The board of Beth Jacob V’Anshe Drildz has put the synagogue’s property on Wilmington Avenue and Overbrook Place in Toronto up for sale, but the congregation has no intention of leaving its Bathurst Manor home.
According to Joe Somer, the congregation’s second vice-president, any offer for the property will have to include provisions for a replacement house of worship on site, or nearby.
It would violate Halachah, or Jewish law, to knock down and not replace a holy building that serves the needs of its community, he said.
“We’re committed to the name. We’re committed to respecting the past and continuing into the future,” he said.
The congregation recently listed the 0.77 acre site at 147 Overbrook Pl. for sale, with a June 29 deadline for offers. Any sale is subject to approval by the board and congregation.
The listing, by Cushman & Wakefield Ltd., describes the property as an “infill residential development site located in desirable Bathurst Manor. Small synagogue on site. Includes a full range of residential uses: detached houses, semi-detached houses, duplexes, triplexes and townhouses. The property is being offered for sale on an unpriced basis.”
Somer told The CJN that there are several potential outcomes for the sale, including an agreement by which the synagogue could be located within a residential development.
But, “They cannot buy the property and build whatever they want. That’s not what the intention is at all. The intention is to keep a synagogue on the property,” he said.
Somer acknowledged that the condition on the sale “might scare off buyers. It might not.”
“The property is attractive, in that it’s in a central area of North York, in a good neighbourhood for schools and infrastructure,” he said. There should be no shortage of offers and he said a sale can be expected by the end of July.
The current building is about 55 years old and requires large infusions of cash to repair the structure and make it accessible to people with disabilities. The kind of upgrades needed could cost as much as $1 million, he suggested.
“It is beyond the finances of the current synagogue,” Somer said.
Beth Jacob was built with a sanctuary that can accommodate as many as 500 worshippers, but today its membership stands at only around 100.
Prior to its move to Bathurst Manor, the synagogue was a going concern downtown. The original Beth Jacob synagogue dates back at least to 1905, when it was located in a building at 17 Elm St. As the centre of the Jewish population shifted, so too did the synagogue. In 1919, the congregation acquired a property at 23 Henry St., near College and Baldwin, and built a synagogue with a sanctuary that could accommodate 800 worshippers.
After the city’s Jewish population moved north in the 1950s, the synagogue followed. In 1962, the property on Overbrook was purchased and construction of a synagogue began.
In 1966, Beth Jacob amalgamated with Shaarei Emunah congregation and in 1971, it joined with the Drildzer synagogue, which was founded in the early 1920s by Jews who had immigrated from the town of Drildz in southeastern Poland.