Memoir of Beach Hebrew Institute in the 1930s
by Benson Orenstein
Growing up in the Beaches, I attended Williamson Road Public School. It was a pleasant time for me in the early 1930s. I enjoyed extra curricula activities and especially competing in debating and public speaking. Our English teacher was committed to assisting all the students with special personal time to develop their skills and enjoy the learning experience.
About 1932-3, our family faced an open anti-Semitic experience as the Nazi movement in Germany spread to the Beaches in Toronto. We were living in a duplex managed by Price Brothers Realty. We were issued a notice of eviction for our rental home on Wineva Avenue. They claimed that they did not realize that we were Jewish, and that their property had a rental policy that prevented renting to Jews.
My mother was upset, as was my father who, during the depression, found an opportunity for employment with a friend in Chicago, Illinois. My mother decided to go to the Jewish Agency in downtown Toronto to seek assistance in the eviction notice. The Agency told the story to one of the Singer brothers who practiced litigation law. He represented my mother and the Jewish Agency in a long trial. We were successful and the trial became a focal point for other discrimination charges.
Price Brothers personally apologized to my mother for the harassment and suffering caused by the eviction notice and trial, and they asked us to remain as tenants. Meanwhile my mother found a house on Scarborough Beach Boulevard where the landlord was told of our experience. We were welcomed by the neighbours and enjoyed the home, its location and its south of Queen Street proximity to the beach and lake.
I had four brothers and two of my older brothers and myself attended Malvern Collegiate from where I graduated. One of my brothers was active in athletics and was the school's boxing champion for his age group. We did not, for the most part, encounter outward anti-Semitism at school. Personally, I played in the school orchestra and continued my interest in debating and public speaking, where I won a number of honours and championships.
By 1935 anti-Semitism was growing. At Balmy Beach Canoe Club Jews were not welcome. Many of my school friends kept inviting me there, but I was uncomfortable and felt it not proper to visit the Club.
Some of the teachers at Malvern became active in the Nazi movement at Balmy and their undertones began to appear at school. Students and others began to organize for Sunday forays to Kew Gardens Park to harass Sunday picnickers and groups of Jewish people who found the park an ideal change from inner city Toronto.
The years of '36 and '37 were getting to be uncomfortable, but personally I had good relationships with many of my gentile friends, friendships that continued even after moving from the Beaches.
My time at the Beach shul was most memorable. Prior to my bar mitzvah in 1934, the congregation hired a young American rabbi, Rabbi Axelrod, who was responsible for all the shul's activities: daily cheder, Sunday School, Friday evening services and, of course, the Shabbas and Holiday services. He organized a choir which I enjoyed being part of and Friday night services attracted a good crowd, ending with a social evening of discussions and friendship. Following a bar mitzvah, families brought food to share with the whole congregation.
Once you attained bar mitzvah, you were expected to be present on Shabbat to ensure a minyan. I remember families whose children attended Malvern Collegiate and also attended activities at the shul. Family names such as the Wolfe family whose four boys and one girl were active and involved with activities at the Beach shul. The Mehr family had three older sons, friends of my older brothers.
The Mernick family who operated a tailor shop on Queen Street had two girls and a son. The middle daughter married a well-known boxer, Baby Yack, and all the kids were happy to meet with him. The Greenstein and Herlich families lived close to Kingston Road and Queen Street and their children attended cheder and had bar mitzvoth at the shul. One of the Greenstein sons remained my close friend for over sixty years. The Paulin family and Schwartz family lived out at Neville Park and Queen, and their children too were active at the shul
Two of my grandsons had their bar mitzvot at the shul and I enjoyed the memories of my teen-aged years as happy ones and, of course, the importance of the shul's warmth and friendship provided a great basis of Jewish involvement.
Memoir of the Beach Synagogue
by David Zand
I had my bar mitzvah in the synagogue in 1945, I still have the book which I was given. The Kiddush was in the basement where there was still an earthen floor. The sisterhood brought sweets and the whole congregation was invited. The evening celebration was at the Murray House on Beverly Street, the most popular Kosher catering house of the era.
My family has been involved with the Shul for some seventy years. Both my sisters were married in the shul; the benches were moved to the side to make a central aisle. When Rose and I were married in 1954, the Beach Sisterhood presented us with a gift at a special event.
I recall some of those early families who made enduring contributions to the continuity of the synagogue: firstly, the Schachter family who were a force in the congregation for many years. The Wolfe family who, among other things, were responsible for supplying fruit and vegetables for the Sukkah and with whose brothers I went to Hebrew School. The Pascoe family had a grocery store on Kingston Road across the street from Norway School: Charlie Pascoe had a most beautiful singing voice and served as chazzan for a long time. Hillel Wineberg, a merchant, served as President he was a giant of a man, well over six feet and his wife was a delicate five feet. Two Rosen brothers lived in the Beach; a son, Art, was a gunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was killed on a mission during World War II.
Special powers seem to shine on the Shul and the emergence of Arie Nerman and Sam Tanenbaum gave a new impulse when it was most needed.
Leo Schachter Memoir
by Sheldon Schachter
Leo Schachter emigrated from Poland to Canada by ship in 1927 at the age of 15. He started a clothing store on Queen St. E. near Coxwell Ave. and in 1957 switched synagogues to the Beach Hebrew Institute.
I had my Bar Mitzvah at the Beach Hebrew Institute in 1963. The cantor was Charles Pascoe – he had a superb singing voice and was well loved by the congregation. Women were only permitted to sit on the right side of the synagogue. The loft overlooking the sanctuary held an active classroom. The children sat with their parents or each other in the sanctuary during services. I remember the toilets backing up whenever Lake Ontario’s water level rose – we had to use portable toilets in front of the synagogue (versus the corner restaurant) when this would occur.
My father wasn’t a trained cantor but he had a very deep and resonant voice and, with Mr. Pascoe’s help, he learned to lead the congregation in the davening style with which they were already familiar. My father eventually became president and cantor when Mr. Pascoe was too ill to continue.
By the early 1970s, most of the Jewish families in the Beaches area had relocated to the north Bathurst area of Toronto. I remember my father spending hours on the phone before a holiday service in order to obtain a minyan. I remember at one service, we only had eight members show. The synagogue was running on a budget of approximately $1,200.00 per year. The classroom had closed for lack of children. Some of the family names at the time were as follows: Day, Tanenbaum, Long, Zand, Rowek, Babad, Barta, Horowitz.
A television producer at this point offered to purchase the synagogue with a plan to convert it into a private residence. The choice with the congregation, my father and the Canadian Jewish Congress could have gone either way. My father decided in the end to maintain the status quo in the hopes that there would be a future rejuvenation of the synagogue.
Shortly after, the Beaches became a popular area in which to live and Jews started to return to live in the area. The congregation flourished and a chorus of voices could once again be heard.
As my father’s health failed, Sam Tanenbaum stepped up to become a wonderful cantor. Arie Nerman stepped up to become the president of the synagogue. He was very adept at promoting the synagogue and organizing the new members to work on its behalf.
Leo died on Oct 10, 1981 at the age of 69 and his funeral was well attended by the long term friends he had come to know at the Beach Hebrew Institute.
Bat Mitzvah Memoir October 1978
by Frances Yalonetsky
My mother Sara Schachter was given the honour of being the first woman to carry the Torah at the Beach Synagogue. She was extremely proud. Unfortunately I cannot remember the year.
My daughter Tanya Yalonetsky is the granddaughter of Sara and Leo Schachter. Tanya requested that her Bat Mitzvah be held at her Zaidy's synagogue. It became a challenging request.
It was 1978, the stove in the kitchen had not been turned on for many years. I hired a caterer who had been a cook in the army. I had experienced his many talents where he had to serve food successfully in unusual circumstances.
I told him that a cold food buffet would be fine. His response was that we had to have some hot dishes. We could not use the basement as the floor was dirt with some linoleum over top. He could not stand the condition of the bathrooms.
He painted the bathrooms and entrance walls, went to the Salvation Army for drapes which he hung so our guests couldn't see the basement floor. He had his wife stand at a pay phone at the restaurant next door and instructed her to call the fire department if she heard a loud bang. He was going to light the oven in the kitchen. He started the oven and we had hot food.
It was a great Bat Mitzvah -- not to mention it was the very first Bat Mitzvah at the Beach Synagogue.
Memoir of 35 Years at the Beach Synagogue
by Dalia Day
Over 35 years ago, my family was invited to join the congregation by my Uncle Sam Day who owned a grocery store at Queen and Woodbine. Membership had dropped so that often there were not enough men for a minyan.There was talk of selling the building and I remember my mother thinking of buying it as our home. The women ran bake sales and rummage sales to raise money.
In those early days women sat on the right side, men on the left, men and women together in the middle. Orthodox/Conservative Services were run by Messrs. Hy and Sam Day, Mr. Shechter and Mr. Tanenbaum. Women did not participate in services. Gradually things began to change: families sat together, women were counted in the minyan; the service became wholly conservative.
High Holidays were always very significant and more people started to attend: we used to invite university students to participate. On Yom Kippur we'd take a blanket down to the beach in the afternoon and go to sleep in the sun. We broke our fast with coffee, fruit and homemade cake; it was a warm and memorable occasion.
The old outdated kitchen has been renovated - my mother always wondered what had happened to the green glassware [N.B. it is still in use and is quite valuable.] The washrooms were in terrible shape and one year we had to use portable toilets - I still sometimes walk into the men's room, forgetting that the placement has changed.
I have watched the membership grow, seen the basement turned into a social hall and the upstairs configurated to be more useful. I have seen the shul become known in the larger Jewish community and in the Beach community too. Nowadays the synagogue sparkles and emanates with a joy which my daughter and I share every time we come into the sanctuary.