TORONTO — Congregation Darchei Noam’s new building was filled with music, dancing, and an estimated 500 people for the dedication of the synagogue’s first permanent home on Jan. 27, following a one-kilometre Torah procession from its previous rented premises.
After 34 years of existence, Toronto’s only Reconstructionist congregation has moved into an attractive Jerusalem stone-clad building at 864 Sheppard Ave. W. that is barely recognizable as the former Adath Sholom Synagogue, a congregation that merged with Beth Tikvah Synagogue in 2005.
Darchei Noam, which had been meeting in the B’nai Brith Canada building on Hove Street since 1989, purchased Adath Sholom’s four-decade-old building in 2005 and raised $6.4 million to renovate and expand it.
The building now has a two-storey entrance with large south-facing windows and a multi-coloured donor wall designed by glass artist Alfred Engerer – one of a number of examples of new artwork in the building. It also boasts barrier-free access to all three levels, a teen lounge with a magnetic floor-to-ceiling chalkboard, and a new sanctuary on a second floor that was added to the building. The former sanctuary of Adath Sholom, with its original stained-glass windows, is now the building’s social hall.
The congregation’s initially more modest plans were given a substantial boost by philanthropist Leslie Dan, who with his wife Anna donated $3.2 million.
Rabbi Tina Grimberg, the congregation’s spiritual leader, praised Dan’s “philanthropic, warm, all-encompassing embrace regardless of affiliation,” referring in part to significant funding he has also provided for Orthodox and Reform congregations.
Dan, who had no previous ties to the synagogue, told the assembled group that he had been impressed by the “participation, dynamism [and] vitality” he witnessed when he attended a Darchei Noam Shabbat service after being approached by a small delegation. He also lauded the “warmth, knowledge, and spiritual depth” of Rabbi Grimberg, and said he found the congregation intellectually stimulating and spiritually vibrant.
For all those reasons he felt the proposed plans should be “much larger, more elaborate, more attractive and have more facilities for expansion and growth.”
Robert Barkin, president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, cited Darchei Noam as a “beautiful example” of the JRF’s mission of fostering “transformative Judaism for the 21st century.
“What could be more 21st century than constructing a building with solar panels?” he asked. “Every aspect of your building is built with the concept of being good shepherds for all that God has given us.”
The building, a project of Quadrangle Architects, features low-emission materials, solvent-free paints, recyclable carpets, environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, and high-efficiency heating and cooling units that can be applied in discrete areas to conserve energy in parts of the building that are not in use.
Michael Mitchell, immediate past president of Darchei Noam, spoke of the congregation’s modest beginnings and shared values, including Judaism and love of Torah, social justice, love of Israel, equal treatment of men and women as well as of gays and lesbians, warmth, and being welcoming to Jews and their non-Jewish partners.
Synagogue membership has grown about 40 per cent over the past five years, said president Lisa Charendoff. As of the dedication event, there were 613 adult members – the number of mitzvot in the Torah, she noted.
MC Alan Levine, who co-chaired the capital campaign and chaired the construction committee, said that the congregation is “in a good place in every sense of the word.”
Rabbi Richard Hirsh – he was hired in 1981 as Darchei Noam’s first full-time rabbi by the then-40-member congregation and is currently the executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association – advised congregants not to “lose track of the heart of this community… There will always be time for the details.”
“This structure is a physical manifestation of our spiritual dream,” said Rabbi Grimberg.