In the early days of the First Narayever Congregation, the members met in a house on Dundas and Huron. It was not until 1940 that the congregation was able to afford a more permanent building for their synagogue. Rather than constructing a synagogue, they invested in a building on Brunswick Avenue, which was within walking distance from most members’ homes. The area around Brunswick Avenue was at that time, and remains today, mostly residential. The First Narayever’s structure fits in nicely with the residential houses in regards to its size and stature; it is a humble synagogue with a warm, welcoming facade. The only distinctive difference between the Synagogue and the surrounding houses is the Yiddish writing “First Narayever” located above the front doors.
The First Narayever synagogue was originally a red brick building with a pitched roof and a few small windows. Today, the brick is painted a greyish blue, but the exterior remains otherwise unchanged. Its design is not typical for a synagogue, as it was originally built as a Forester’s Lodge and later served as a Mennonite church. It is a very modest structure with little ornamentation.
The building is over a hundred years old. As a result, due to its size and age, it differs dramatically from the newer and vastly larger synagogues that have been erected in Toronto recently. The First Narayever Congregation began renovating the building in the 1980s. Originally, the building was not equipped to accommodate social events due to its size. The renovations therefore involved turning the basement into a kitchen and social hall. Also, the bimah—the raised platform that faces the ark where the prayers and Torah reading are led—was acquired and now occupies the centre of the Synagogue, replacing the podium that was once used to hold the Torah.
Before the transition, there was a wooden divider, called a mechitza, at the back of the pews to separate the women from the men; however, it was removed during the 1980s when the congregation officially became Orthodox egalitarian. Other changes to the interior include a new curtain over the aron kodesh—[literally, "holy cabinet"] ark in which the Torah scrolls are kept—decorated with a mural of a tree and several candelabras on the corners of the bimah, which lend the sanctuary a warm and pleasant atmosphere.
The Synagogue’s interior is in keeping with the building’s humble design. The sanctuary is narrow and simple in appearance, with white walls and a stippled ceiling. The walls, lights, pews and windows are all unadorned with little ornamentation, although pleasant and elegant in appearance. The aron kodesh occupies the central area of the room at the front; it is framed by two square fluted columns. Over the arch is a passage from Hallel—[literally, "praise"] prayer composed of different Psalms that is recited on the first day of new months and on certain holidays—and underneath the Ten Commandments are depicted on stone tablets. On either side of the Ten Commandments are carved lions symbolizing Jerusalem.
For many years, there has been an ongoing dialogue in the First Narayever community on our building and its ability to support our current and future needs. Issues raised include accessibility for people with disabilities; sufficient capacity for services, social activities and programming; safety and fire code regulations; the need for a private study for the Rabbi; appropriate administrative space; and adequate storage. Recent municipal zoning changes and the possibility of a federal accessibility grant have created a unique time sensitive opportunity to consider a building project that could address many of these issues. Due to the timing of the zoning and grant, this is a matter that needs to be dealt with in the short term. The Board is carefully analyzing this opportunity and needs your help and input.
At the June 2009 and 2010 Annual General Meetings, the congregation voted to continue to explore options to increase accessibility. Based on that direction, the Board has approved work to prepare for submission of a building permit application.
However, no decision has been made to build an addition. The focus has been on developing options to address key issues and to apply for a building permit under the old, less restrictive, zoning by-laws. In the months ahead, the Board is deeply committed to an open, transparent process of information sharing and community input. This is an important decision for our community and we need everyone to be involved as we collectively consider what our shul will look like in the future. Proposed project information is posted below.
Please keep checking back to this site for updated information, including the dates of community information sessions for further information and discussion on this topic. If you have specific questions, or would like to join the Building Committee, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .