Toronto’s Forest Hill Jewish Centre has a new home, one that has been ten years in the making and is a testament to faith on many levels: Faith in God, of course, faith in people, and faith that the Orthodox shul that started in 2000 without even a minyan (or quorum of 10 Jewish men) was meeting both a religious and broader community need.
More than that, the Forest Hill Jewish Centre’s new building, known as the Temmy Latner building, stands for the ultimate strength, spirit and resiliency of a community resolved to never forget the price so many have paid for their faith.
The Temmy Latner building opened in February this year in one of Toronto’s most affluent neighborhoods at 360 Spadina Road. Named for the prominent local couple who donated $3 million to drive the building’s construction, the $20 million project has attracted interest from the wider Jewish community and beyond.
That’s in part because it’s a replica – albeit imperfect – of the Great Synagogue in Jaslo, Poland. Opened in September 1905 on Rosh Hashanah, the Great Synagogue in Jaslo was destroyed by the Nazis in September 1939 during the Holocaust that would cost Poland one-fifth of its population and 3 million from its once-thriving Jewish community. When Polish firefighters saved it from the initial blaze set by the Nazis, the Germans forced them and local Jews to set it on fire again.
Well-known Israeli architect Doron Klein flew to Toronto to assist Toronto designer Wayne Swadron finalize what is one of the most complicated synagogues to be built since WWII.
Every inch of the Temmy Latner building’s 27,000-square-foot space was utilized. In addition to a three-storey main prayer room, two floors of balconies overlook the sanctuary, a touch that borrows from historical Eastern European shuls. Other features include a nearly 4,000-square-foot banquet hall with ceilings that soar up five meters. Its complex zinc roof is another signature touch, as is the building’s green-friendly rooftop terrace.
Rabbi Elie Karfunkel, leader and teacher at the Forest Hill Jewish Centre, terms the building’s design “poetic license.” That’s because the only thing researchers who helped with the project had to work with was an out-of-focus old photo, courtesy of Google, to guide interpretations for the new structure.
What really mattered, though, was less that the synagogue was a faithful representation of the original and more that it was a symbol and an inspiration.
“This has been a labor of love for me,” says Sam Mizrahi of Mizrahi Developments. Sam Mizrahi, who over the past decade has become one of the most active developers in Toronto and perhaps most prominently is leading the development of The One in downtown Toronto, is an active community leader, philanthropist and was also on the board leading the building’s construction.
Commenting on enlisting Mizrahi’s expertise in the development of the Temmy Latner building, Rabbi Elie added that, “Sam Mizrahi had been doing a lot of impressive work in the city, a lot of custom homes and we knew with his skill-set he could achieve what we were after.”
Indeed, being involved in the construction of the new home for the Forest Hill Jewish Centre has proven to be one of Mizrahi’s most important projects to date.
“Through it, we’re remembering the past as we celebrate the future, along with the vibrancy and resiliency that continue to characterize our community in Toronto,” Mizrahi says. “What has made this such a special effort has been its function in projecting that special spirit outward.”
The Temmy Latner building serves as a permanent reminder of the endurance of faith and the importance of community building – both positive forces that transcend religious affiliations.
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Guest Author Bio
Megan Parson is a freelance multimedia writer and journalist. Originally from Toronto, Megan has a strong interest in philanthropy-focused journalism. Megan has been especially fascinated with learning about world religions and frequents a number of faith based centers to learn about traditions and customs. She also enjoys speaking with those in attendance about their faith.