A Brief History of Holy Blossom Temple’s First 150 Years
By Professor Irving Abella.
As the chronicler of Canadian Jewry, Ben Kayfetz, observed, the year 1856 was a determining year in Jewish history. It marked the birth of several imposing figures who would profoundly influence Jewish life over the next century: Sigmund Freud, Ahad HaAm, A.D. Gordon, Louis Brandeis, and most symbolically, N.H. Imber, the author of the words to HaTikvah, the Jewish national anthem.
1856 also was the year Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto’s first and arguably Canada’s most historically important synagogue, was founded.
Holy Blossom Temple dates its history to September 1856, when 17 members of the small Toronto Jewish community met to form a congregation and make plans for the upcoming High Holy Day Services. Seven years earlier, some members of the Jewish community had created a cemetery on Pape Avenue, which was later absorbed by the new congregation. The Ontario Heritage Foundation lists Holy Blossom as the first Jewish congregation in Canada, west of the Ontario/Quebec border.
For the first 20 years of the Temple’s existence, Services, conducted in the traditional orthodox manner, were held in a rented room over Coombe’s Drugstore on the southeast corner of Yonge and Richmond streets. In 1876, the congregation built its first synagogue a block east on Richmond Street.
By the 1890s, the congregation had outgrown the Richmond Street Synagogue and made plans for a new one. The dedication of the Bond Street Synagogue on September 15, 1897 attracted much media attention. By that time, Temple membership had grown to 119 families.
During the latter part of the 19th century, changes began to be introduced to ritual and the way services were conducted. Music was introduced and mixed seating allowed. In 1920, Holy Blossom invited Rabbi Barnett R. Brickner, ordained at the Hebrew Union College, to be its rabbi and made application to affiliate with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform Movement’s umbrella organization.
Holy Blossom has more than 6,500 members and is celebrating its 160th anniversary in 2017.