The Kiever
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When the congregation of Rodfei Shalom Anshei Kiev was established in 1912, a permanent building was beyond the shul’s means. By 1923, the shul had grown to a membership of about fifty and the houses at 25 Bellevue Avenue were no longer comfortable for the larger congregation. Meanwhile, greater income from membership dues enabled the Synagogue to fund the construction of a proper synagogue that would accommodate the congregation’s growing needs.

As a result, in 1923 the Kiever Executive appointed a committee, headed by President Majer Wilson, to administer the planning and construction of the new building. The committee contracted Jewish architect Benjamin Swartz to design the structure that would physically and functionally replace the two houses at Bellevue and Denison that had been used for services. Swartz was just starting his career at this time and the Kiever was likely his first major project in Toronto. However, in later years he went on to design projects for the Jewish Old Folks’ Home on Cecil Street, the First Narayever, Mount Sinai Hospital, and the Hebrew Men of England Synagogue, as well as several other buildings in the Toronto area.

Swartz’s design, which remains today at 25 Bellevue, was the product of different inspirations. Larger synagogues in Toronto such as Holy Blossom and Goel Tzedec were able to afford majestic buildings. Swartz tried to adopt some of the styles used by other synagogues, but maintained a tighter budget. The building is often described as having a ‘middle-eastern’ feel or a Byzantine style because of its twin domed towers crowned with Stars of David. Two opposing staircases lead up to separated main entrances, located on the south side of the building. The large wooden doors welcome men into the main floor of the sanctuary and the women into the surrounding gallery above. Although the entrance to the building faces south, the sanctuary is designed to face east, as tradition requires Jews to direct their prayers toward Jerusalem. Typical of Orthodox synagogues of its time, the pews are oriented around a central bimahBimah: raised platform that faces the ark where the prayers and Torah reading are led. , where the services are led. In fact, some of these pews were used in the shul’s previous houses on Bellevue Avenue. However, as the new synagogue was designed to accommodate up to 400 congregants, more seating, prayer books, and lighting fixtures were needed.

In 1927, after the construction had been completed, the Kiever Executive mortgaged the building for $16,000. This money was used to make the interior more comfortable and appealing. For instance, more seating was installed. In 1931, the congregation acquired the hand-carved wooden ark at the front of the sanctuary. Other forms of decoration included brass ornaments, chandeliers, and paintings. Frank Silverstein and his two children painted the Synagogue in 1934-35. The murals on the gallery, which remain today, depict biblical animals and zodiac signs. Mr. Silverstein painted the zodiacs, while his daughter, Mona (aged 11), painted the lion, and her brother, Martin (aged 15), painted all the other animals. Martin also painted two murals, one of Rachel’s Tomb and one of Jerusalem, on the walls in the social hall in the basement. Frank Silverstein painted the wall behind the ark in the main sanctuary with a marble texture and false curtains. Both the social hall murals and the textured eastern wall were painted over at some point between the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The marble texture can still be seen as a border along the gallery where the lights hang today.

The windows are also an important decorative feature of the Kiever. The stained glass creates interesting lighting within, while the four different styles of arches provide a traditional but unique look. The large windows provide plenty of natural light for reading in the sanctuary as well as in the gallery above.

Several architectural features within the Synagogue serve purely religious purposes, although they contribute to the unique design of the building. The dome in the ceiling above the bimahBimah: raised platform that faces the ark where the prayers and Torah reading are led. helps amplify the cantor’s voice, which was important since the Synagogue was constructed at a time when microphones were rare. The dome feature is still important today because Orthodoxy restricts the use of microphones on the Sabbath and holidays. The separate entrances and gallery seating creates an airy atmosphere, but also keeps men and women apart during services, which is also reguired as part of Orthodox JudaismOrthodox Judaism: a stream of Jewish observance that strictly obeys the traditional rabbinical interpretations of the written and oral law as outlined in the Talmud. Other streams have appeared during the late-eighteenth and twentieth century such as Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist. Each of these streams has a different interpretation of the role of the written and oral law in terms of what a Jew is obligated to observe. . Another religious feature is the brass frame above the bimahBimah: raised platform that faces the ark where the prayers and Torah reading are led. . During wedding ceremonies, a tallisTallis (pl. Tallisot): prayer shawl worn by men. is placed over the frame and it becomes the traditional canopy, or huppaHuppa: a canopy that is created when a cloth is suspended over the couple during a wedding ceremony., under which Jewish couples are married.

In 1979, the Provincial government recognized the significance of the Kiever and declared it an historical site under the Ontario Heritage Act. According to the Ontario Heritage Foundation, the Kiever is historically unique because of its distinctive architectural features and because “it was the first synagogue built by Ukranian Jews who had escaped from Czarist Russia.” The Kiever was the first building of Jewish significance to be given this designation in Ontario.



Original architectural drawing - southern side of the Kiever (1923)

Original architectural drawing - western side of the Kiever (1923)

Exterior view of Kiever synagogue (1973)

Interior view of the sanctuary from the women’s gallery (2003)

Rabbi Langner and Frank Silverstein (1955)

Interior view of the southern wall of the Kiever synagogue (2003)

Rabbi Langner in front of the eastern wall of the sanctuary (c. 1950)

Women’s seating area (2003)

Watercolour of the Kiever synagogue by Aba Bayefsky (1959)

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