The Kiever
Early History
Early History Architecture Religion Social Restoration The Synagogue Today      

The congregation of Rodfei Sholem Anshei Kiev, commonly known as the "Kiever", dates back to 1912. Several men living in the Ward decided to start a synagogue that would be run according to their traditions 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. . Some of the founders included: B. B. Smith, Yehudah Leib "Louis" Bossin, Isaac Mosten, Jake Dubin, Harry Cohen, and Wolf Ganz. Their occupations were typical of new immigrants, working as carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, and peddlers. The first few members had little means for funding a new synagogue in 1912, so services at this time were held in a rented house on Centre Avenue in the Ward. Since the congregation could not afford to pay a rabbi, members, including Cantor Herschel Litvak, led religious services at this time. The congregation was officially recognized by the Province in 1914.

The men of the new congregation involved their families and friends in operating the Kiever. For instance, fathers brought their sons to services. B.B. Smith, whose father was one of the founders, remembers attending services with his father on the Sabbath and holidays. click for audio The founders formed an Executive to run the congregation, in which positions were often passed down from father to son. Family involvement in the Synagogue meant that as families grew, so did the membership of the congregation. Other members were attracted to the new congregation by co-workers or friends who were members. click for audio As membership expanded and revenues from annual dues increased, the Kiever accumulated enough money to purchase a larger site to accommodate its congregation of about 50 members.

In 1917, the Kiever acquired a house at 25 Bellevue Avenue near Kensington Market. Member Louis Bossin mortgaged this house, which was situated at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Denison Street, for $6000 on behalf of the congregation. The house was once the site of Colonel George T. Denison’s Belle Vue estate home, which was demolished in 1889. In five years’ time, the area had become densely populated. By 1915, at least thirty-one households on Bellevue Avenue were identified as Jewish, reflecting a move away from the Ward.1

The Kiever organized a ceremony on October 28, 1917 to celebrate the opening of the shul’s new home. One of Toronto’s most prominent spiritual leaders of the time, Rabbi Meyer H. Levy, was invited to lead the celebrations. Four years after the acquisition of 25 Bellevue, the congregation expanded into the neighbouring house to the east.

It was not until 1923 that the Kiever congregation raised enough funds to build a synagogue large enough to accommodate its growing numbers. The Kiever Executive contracted Benjamin Swartz, a Jewish architect, to design the current synagogue at 25 Bellevue, which replaced the two houses that had been used for services. During construction, services continued in members’ homes, including the home of Mr. Silverman at 29 Wales Avenue, just across from 25 Bellevue.

The Synagogue was completed in 1927, after three years of construction. The new building had a capacity to hold up to 400 people. Although the Kiever has never had more than 250 members, the additional space was required to accommodate the High Holiday crowds. Rabbi Solomon Langner became the spiritual leader of the congregation and continued in this capacity until his death in 1973. Equipped with a rabbi and a proper synagogue, the Kiever was able to play a larger role in the Toronto Jewish community. The shul offered YiddishYiddish: [literally, "Jewish"] language spoken by Jews in Eastern Europe. Yiddish is a blend of Hebrew and German, but is written using Hebrew characters. and bar-mitzvahBar-Mitzvah (pl. Bnei-Mitzvah): A ceremony for boys who reach the age of 13 in which they read from the Torah on the Sabbath falling closest to their Hebrew birthday. (Judaism follows a lunar calendar.) At this age, boys are considered accountable for their own actions and have higher responsibilities to God. Girls reach this level of responsibility at the age of 12, in what is called a Bat-Mitzvah. However, according to Orthodox tradition, girls do not read from the Torah. lessons, a youth minyanMinyan: In an Orthodox congregation, at least 10 men over the age of Bar Mitzvah (13) are required in order to form a congregation to begin services. This group is called a minyan. led by Fischel Cooper, a credit society, as well as a women’s auxiliary.

The Synagogue thrived for several decades until the 1950s, when Jews began leaving the downtown core for the north end of town. As a result, the Kiever could no longer financially afford to open the Synagogue for regular services. Many congregants remained members in spite of the fact that they could only attend services on High HolidaysHigh Holidays: The holidays of Rosh Hashannah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), when Jews must humble themselves before God and ask forgiveness for their wrongdoings.. They therefore felt the need to continue to support the Kiever, since many members grew up going to the Kiever and have continued to feel a personal connection with the history of the Synagogue.

1 Edna Hudson, Bellevue Avenue: An Architectural and Social Study, (Toronto: Toronto Region Architectural Conservancy, July 1993), p. 32.







Mr. and Mrs. Harry Litvak
Mr. and Mrs. Harry Litvak (1939)
Certificate of Incorporation of the "First Russion Congregation of Rodfesolim Ansekiev" - Oct. 1, 1914

Certificate of Incorporation of the "First Russion Congregation of Rodfesolim Ansekiev" (1914)

The constitution of the Congregation Rodfei Shulem Anshe Kiew, 1913
The constitution of the Congregation Rodfei Shulem Anshe Kiew (1913)

B.B. Smith - Age 16 - May 1913

B.B. Smith (1913)

Belle Vue - The Home of Lt. Colonel George Taylor Denison

Belle Vue - The Home of Lt. Colonel George Taylor Denison (c. 1880s)

Lt. Colonel George Taylor Denison

Lt. Colonel George Taylor Denison
(c. 1860)

Watercolour of Bellevue Avenue

Watercolour of Bellevue Avenue (1979)

Harry Goldman - c.1930 Helped Build the Kiever

Harry Goldman - Helped Build the Kiever (1930)

Rabbi Lagner c.1960
Rabbi Lagner (c.1960)

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