Introducing – Arie Nerman and the Beach Hebrew Institute – The People’s Synagogue

For my Celebrate Toronto article series, I continually look for people who will make positive contributions to the neighborhood and build community in unique ways. During my brief tour of the beach, Gene Domagala introduced me to the Hebrew Institute of the Beach, a religious institution that has existed in Toronto’s beach neighborhood since the 1920s. I wanted to learn more about this institution, so I contacted Arie Nerman, the president of the Beach Hebrew Institute, and a good friend of Gene Domagala.

Arie invited me to come and meet him on a Wednesday morning, which would also allow me to see the walk-in program in action, a program that offers a free hot lunch to underprivileged people in the neighborhood. Promptly at 10:30 am I entered the premises and was met by Arie, a distinguished gentleman in his seventies. He began to tell me the story of the Beach Synagogue: during the 1890s, the Kenilworth Avenue Baptist Church stood on these premises and opened in 1895. Around 1908, the congregation moved to a larger church in Waverley Road and the old church was left empty. for a while and was even used as a warehouse and a community center.

In 1920, finally, the building was purchased by the Beth Jacob congregation, which began holding Orthodox prayer services in the now-reformed synagogue. The orientation of the building was even changed so that the pediment faced east. Arie explained that this was a small congregation and in 1935 it consisted of about 35 families. The 1920s and 1930s were a difficult time for the Jewish community, as anti-Semitism had spread throughout Canada. The word “synagogue” has been deliberately omitted from the name of this religious building.

The Beth Jacob congregation stayed until the 1940s and then moved on and left virtually no trace. Over the years, various congregations fluctuated in size and did not have a rabbi. During the 1960s, the Jewish community at the beach began to dwindle as its members moved further north of the city. However, a handful of members remained; many of them were small business owners who had upholstery stores or grocery stores.

Arie Nerman himself joined the congregation in the 1970s, just as there was talk of the building’s sale. Arie was originally a non-observant Jew and it took him about two years to find out that there was a synagogue on the beach. Once he joined the congregation, he decided to get more involved. Along with several members of the congregation and with the blessing of the elders, he raised funds to ensure the continued existence of the Beach Hebrew Institute.

No repairs had been made for eons, and Arie took over the congregation when there was $40 in the treasury. The congregation was still Orthodox, and a group of devoted members set out to make some changes. They made changes to become a conservative congregation, which meant that members of the opposite sex could sit together. A few years later, the congregation changed again to become Liberal Conservative. Since then, women and men have had equal status in the synagogue.

Major repairs were carried out during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of extensive fundraising efforts. Letters were sent to every Jewish business in the city and bazaars were held with the proceeds going to the restoration fund. Arie explained that the oven needed to be replaced and now the building has two new ovens. The roof had to be repaired, the floors had to be painted. The original stained glass window was restored at a cost of around $15,000. Fans were added which were later replaced by a central air conditioning system. All accessories were paid for by the congregation.

Today, the building is in good condition and the congregation’s fiscal status is in order. Membership at the Beach Hebrew Institute today encompasses about 130 families with approximately one-third of the members residing in the Beach triangle. Others come from Scarborough or Cabbagetown. A Jewish family still lives on this very street, a few doors down from the synagogue.

Arie refers to the Beach Hebrew Institute as the “People’s Synagogue.” The congregation participates in all the services and during the high holidays they bring a cantor to lead the service. One of the community elders, Mr. Tanenbaum, a Holocaust survivor, is the mentor and spiritual guide of this community.

Arie’s goal has always been to become an active part of the larger community and today she is involved in various interfaith initiatives and is a part of ministry meetings attended by ministers from various churches in the area. Arie Nerman is co-founder of the Beaches Interfaith Community Outreach Committee, a local interfaith group that includes Presbyterian, Anglican, United, Roman Catholic, Mennonite, and Baptist churches, whose flagship initiative is a daily drop-in program. . in a different location. This program provides a hot, nutritious lunch to the homeless, unemployed, welfare recipients, the mentally challenged, and low-income residents of the neighborhood.

Arie Nerman is a quiet and modest man. He doesn’t talk much about himself; about his personal life he simply shares that he used to be in the advertising industry and also taught at Seneca College. For her extensive work in the community, Arie Nerman has received several awards, including Beaches/East York Citizen of the Year, and a tribute to her contributions has been immortalized on the Millennium Walk of Fame in Woodbine Park, right next to other important honors. recipients such as Gene Domagala, Glenn Cochrane and Marie Perrotta.

At the Synagogue on the Beach, 30 to 35 people attend visits without prior appointment on average. Some of the locals also drop by to socialize and mingle with the people. The doors are open to all and religion is not involved at all, with the exception of special events on holidays like Christmas and Hannukah. Lunch specials are served on Thanksgiving and regular weekly lunches include soup, sandwiches and a dessert. Volunteers from various congregations add their own special touches to the lunches, sometimes in the form of homemade pies or casseroles. During the summer barbecues are also organized occasionally.

The walk-in lunches have been going on for about 6 years and always take place from 11-1pm. At the Beach Hebrew Institute there are approximately four regular volunteers, while some of the other locations may have up to eight volunteers.

During the visit, I even ran into my friend Gene Domagala, whom I had interviewed a couple of weeks earlier. Gene, another tireless volunteer, regularly helps collect food from various locations, sometimes from private companies, other times from Toronto’s Daily Bread Foodbank.

While Arie was busy with bosses, Gene introduced me to another interesting person: Paul Mandell, who is a regular at Center 55, a local community center dedicated to the well-being of Beach residents.

Paul has been running a promotions business since 1996, the idea for which began with a meeting with Paul’s father during which his father spilled some coffee. In a sudden flash of insight, Paul decided to create cleaning cloths, a particularly lucky idea since he had been offered an entire shipment of unsold diapers that he ended up buying and turning into cleaning cloths. These were then sold to various property management companies, who, incidentally, expressed interest in the uniforms, which meant that Paul Mandell moved into the uniform business as well. Ever the consumer entrepreneur, Paul also moved into the custom embroidery and promotional items business.

But Paul is not only a talented salesperson and entrepreneur, he also has a heart for the community. His local bank manager put him in touch with Center 55, and since then, Paul has regularly donated prizes for the organization’s golf tournament, a major fundraiser. He has also been running the putting contest. In recent years he became even more involved and wanted to generate additional funds to help feed people. He donated 640 hot dogs for the BBQ during the Beaches Jazz Festival and also worked at the event. The barbecue has become a regular part of the Jazz Festival and now raises even more funds for local community programs. Gene joked that Paul had received one of Center 55’s coveted jackets, an item he would also love to get his hands on considering his extensive volunteer work at Center 55.

I then had the opportunity to reconnect with Arie, who mentioned that he has been the president of the Beach Hebrew Institute for many years and really enjoys his community work. He also teaches the kids about Jewish traditions as well as Hebrew reading skills for their bar/bat mitzvahs. He describes his congregation as eclectic and includes all kinds of professions and people from all walks of life. Arie said he needs to continually maintain membership so the congregation can maintain this beautiful building.

As we spoke, about 25 to 30 regulars were enjoying their lunches, sitting in the community room in the basement of the Beach Synagogue. Today’s lunch included a vegetable soup, several types of sandwiches, and a diverse array of desserts, including baked goods and fresh fruit. The atmosphere was nice and it seemed like people had known each other for a long time.

I also had the opportunity to speak with Celia Gould, another volunteer who has been helping with the foster care for about four years. Celia comes every Wednesday at 9 am and helps prepare the food in the upstairs kitchen, which she takes downstairs to the community room. Other ladies come from other churches to help prepare the food and usually leave by 10:30 am. From 11 o’clock the guests enter and begin to enjoy their meals.

Celia explained that the soup usually comes packaged in frozen cubes from the Food Bank, sometimes it is also delivered in cans. The meals are always fresh and highly nutritious. Celia has lived on the beach since 1987 and she enjoys the neighborhood, especially since you can get everywhere without the need for a car. Her children have gone to school in this neighborhood. She likes to volunteer and she appreciates that Arie includes her. She finds the walk-in activity very healthy and enjoys interacting with the local seniors who help with meal preparation.

Some of the volunteers are over ninety years old and all are regulars. Celia hardly ever misses a Wednesday and she loves to support the visiting program. She says that Arie is her hero and she is very proud to know him.

I bet many of the regulars at the drop-in feel the same way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pain relief for tense muscles

November 19, 2022