A Brief History of the Beach Hebrew Institute
For memoirs from some of our members, see the Beach Hebrew Institute’s Memoirs page.
The Beaches were considered remote from the centre (Spadina) of Toronto and mainly a resort area. Many stores and services were owned by Jewish residents: young families, storekeepers, tailors, pharmacists, tavern keepers among them.
A Baptist Church was built at the corner of Queen Street and Kenilworth Avenue. The present ceiling is original, built in a ship's style – it creaks with the wind. After two years the congregation split, two other structures were built in the area. The building was left empty.
The building was used as a warehouse, then a community centre.
Jewish residents purchased the building for a synagogue, naming it the Beach Hebrew Institute – its current name. [The origin of the name on the outside panel, 'Congregation Beth Jacob', is unknown.] The building was moved to its present location and re-oriented to face east.
An addition was made to the front section with an upstairs for women. Stained glass windows, electrical fixtures and some benches were installed. Family names appear. No early records are available, except some of Canadian architect H. Hunt's drawings for the renovations.
Beach area is home of the Canadian Nazi Party. Signs on the boardwalk read: 'Jews and dogs not allowed'. 1933 newspapers report a swastika draped on the Balmy Beach Club. Famously, on the day that the Nazi Party was to parade on the Boardwalk, members of the Jewish community met in Christie Park intending to march to the Beaches to confront the Nazis. Police were able to avert the clash.
The synagogue maintained a low profile within the community. The doors were never closed, though lack of finances and migration of the original families northwards gave an illusion of disuse.
The remaining elders were tempted to sell the synagogue. However, by the mid- 1970s the Beaches were being rediscovered; young Jewish families were attracted to the 'small town' lifestyle of the area. By the late 1970s, the synagogue began a new life with the blessing of the elders and it has continued to grow as a vital part of the Jewish community in the Beach.
On June 6th, in a ceremony led by His Worship Mayor Arthur Eggleton, the synagogue was designated an Historical Site.
The synagogue is now an integral part of the 'Beach' community with its doors open to the Jewish community. A Hebrew School, begun in the 1920s, is still in operation. A new Sefer Torah is purchased. Membership stands at close to 150 households.
The synagogue joins local churches and offers a mid-week lunchtime drop-in. The downstairs is designated the Arie Nerman Social Hall in honour of Arie's years of devotion to the synagogue. A new roof is installed and the front door restored. Our long-time spiritual mentor Sam Tanenbaum passes away at age 86. A dynamic cantor is hired to lead services on a regular basis.
[Revised July 2010]
A more detailed history is available at the Toronto First Synagogues website.