Petah Tikva Anshe Castilla Congregation
“The gates of hope for the people of Castille”
Founded: Toronto, February 1958
ONTARIO’S FIRST SEPHARDIC SYNAGOGUE
In September 1958, 10 families in search of a place of worship where they could practice their distinctive Sephardic liturgy and speak their native language, Spanish, gathered at their new home in Toronto’s inner city. The congregation was comprised of 15 adults from 10 families, who were otherwise struggling with harsh winters and financialtrials. The establishment of this unique place of worship provided refuge from the hostility still directed towards Jews in Toronto. Exacerbating the hardship was the predominant Ashkenazi community who had yet to come to grips with the diversity within the world of Judaism.
The origin of this new congregation had its roots in the Spanish Inquisition. At the end of the 15th century, the Jews fled the persecution of the Royal Inquisitors seeking refuge across the Straits of Gibraltar on the North African shores. Many settled in Tangier and its environs, others, elsewhere along the North African coast, where they remained and thrived for over 500 years. Independence for the kingdom of Morocco in 1956 and the subsequent annexation of Tangier — until then, an international port city — forced a civilization and culture which flourished for five centuries to move once again, this time seeking hope in Canada. Aptly named The Gates of Hope for the People of Castille in Hebrew, Petah TikvaAnsheCastilla Congregation was born – the first Sephardic Synagogue in Canada’s largest province, and today one of the largest in Canada.
Shabbat Minha services were held at Shomerei Shabbat Synagogue on Brunswick Avenue.
The Torah Vaabodah Synagogue on Markham Avenue provided two rooms, a Sefer Torah and a few chairs for the services.
Yom Kippur 1958
Our first Yom Kippur services took place in a hall in the Bloor Street YM/YWCA
The Jewish Congress helped secure two rooms in Talmud Torah, EitzHaim Synagogue on D’Arcy Street. The few dollars we had in our operating budget were spent towards wallpapering, painting, repairing and buying a new Aaron Hakodesh.
The number of members increased to 85 and the membership fee was increased to $2 per month. We purchased our first Sefer Torah and received two more as gifts. This year saw the birth of the Sisterhood group that, together with a newly formed Building Fund Committee, started to raise funds to buy our new premises.
Moved to a rented hall at the Bloor Street YM/YWCA
With a membership of 125 families, who each contributed $100, we negotiated the purchase of Shomerei Shabbat Synagogue.
1969 – 1973
Membership continued to grow steadily. With over 300 member families we had to sell the Brunswick Avenue location and move back to the Bloor JCC for two years. This was followed by a move to a hall in the building of the National Council of Jewish Women, at Bathurst and Sheppard. During this time fundraising continued towards the fulfillment of our goal of building a new synagogue in the northern part of the city, where many of our members were moving.
After an exhaustive search, many negotiations and our members’ financial support we were able to build our current building on Danby Avenue. Many members worked tirelessly and selflessly toward the fulfillment of this dream – our own synagogue!
Today Petah Tikva is the spiritual home and the heart of a well-established Sephardic community of more than 400 families. It has truly become the Gates of Hope for our members.