Although the Minsk was formed primarily for religious reasons, the shul also had a significant social role. Members would gather together for prayers and religious occasions quite frequently, since most Jews in the early 1900s were Orthodox. Because of the shul's central location off Spadina Avenue , the Minsk was within walking distance from both the Ward and the Kensington Market area. Many members frequently attended services, after which a small meal would be served, so the congregation could socialize.
Those members who wanted a more active role in the synagogue became part of the Executive, which established policies, organized special committees, and managed the shul's finances. In 1930, for example, the Executive's Constitution Committee, with Jacob Jackson as Chairman, formulated the guidelines by which the synagogue would operate, and has operated to the present day. Executive meetings would be held each month. When new members of the Executive were installed after elections, a banquet was held to celebrate.
The women of the congregation formed the Ladies Auxiliary in support of the shul and other causes. With a membership of 150 women during its heyday, the Ladies Auxiliary took on most of the fundraising and social responsibilities. The Auxiliary organized raffles, banquets, bazaars, theatre nights, and bridge meetings to raise money for the shul as well as for charity. Donations through the Auxiliary were made to organizations like the Youth Aliyah Fund, Jewish National Fund, and Folks Farien Maot Chitim. Within the Minsker, monies raised were used to pay for upkeep and repairs, new benches, plaques, and holiday parties. Chanukah and Purim parties, still celebrated today at the Minsk , date back to the early years of the shul. On Chanukah , for example, the Cantor would light the candles and a nice meal with festivities would follow.
Important milestones were marked with social gatherings as well. In 1937, when the congregation gained full ownership of the synagogue, an extravagant dinner was held to celebrate the burning of the mortgage. In the 1960s, the members organized a party when they acquired a new ark from the Palmerston Street shul. More recently, in 2005, the synagogue celebrated its 75 th anniversary with concerts and other festivities.
Family events, such as aufrufs, weddings, bris milot, and bar-mitzvahs , were a great reason to rejoice as a congregation. Throughout the decades, couples have met and married through the Minsk , including Rose Shankman to Alex Sherman in 1938 and Ida Zeldin to Louis Soloway in 1941. In addition to these and many other celebrations, former Toronto Mayor, Mel Lastman, had both his bar-miztvah and aufruf at the Minsk .
Aside from organized events, the Minsk had an important role within the Jewish community at large. In addition to collecting Moess Chittim and giving to charity, the 1930 constitution encouraged renting out the synagogue's space to other Jewish organizations, such as the Euclid Street Talmud Torah. In turn, on Sundays, the Minsk 's basement was shared between various landsmen credit societies. These societies provided poor Jewish immigrants with loans to start their own businesses or help them out during a crisis.
In addition to supporting credit societies, it was common for the early Toronto synagogues to form sick benefit societies to help their members in case they fell ill. However, the Minsk was an exception. Several members of the Minsk , including Abraham Layefsky, had formed the Mozirer Sick Benefit Society back in 1905, before the Minsker existed. As a result, most members joined that society, rather than organizing a new one as part of the shul.
The Minsk fulfilled an essential role within the Jewish community. It offered a space where Jews could unite, whether to celebrate, mourn, lend support, or fulfill their religious duties. Regardless, the sense of community within the synagogue has always been strong and continues today.
Invitation to a meeting for the Installation of the new Executive Committee, December 4, 1949.
Gavel used at Executive meetings, n.d.
Minute book of the Minsk Ladies' Auxiliary, 1929.
Ladies' Auxiliary member card, 1945.
Ladies' Auxiliary member card, 1945.
Burning of the mortgage at the Minsker Shul, November 7, 1937.
Donation cerificate from the Israel Histadrut Campaign, August 1972.
Mordechai Chaim Scheinkman wearing badge of Mozirer Sick Benefit Society, ca. 1915.
Some of the Minsk 's members gathered on the front steps, late 1970s.
VIDEO CLIP: Former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman remembers playing at the Minsk shul as a child, 2006.