The Congregation Knesseth Israel, also known as the Junction Shuul, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, cementing its status as the oldest original synagogue in Toronto.
“It’s monumental really,” said president Edwin Goldstein, whose father and grandfather were both previous presidents of the shuul. “It’s huge to recognize that a synagogue could stay in one place for 100 years and survive.”
The congregation was established in 1909 in the Junction, first operating out of a modest home on Maria Street. In 1911, the founding families of the congregation purchased a tract of land at what is now 56 Maria St.
Member Joey Tanenbaum, whose grandfather Abraham helped found the synagogue, said the Junction Shuul served as a strong community focal point.
“It meant everything to us,” he said following a tour of Maria Street, where many of the area’s Jewish families settled. “It was the centre of our faith, our family life, our community.”
Goldstein said while he did not always look forward to attending services at the synagogue, he enjoyed the time he was there.
“There was a lot of camaraderie there,” he said. “I got the feeling that it was a real community synagogue.”
The congregation peaked in the 1920s at about 200 families. Today, the Junction Shuul does not serve as significant a Jewish community as it once did. After the Second World War, there was a gradual migration to the suburbs north of Toronto.
“They moved away and the synagogue was left here,” Goldstein said. “The popularity waned and it was difficult to get people to come.”
Goldstein and his father worked to encourage people in the community to attend the shuul.
“Any time he would see any of them, he’d say come out to the shuul, we need you,” Goldstein said. “Through my father’s efforts and mine, we’ve kind of revitalized it.”
The Junction Shuul has not had a rabbi since 1939, so they hire a cantor to conduct services on Jewish holidays and for events such as weddings or bar mitzvahs.
Despite not conducting services regularly, the synagogue has managed to survive throughout the years with the help of some dedicated members like Tanenbaum, who helped fund a restoration in the 1990s.
While a number of Toronto religious institutions struggle with finances, Goldstein said the Junction Shuul is financially stable and has a bright outlook.
“We’re solvent,” he said. “We seem to raise enough money each year from associate members and strangers who come to the synagogue that we keep the synagogue going.
“We’ve been here 100 years and we’d like to be here another 100.”
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