Congregation Shir Libeynu was founded by our now, Rabbi Emerita, Dr. Aviva Goldberg, Dinah Rosen, Adrienne and Myra Rosenwhite, and Erica Goodman 25 years ago. They wanted to create a welcoming and inclusive synagogue for LGBTQ+ Jews and interfaith couples and families. On November 22, 2014, the community celebrated the formal rabbinic ordination of Rabbi Goldberg. Rabbi Goldberg led our congregation until she retired in 2019. She continues to be actively involved with our community.
On July 28, 1997, we were incorporated. In the fall of the same year, 70 people came to our first High Holy Day services, held at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). Some participants had never gone to services before; others had migrated from various other congregations.
For several years afterwards, we congregated at the larger Cecil Community Centre (formerly the Anshei Ostrovtzer Synagogue) in the Kensington Market/Chinatown area, and we regularly filled up the sanctuary.
A children’s service during our last year at Cecil Community Centre. Photo: Lorne Blumer
Increased attendance inspired us to relocate to the even larger mid-town venue of the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto in 2010, where we held High Holy Day services and other events until 2019.
Today, our congregation includes about 300 members, and our High Holy Day services attract even more people.
In 2006, we held our first official Annual General Meeting.
In 2007, after years of sporadic holiday and Shabbat services in various venues, we became a community partner of the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (MNjcc) at Bloor & Spadina. We have been holding monthly Shabbat services, holiday celebrations and other programs there ever since.
In 2008, Daniela Gesundheit became our Musical Director and Chazzan. In 2012, Paula Wolfson became our Shabbat and B’Mitzvah Chazzan, until she stepped down in 2021.
By the High Holy Days in 2009, we had our charitable status in place.
In 2014, we started our own B’Mitzvah Learning Program with a small group of young people. The program has grown considerably over the years, with many participants celebrating their simchot (celebrations) with the community.
The same year, we also started an adult education program to offer our members opportunities to learn on many topics, including ritual, politics, arts and history.
In 2017, we launched a Sunday school program for children ages 7 to 11. It included Torah study, art, music and optional Hebrew language instruction.
In summer 2020, when it became clear that we would not be able to conduct High Holy Day services in person because of the pandemic, we were very fortunate to find Rabbi Dara Lithwick who lives in Ottawa. Rabbi Lithwick served as our interim rabbi for about a year, leading us through our first virtual High Holy Day services, Shabbat services and special holiday events. She also worked with families in our congregation to plan and hold their children’s B’Mitzvah celebrations during our virtual Shabbat services.
In June 2021, after a long search, we hired our permanent spiritual leader, Cantor Cheryl Wunch.
Over the past decades, we have been a partner or co-sponsor with many other organizations to offer our members enriching programming and to contribute to social justice initiatives. These have included: Holocaust Education Week since 2007; Daniel Pearl Foundation; Pride Toronto, including World Pride events in 2014, as part of an interfaith initiative and a supporter of the Rainbow Railroad; Jewish Family and Child Services; Women of the Wall (WoW); Heart to Heart; and Virtual Vigil Against Violence Between Jews and Palestinians.
The Story of our Torah
“Our Torah’s journey began somewhere in Poland about 100 years ago.” How did it make its way to Congregation Shir Libeynu? Read Harriet Eisenkraft’s account here: The story of our Torah
After Gary brought home our new, 100-year-old Torah from a Manhattan chaplaincy and education agency, we held a dedication ceremony at a community centre.
Artist Drew Cohen designed our logo, after he and his family had spent many years as participants and volunteers of Shir Libeynu. Below he explains the ideas behind his design:
I created an icon as part of the logo that represents ”song of our hearts.” It’s a simple musical note and part of a heart combined. I wanted to incorporate that definition into the logo without overdoing it.
The lettering has significance as well. There is a sharp contrast between the old style Hebrew lettering and the modern styling of the words “Shir Libeynu.” This is intentional on two fronts: Besides the fact that these two contrasting fonts look great beside each other, I’m using the contrast to show Shir Libeynu’s philosophy of inclusiveness. These fonts couldn’t be more different, like people from different walks of life, different ideas, different orientations, but there they are positioned side by side in the logo, like one. The second aspect of the lettering is the modern font of Helvetica Nueva for ”Shir Libeynu.” I chose this modern style to show Shir Libeynu’s liberal, progressive nature.
The red colour in the logo also represents the liberal nature of Shir Libeynu.
We thank Drew for giving us this beautiful logo that endures as a meaningful symbol of our shul.
In June of every year, we have fun with the colours in our logo for Pride.