Based on where I live in the Toronto/Thornhill Jewish vicinity, it’s not every day I get the chance to get a feel for different parts of the community. Well… unless you have a lot devotion to hours a few hours in some bizarre Toronto summer weather on Shabbat, than nothing should be holding you back (except for an eiruv, but I’ll get to that later…)
Two shabboses back (so in a sense it’s only last week, so I’m not that far behind), I was fortunate to spend the holy day by a group of friends in the Forest Hill neighbourhood by Spadina and St. Clair. For all you non-Torontonians (or those somewhat familiar with T.O. geography), that’s almost downtown but quite… south of Lawrence at least so you’re getting pretty south. But hey, for a guy who lives north of Centre Street in Thornhill (I’ve been asked by some who live south of Lawrence if I live on a farm + people who live south of Clark also have no clue where I live when I ask for rides home…), going this south in Toronto for Shabbat, yet still being surrounded by a prominent number of Jews – to me it almost felt like going out of town for Shabbat.
To give you a small idea of how south that is, enter the eruv – the distinguished area of a city where a Jew is allowed to carry items on Shabbat. Once outside the area, you might as well empty your pockets unless you like violating the laws of Shabbat. Anyways, my home is pretty much on the last pedestrian street before going outside the north boundary of the eruv (just off Bathurst, south of Highway 7… that’s all the clues I’m giving to where I live ;). Meanwhile, the place where I was staying happens to be just north of the south boundary of the eruv. If you want a visual here’s a good link: http://www.torontoeruv.org/eruv/Asp/main.asp?Menu_Tag=eruvmap
Anyways back to the story… as a precursor to the Shabbat experience, I attended a unique party in the area in honour of Tu B’Av, which stands for the 15th of the month of Av. Coming off the weeks of mourning concluded by Tisha B’Av, we begin a new cycle of days until the beginning of the next month – the last before the new year. But until then, it’s a joyous period, especially on Tu B’Av, which the Talmud says is the happiest day of the year besides Yom Kippur (when you think about the significance of YK… it’s not that bad… in fact not at all.)
Besides various things that happened on the day, Tu B’Av is an auspicious day for Jewish marriage (so says Wikipedia…), and some even liken it to a Jewish Valentine’s Day (let us distinguish of course).
So what kind of party was held that night? Without actually calling it a singles night (yes married couples attended), the party was dubbed “the White Party,” in honour of another old tradition referring to the day’s history. Pretty much everyone wore white and was one big shmoozfest, with musical entertainment.
I’ve neglected to mention an important thing about the experience and that’s where it all took place. Four guys, ranging from early twenties to mid thirties, rent out the three-story house, which is the quintessential hangout for those Jews in the area. The demographics reflect the age of the tenants, with the woman a little younger (approx mid 20s: guys reaching mid 30s + a splash of early-mid 20s guys). No surprise since you wouldn’t exactly call the area your typical suburban neighbourhood…
What also didn’t surprise me was the sense of marital status amongst those down there. Yes, marriage and the tribulations surrounding and leading to it are certainly a hot topic (at least from my POV, but that’s just one perspective so don’t be basing it off just my take….)
But back to the people (I’ll make another marriage post some other time…), for the longest time I’ve felt that the Jewish areas of Toronto become friendlier the more north and south you go along the Bathurst corridor (hence, the centre isn’t my favourite place…). That feeling was confirmed after that evening and even more so on Shabbat where several interactions led me to believe that a genuine nature of niceness amongst the neighbourhood’s inhabitants and frequent visitors was commonplace. To me that was always the grabbing point of my synagogue and the communityatmosphere it had built over the years and what led me to believe that I would never find any other place in Toronto that came anywhere close to that atmosphere. Let me say that the Forest Hill neighbourhood by Spadina and St. Clair has made me think twice about that notion and I was quite impressed.
Another strong component was the local synagogue, which like mine is situated on the second floor of an office building in the middle of a busy pedestrian intersection. However, upon entering the facility all, that outside noise quieted – and before long, I began to take a liking to how they do things there. For your information, it’s the Forest Hill Jewish Center, and if you’re ever in the area, check it out.
This post already seems pretty long, so I’ll continue on in another post before I leave for New York.