Global, Politics

Freezing Jews in the Great White North

Yesterday, Slingshot announced this year’s honourees. 50 “innovative” Jewish nonprofits are included in their annual guide. Great and worthy organisations (including my place of employment)!
And, for the first time, one of the fifty was a Canadian nonprofit: Makom.

a joyous, grassroots, downtown community, building traditional and progressive Jewish life in Toronto. Makom creates an inclusive and diverse space, committed to Jewish questioning and learning, arts and culture, spirited prayer and ritual, and social and environmental activism. Makom is bringing back vital, multi-faceted and creative Jewish life to a place where it once thrived. This vibrant new community is based in the Kiever Synagogue, a beautiful, historic synagogue in Kensington Market, Toronto’s old Jewish neighbourhood.

Congratulations to them (and, really, I mean it – many of us at Jewschool are friends with some of their organisers).
But this announcement spurred a bit of a discussion amongst us bloggers. Is an indie minyan in Toronto really “innovative”? Is this really the most innovative thing Canada has to offer? Is it really an indie minyan if they have a “rabbi and spiritual leader”?
The parametres for Slingshot are (really, really boiling it down here) “innovative nonprofit.” Most of the indie minyanim and havuros that I know of back home (says the Canadian living in the US) are not registered/incorporated as nonprofits, so they don’t make the cut. Should we be surprised that Canada’s only recognized-by-Slingshot organisation is in Toronto? Toronto has the largest Jewish community in Canada and most American organisations/funders overlook the other cities/communities entirely. So, no, it’s not surprising that a winner (of an American competition) would come from Toronto. (Begrudgingly admits the Vancouverite.)
What other Canadian communities could have been included in TWJ’s not-Slingshot guide? Here are just a few cool organisations happening north of the border:

Obviously this list isn’t comprehensive or exhaustive. (Though, unlike Slingshot, it includes at least a couple organisations in “fly-over country.”) And, obviously, some of these organisations wouldn’t meet Slingshot’s criteria for many reasons. But it doesn’t matter. They make my list.
Do you know of other orgs in Canada that should be included or noted? Leave a comment. (And if you know of other organizations (look at my American spelling!) in the US that could have made Slingshot’s guide (or your personal guide), let us know in the comments too.)

24 thoughts on “Freezing Jews in the Great White North

  1. Thanks a lot for the post TWJ and mention of radio613. I’m not sure ignorance of Americans is to blame as much as the fact that it’s a pretty sad state of affairs up here. The hegemony of mainstream institutions, such as UJA/BnaiBrith/JNF/CJC,etc. is very strong in Canada. Funding is almost completely restricted for folks who want to toe the line coming out of Toronto (read: Thornhill). If you want to do Hasbarah, the money will not be an issue. Perhaps you will get funded for a project involving actual Yiddishkayt, as long as you don’t mention Palestine. But if, G-d forbid, you were to apply your learned Jewish ethics and practices of tikkun to the Occupation, don’t bother hitting up Thornhill, unless it feels good to be labelled a heretic.
    radio613 is supported by OPIRG-Kingston, a non-profit social and environmental justice organization. As far as I can see there is a serious absence of progressive institutions in Canada willing/able to fund committed Jews who love the schlep in golus. If anyone has any ideas though, please let me know!

  2. Most of the indie minyanim and havuros that I know of back home (says the Canadian living in the US) are not registered/incorporated as nonprofits
    Checking my memory and doing some quick searches of their websites, I think Mission Minyan, D.C. Minyan, Kehilat Hadar are all registered non-profits. Those are just the first three I looked up. Any minyan in the US that says you can make a tax-deductible donation is a registered non-profit.

  3. Wow. Makom has hit Jewschool. Big day for us.
    But – in light of the controversy our inclusion in Slingshot seems to have triggered, I would like to respond as a member of Makom’s Launch Team and Programming Team Lead.
    First off, a basic point: Slingshot only considers organizations who are nominated. I most certainly can’t say definitively, but perhaps other Canadian organizations were, simply, not nominated.
    Next, I think that the characterization of Makom as an “indie minyan” is misleading. While we do have some aspects of an indie minyan — we have regular davening, yes — we are much more than simply that. Our mission statement, as well as the programming we deliver, is aimed at creating community, and this is part of what, I think, Slingshot recognizes. Yes – we daven. But we have also committed ourselves to a sort of re-engagement of the downtown Jewish community on a number of levels: spiritual, social, educational, and artistic.
    Our programming to date has incorporated our philosophy, borrowed from Jane Jacobs, that “new ideas need old spaces” – we have attempted to weave ourselves into the fabric of historical Jewish Toronto – Kensington Market, and to simultaneously foster partnerships with the broader Toronto Jewish community – downtown and beyond.
    Makom is much more than an indie minyan. It is a community dedicated to social action and arts programming, to partnering with the downtown community (Jewish and secular) and the broader Toronto Jewish community, as well as to those things that usually define an indie minyan. As our mission statement says, “We are creating an inclusive and diverse space, committed to Jewish learning, arts and culture, spirited prayer and ritual, and social and environmental activism.” Emphasis on diverse: diverse community, diverse programs.
    So while I appreciate that there is much going on Jewishly in Canada, and in the US for that matter, that may have missed Slingshot’s radar, I think that the characterization of Makom as simply an indie minyan is false and misleading. Just take a look at the breadth of our programming and you will see why it is that, and so much more.

  4. I don’t know, I actually attend services with Makom, and I’d say it’s pretty indie. There is a rabbi who (along with others) leads services- but does that detract from a group’s indie cred or something? By the by, the Kiever Shul isn’t our space- we don’t have our own space (the Kiever Shul is actually Orthodox and holds its own, separate services). Makom holds services at the Kiever Shul, at an community member’s art gallery, and multiple other spots.
    So- your characterisation isn’t quite what I’d call spot-on. And I’m pretty pleased that a group in Toronto was honoured. I love that Kulanu exists, but they don’t really seem to have much of a presence except at Pride.

  5. Just because we’re in Canada doesn’t mean that we’re “freezing” — or at least all of the time. Give me — and us — a break. You should know better than to trade in stereotypes.

  6. @Avi, all good points.
    @Dan, that’s exactly my point. Most of the ones in the US are registered so they can take donations. Most that I can think of in Canada are not. (Either they have a partner org which takes donations on their behalf or the folks running the communities make it work without cash on hand.)
    @Tema, I wasn’t the one who associated the term “indie minyan” with Makom. I just repeated it.
    @Ilana, maybe things have changed since I moved south, but Kulanu used to have regular events throughout the year.
    @Marcia, don’t forget that “freezing” is also a synonym for discouraging, disheartening, suspending, etc.

  7. Just to corrrect Avi’s comments about Canada:
    There are lefty Jewish organisations in Canada. The problem is their members are all dying out.
    Don’t believe me? Go to and check their newletters-full of old Bundists being ‘remembered’. Lots of anti-Israel stuff but when the last UJPO’er dies, what then?
    Queen’s University in Kingston (where radio613 is) is a very waspy University in a very waspy town. Basically its where young Ontario Jews go when they don’t want to be with other Jews. The Universities with a large Jewish population are in Toronto (Toronto, York and Ryerson).

  8. So who called Makom an “indie minyan”? It wasn’t Makom, and the “indie minyan” idea was central to this post.
    I’m glad that this post is calling attention to some great Canadian Jewish organizations and that it’s generating discussion even if it’s misinformed.
    Let’s hear it for innovative Canadian organizations!

  9. Hi there,
    Congratulations to Macom! It’s great to know that YAC—the Young Adult Community affiliated with Or Shalom—made your short list! YAC has become a great place for lovable young Jews (or those who love lovable young Jews) in Vancouver to meet, eat, play, and occasionally pray. We host lots of dinners, are starting a knowledge-share program, and do a bit of social action. We’ve also started a modest community garden that grows horseradish for Pesach, all the stuff we need for chicken(less) soup, and other goodies. If you’re new to Vancouver, YAC is a great way to make new friends; if you’ve been around for a while, YAC is a great place to meet up with old friends. E-mail [email protected] or search “YAC-Or Shalom” on Facebook if you want to get involved!
    Okay, my shameless self-canvassing is over. Many thanks,

  10. @Dave Boxthorn: Please note that I did not say there were no lefty Jewish orgs in Canada. Folks are working hard keeping groups like Independent Jewish Voices and Not In My Name going. What I did say was that the hegemony of mainstream groups is very strong and that whatever progressive or radical ones exist have little or no funding.
    Also, if you’re suggesting that myself and fellow radio613 collective members have some sort of self-hate going on because we don’t live in Toronto, that’s really f-ed up. radio613 broadcasts out of CFRC 101.9fm Campus & Community Radio in Kingston. It is one of the few resources in town that we have and that supports our work developing an autonomous Jewish politics, culture, and religious life. Currently, no one in the collective actually attends Queen’s University (I did graduate from there a few years ago). Yes, the school and town is incredibly WASPy – and we continue to fight to create space to exist and assert our identity outside of a Jewish centre. I grew up in a small Ontario town and while Makom is doing excellent work re-generating a progressive Jewish downtown, Toronto Jewry, in large part has become suburban, ardently Zionist, and lacking in vibrant, egalitarian davenning – so the reasons for not living in Toronto are many and complex. In the end, I think we should be enthusiastic about a more decentralized Judaism while also supporting each other across distances.

  11. Toronto, in particular, suffers from a big-box approach to Jewish anything: everything falls under Federation. While Federation is capable of funding cutting-edge organizations and projects, they don’t. There’s a lack of diversity here, and independent communities (like Makom) are thriving because Toronto has never seen anything like them, and has never tried supporting new, progressive growth.
    Canada needs new blood with heavy pockets if it’s going to see progressive initiatives to change the Jewish experience here.

  12. Mazel Tov to Makom for making the list. As the mother of Jewstice’s fiddler, I heartily agree that the innovative musical group is also a worthy inclusion, as is Kulanu , which has many events and a true presence in Toronto. I would also add Toronto’s first unaffiliated, downtown/midtown shul, Congregation Shir Libeynu. With no permanent site (we’re wandering Jews!), Shir Libeynu holds Shabbat services at the MNJCC chapel the first Saturday of every month and also offers affordable High Holy Day services led by Aviva Goldberg, a professor of religious studies at York University and with chazzanut by Daniela Gesundheit, also of the indie band, Snowblink. We celebrate other holidays and have adult ed. and children’s activities, too. Shir Libeynu is a diverse, inclusive, progressive community that has been around for more than 14 years. Check out our website at

  13. As a member of the downtown, innovative alternative Jewish community:
    Why Makom deserves this:
    Toronto’s Jewish community is a divided one- where the strong, numerous organized community is very conservative and traditional by US standards, (CurrentUJA slogan : In the war of ideas are we sending our children unarmed?) Many of those who don’t fit in just drift away. Younger less-affiliated people especially miss the alternative shuls and groups that are out there. Especially tthose in the cultural island of downtown. (The mainstreamers mostly much farther uptown). Makom is more than a Minyan- it has brought in so many of these people, made them feel at home and connected. And through much more than davening- innovative programing that partners with many diverse groups. And because so far its vision needs real money to implement- it could do a lot more.
    Sadly, on a personal note, most Makom events don’t work for us as the davening is not egalitarian and the services times don’t work for people with young kids. (Though a few families do go). We get a lot of our alternative downtown community vibe from our alternative community Downtown Day School, Paul Penna- which also functions as a spiritul/community centre downtown – and our shuls. But so many people Makom reaches are not connected to traditional institutions like we are.

  14. Wait, the davening is not egalitarian, WTF? Sounds like a hip Chabad to me.
    The description cited in the post uses works like “progressive,” “inclusive,” “diverse,” “social … activism” leading to some expectation that they are actually, you know, progressive. This sounds like false advertising to me.

  15. From the description, it sounds like they (sort of) have a mechitza (very low). The description says that women daven, layn, and get aliyot.
    Sounds egal to me.

  16. CoA — love the orthodoxy of your “progressive” standards. G-d forbid someone should deviate from your narrow definition of what is progressive. I mean, who could *imagine* a “progressive” minyan wanting a mechitza?!

  17. Again, on behalf of Makom:
    We are indeed Partnership Minyan-style in our davening, including the not-always-included feature that a minyan is 10 men AND 10 women.
    We have a low mechitza (barely shoulder-height when seated), but women and men meet on the bima (we only have one, and there is no mechitza up there).
    Now, from myself:
    I was never comfortable with a mechitza until Makom. While there is indeed a spatial separation, the way that our services run seems fully egalitarian to me. In fact, more women than men have been in attendance at many of our past programs!
    @ChorusofApes – We are *nothing* like Chabad. That is all I feel up to saying about that right now.

  18. Let’s not confuse mechitsot and egalitarianism. I’m now pretty confused about the latter at Makom. Does it “feel” egalitarian or is it egalitarian? I get the ten plus ten. I think it doesn’t really address the sexism of Halacha, but it is an attempt to mitigate it in practice. The question is, are those men and women considered equal with respect to davening? If so, cool, it’s egalitarian with a mechitzah. If not, then no, I don’t think it can be called progressive in any substantive way. What kind of progress is being promoted in that case?
    @curious Progressive does not mean accepting everything. What kind of ridiculous political position would that be? Progressive means pushing for greater and greater justice and equality for more and more people (thus the progress in progressive). If a group is not doing that kind of political or cultural work in the way they constitute themselves, then no, they are not progressive.

  19. O Dear I have opened a can of worms-
    Partnership minyanim are lovely for those who cannot get past certain halackic barriers ( which to me is a bit myopic in its view of halacka given how many other things have change through the process- but that’s another story…) and are VERY progressive for the Modern O world they were born in. Really this is a point not to be missed.
    But they will all freely admit they are not egalitarian, that is why they chose the name partnership instead.
    And however egalitarian Makom “feels” women cannot lead ma’ariv or shacharit and men can. So it is not egalitarian. And they use an Orthodox sidur- so there are no emahot etc.
    So while I wish partnership minyanim every success and really respect them, I wish the cool downtown minyan was one I could daven at…

  20. All-
    As has been mentioned, Slingshot can only feature those who choose to apply. I will make sure the organizations mentioned above receive an applications.
    As it happens, the application for next year was released yesterday and is due on December 23, 2010. I urge you to apply and/or spread the word to your colleagues. The guide is only as valuable as the applicants. You can download the latest guide at
    -Will Schneider, Director, Slingshot, [email protected]

  21. Jumping back into the fray (very late).
    I just wanted to respond to this comment: And however egalitarian Makom “feels” [sic] women cannot lead ma’ariv or shacharit and men can. So it is not egalitarian. And they use an Orthodox sidur- so there are no emahot [sic] etc.
    We are currently discussing having women lead maariv (we rarely have shacharit or minchah, due to lack of space); I expect (pending the survey that’s just gone out to the community) that women will be leading maarive in addition to kabbalat shabbat (which is currently almost always led by a woman).

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