By MARGARET DORE
“Have you met the Beach Hebrew Institute?” could have been the working title for Dr. Dena Bain Taylor’s book about the history of the little shul/synagogue on Kenilworth Avenue.
Chances are you’ve noticed the unassuming heritage building while walking to/from the beach, or visited during Toronto’s annual Open Doors event.
Maybe now is the time for you to get to know your 100 year old neighbour.
If so, you couldn’t do better than to acquaint yourself with the text and images of this attractive and accessible work titled 100 Years At The Beach: A History of the Beach Hebrew Institute 1919-2019. In the interest of full disclosure, I have the honour of being both a friend of the author and a BHI congregant.
To tell the story of 100 Years At The Beach, Dena incorporates genealogical, organizational and school records, newspaper excerpts and eye-witness testimony.
She documents the lives and times of the generations who have contributed to the survival of the BHI.
We learn about how the waves of Jewish immigration to Toronto intersected with the great convulsions of the 19th and 20th centuries, side-by-side with the waning of community support when those successful immigrants left the Beach and downtown for the northern suburbs.
Throughout, it becomes clear that her preferred style of giving life to the past is to prioritise stories about the people.
Did you wonder why I used the word “shul” when introducing the BHI? In the course of her writing, Dena painlessly explains the basic concepts and terms of Judaism and Yiddish culture and collects them in a short and sweet Glossary.
I promise that if you know nothing about Judaism and you read this book, you will absorb most of what you need to know.
It is, of course, the stories about people that leave the deepest impressions on the reader.
As one who has been at the BHI for 15 years, I knew some of the people who are remembered here. That makes me not an objective witness, for sure. I can attest though, that something of the uniqueness of these individuals is transmitted through the interviews with those who knew them; and Dena’s conversational tone brings us closer to the people on the page.
Occasionally the same anecdote is mentioned by different sources and small details or emphasis might change, but that is true of human memory. What emerges as a result is a rich and flowing, living testimony to the communal life of the Beach Hebrew Institute . . . so far.
To purchase 100 Years At The Beach: A History of the Beach Hebrew Institute 1919-2019, please go to www.ecwpress.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org