By 1910, there were 18,000 Jews in Toronto, an over 500% increase in
one decade. Among the thousands who poured in fleeing pogroms and
poverty were men, and sometimes families, from two small Polish shtetlach of Staszow and Slipi.
Unable to speak English, they clustered in areas that other Jews
frequented. Life was not easy for these immigrants. Some found work as
peddlars, others as tailors or small scale businessmen.
To ease the loneliness, people from the same town—called landsleit in Yiddish—sought each
other out. They tried hard to rebuild a new life in a cold city that
did not care much for Jews or other immigrants. For many, one of the
best ways to recreate a small part of what they had left behind was to
form a small synagogue—commonly called a shul.
By 1910, each organization had officially created one, often meeting in
a series of temporary quarters. These small congregational homes served
functions beyond prayer. They were meeting places, a small ”piece of der alte Heim” (their
homes in Poland) where they could converse in Yiddish, read letters
from home to each other, talk about their “Canadian” children who were
doing so well at school, and boast of how their hard earned incomes
were being used to bring in more family members. The onset of the First
World War stopped immigration for a while, but the gates of Canada
reopened, albeit more reluctantly, in the 1920’s, thus allowing the
small congregations to continue growing.
As the congregations grew and felt more secure, they purchased
houses—the Stashover on Dundas Street near Spadina and the Slipia on
Oxford Street—and converted them into shuls. Rabbi Graubart arrived
from Staszow shortly after the war. He was a respected and learned man
who authored books on Jewish law, opened a Yeshiva, became Principal of
the Eitz Chaim School on D’Arcy Street, and a source of pride to his
congregants. Their pride was such that even the economic challenges of
the Depression could not close congregational doors.
But the shadow of the Shoah fell across the communities—and indeed upon
all Canadian Jewry. In 1945 the awful truth became clear: both Staszow
and Slipi were Judenrein—emptied
of Jews after centuries of residence. A few souls and few families,
remnants of far larger clans, trickled into Toronto and joined their landsleit. They arrived just as the
Jewish community began to move northwards into the suburbs. By the
early 1960’s both the Stashover and Slipia Congregations found downtown
membership dwindling. The Stashover moved first—to the building we
occupy today on Sultana Avenue. They were joined a few years later by
the Slipia Congregation. Through the 60’s and 70’s, the shul thrived in
the vibrant centre of Toronto Jewish life.
But as the numbers of the second generation members dwindled, and their
children attended less often, a slow decline began. Services fell from
twice a day to twice a week, and “waiting for minyan”—the 10 males needed to make
a quorum for public prayer—became all too frequent on Shabbat.
Something had to be done.
And it was. In 2007 the older generation generously and willingly
called upon their successors to take over their legacy. Together, both
generations, aided by new members attracted by our traditional friendly
and familial atmosphere, reinvigorated the congregation. We proudly
celebrated our centenary in May 2010 with a festive banquet at the Park
Hyatt. We embark on our Second Century full of the pioneering,
persevering, and persistent legacy of dedication left by our founders
combined with the excitement of those who value friendship, tradition,
learning, and the close bonds that only a small congregation can
If you are inspired by our story, come by and experience history
Mornings 9:00-9:30 Schmooze, coffee and
rogelach 9:30-11:30 Shacharit 11:30-12:15 Kiddush luncheon,
followed by Voices of Torah class
Mornings 9:00-9:45 Shacharit, followed by