Israel.

While Chabad is firmly within the Chassidic World, it has a special outreach to secular and/or unaffiliated Jews. This is expressed in their various Mitzvah Campaigns, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to participate and grow. I really love their holiday events, whether it be lighting a Menorah in the town centre or bringing Smura matza to interested families.

There is so much life in this shul. Everyday is a reason to celebrate.

While Chabad originates in Eastern Europe (modern day Belarus and Ukraine) adherents come from every imaginable Jewish demographic. You will see Yemenite Chabadnikim davening beside  Yiddish speaking FFB’s (Frum from birth), both making jokes with the secular Israelis here selling cosmetics in the mall. 

In the new year I am going to profile new synagogues, at least the ones that I have personally visited before. In order to expand this list I am going to do a bit more shul-hopping, expanding my knowledge and frame of reference. I hope that everyone feels at home in one of these options, regardless if they have ink or are forced to work on Shabbat.

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