The Anshe Minsk congregation was formed in 1912, to follow the religious traditions practiced in Minsk . The shul provided an enviroment for observant Russian Jews to feel at home in Toronto . The synagogue has always been Orthodox, offering three minyans daily, Shabbat, holiday celebrations and other important religious services.
Documentation regarding the Minsk 's early rabbis and cantors is scarce, leaving only oral sources. From 1916 to 1922, prominent Toronto Rabbi Meyer Levy served the Minsk . He had previously led the Chestnut Street shul and, in later years, became the rabbi for the Hebrew Men of England synagogue. In the 1920s, Cantor Glick officiated services at the Minsk . Thereafter, the congregation likely continued with a cantor, but it is unclear who led the congregation, until Rabbi Zimmerman began at the shul in the late 1940s. Reuben Schwebel joined him as the Minsk 's cantor in 1949. However, when Rabbi Zimmerman passed away in 1954, the congregation decided not to hire a new rabbi. Instead, rabbis such as Rabbi Isaac Langner and Rabbi Kaplan would visit and give religious lessons at the shul.
In 1988, Rabbi Shmuel Spero was hired from Cleveland , Ohio and still heads the Minsker today, while Cantor Schwebel continues over fifty years of leading Shabbat and holiday services.
Early in the shul's history, the congregation formed a Chevra Kadisha to ensure that Judaism's strict burial laws were followed. Not only did the Minsk members volunteer their time to the Chevra Kadisha , but they also purchased sections of the Roselawn and Bathurst Lawn cemeteries on behalf of the shul. The Minsk 's Executive would send out Yohrzeit reminders to members with close relatives who had passed away.
In contrast to these sad, yet necessary services, the Minsk has also been filled with religious celebration. Holiday services, Shabbat meals, bar-mitzvahs , weddings, and bris milahs have been held at the shul with much joy and excitement. In a video clip below, Michele Landsberg vividly recalls her childhood memories of the Minsk 's lively Simchat Torah celebrations.
The Minsker's religious role in the Jewish community changed through the decades as Jews moved northwards in the 1950s. With the Jewish downtown population dwindling, the Minsk became the 'businessman's shul', since downtown businessmen started coming to the centrally-located shul to pray in the morning before the workday began. While working at City Hall, former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman attended daily Minsk services to say the Kaddish prayers and still attends on his father's Yohrzeit .
Today the Minsk remains the only Orthodox synagogue in downtown Toronto with a full-time rabbi. Each day, Rabbi Spero still manages to find ten Jewish men to have a minyan for morning, evening, and nighttime services. When he has touble making a minyan , Rabbi Spero will turn to the neighbourhood hangouts to locate Jews, as he explained to CBC Radio. The Minsk continues to offer a religious environment welcoming to all, including tourists. Rabbi Spero organizes communal Passover seders, builds a sukkah at the shul on Sukkot , holds Shabbat meals each Friday night, and eagerly encourages attandance at prayer services. As the atmosphere of the area has changed with time, the Minsker has successfully adapted to answer the current needs, while staying true to its original religious function.
Rabbi Meyer H. Levy, 1950s.
Rabbi Chaim Meyer Zimmerman officiating at the wedding of Ethel Gary and Jack Halter at the Apter Synagogue, 216 Beverley St., Toronto , c. 1948.
Rabbi Shmuel Spero reads the Torah scroll in the Minsk shul, 2001.
Chevra Kadisha book, n.d.
Chevra Kadisha book, n.d.
Members saying Shacharit prayers in the Minsk 's basement, January 1979.
List of members given Aliyahs to the Torah, nd.
High Holiday ticket, 1974.
Cantor Reuben Schwebel, ca. 1955
VIDEO CLIP: Michele Landsberg remembers celebrating Simchat Torah with her grandfather at the Minsk , 2006.
AUDIO CLIP: Why does Rabbi Shmuel Spero from the Minsk frequent non-Kosher Chinese restaurants near the synagogue?