The origin of our Congregation goes back to the turn of the 20th century, when Jewish immigrants from Roumania, a small minority in a developing Jewish community in Toronto, sought refuge from the strangeness of their new environment in the company of their landsleit (countrymen). Social gatherings led in the course of time to the desire to pray together on the Holy Days and to establish a congregation of their own. Indispensable to the fulfillment of their wish was the procurement of a Sefer Torah. Their success in achieving this goal by a sacrificial campaign of obtaining donations of nickels and dimes from the new immigrants encouraged the group to move from a room in a Synagogue to rented quarters above a Turkish bath, and then to a room over a grocery store. The year was 1903. A substantial increase in membership led to the formal election of the first president and secretary.The most important event of the year, however, was the acquisition of a cemetery far to the north of Toronto as it was at the time, on Roselawn Avenue.After a brief spell in other rented premises, the fledgling congregation finally bought two “cottages” on Centre Avenue which continued to serve as the congregational home until 1911. In that year the Congregation proudly completed and dedicated a new building on Bathurst near Dundas, the site where for thirty years, the First Roumanian Hebrew Congregation Adath Israel, as it was officially known, flourished. The popular name of the congregation was “The Roumainishe Shul.”
During all these years the Synagogue functioned as the busy center of an active religious and social life where various important membership organizations were established. A warm feeling of friendship pervaded the membership fostered by bonds of family kinship and origin.
Rabbi Abraham Kelman was the Synagogue’s first full-time Rabbi serving from 1939 until 1947. In September 1947, Rabbi Erwin Schild, freshly ordained by the Yeshivah Torath Chaim of Toronto, was engaged as the new Rabbi of the Congregation. The membership numbered about 150 families at the time.
The next few years were characterized by a new growth of membership and activities. At the same time, the demography of the Jewish community changed considerably. The Bathurst Street building was not only too small, but also in the wrong location since the growing Toronto Jewish population was moving northward. It was a triumph of courage, vision, and leadership to transfer the Synagogue from downtown Toronto to its present location in North York in the early 1950’s. To signify a new era in its history, the Congregation decided to shorten its name to “Adath Israel Congregation” and to recognize the religious orientation of its membership by proclaiming itself a Conservative Synagogue and by joining the United Synagogue of America. There followed a period of explosive growth of membership even before the first part of the building was complete. In 1957, a large Synagogue community enjoyed the festive dedication of a complete Synagogue home with ample space for religious services, education of children and adults, social functions, and a plethora of congregational events and activities. The phenomenal growth of the Congregation soon necessitated further building. In 1965 a substantial addition created more lobby space, school rooms and the western portion of our building, which was dedicated as the “Rabbi Erwin Schild Wing”.
More recently, in the 1980’s, the Shul embraced the newly renovated Alex Koenigsberg Conservatory, named for our late beloved sexton z”l; the Conservatory encompasses the Jack & Sylvia Hyde Library, the Chapel, and the Barris Boardroom. In 1999, an elevator and ramps were installed to make our synagogue more accessible to the physically challenged. In 1967, A. Eliezer Kirshblum became Cantor of Adath Israel and subsequently took on the equally important role of Principal of Adath Israel Congregational School. In August 2009, when Cantor Kirshblum chose to officially retire from the pulpit after 42 years of service, he was succeeded by a young dynamic Cantor, Alex Stein originally from Sydney, Australia.
In 1989, when Rabbi Schild chose to officially retire from the pulpit, he was succeeded by Rabbi Steven Saltzman z”l, a dynamic religious leader and noted scholar and author who officiated on the pulpit until his untimely passing in September 2014. In 2003 Rabbi David C. Seed was hired as Rabbi and in 2015 Rabbi Moshe Meirovich assumed the role of an Interim Rabbi while the synagogue searched for a new senior rabbi. And in the end, we didn’t have to look far. In March 2018, we welcomed Rabbi Adam Cutler as the new spiritual leader of Adath Israel. Rabbi Cutler is the first Toronto born Rabbi to lead our congregation.
Many vital committees, such as Brotherhood, Sisterhood, Club L’Chayim (55+), the Chesed Committee and Dynamic Singles, and numerous exciting social and educational programmes have been created over the years to meet the evolving needs of our membership, which currently boasts about 1,700 families. With the multitude of activites offered for children right through to seniors, there is truly something for everyone!
After 100 years of growth and achievements, Adath Israel Congregation looks confidently to the challenges of the future.