Our Story

We would keep things simple: some challah, the blessings, some songs. Above all, a chance to meet and greet, to discover, to bond, to break bread. We knew there were Jewish and interfaith households in the neighbourhood. To choose to live in east-end Toronto meant planting stakes far from the city’s Jewish corridor, where the fruits of Judaism could be readily plucked. How many would show up? Who would show up?
— Emil Sher, “In the Beginning”, Roots and Branches: The Making of a Progressive Jewish Community

From its beginnings in a living room

Although few of those present went to synagogue on a weekly basis, we shared a deep commitment to Judaism. And although we each interpreted that commitment on a personal level, we wished to expand and deepen it by engaging with it collectively.

Shortly after that informal gathering, we held a potluck Shabbat dinner in the basement of a local church to gauge the response to a Jewish community event. There was no formal publicity; we relied entirely on word-of-mouth to spread the word. We expected a few dozen curious souls, and were overjoyed when over 150 people showed up.

Before long, committees were struck to tap into what we now knew to be a wellspring of desire. A newsletter soon appeared. A High Holyday service was organized. A community was born.

From those humble beginnings, the Danforth Jewish Circle has grown to include 500 individuals and families. They may be looking for a school for their children (which we began in 1998), a monthly Shabbat service to feed the soul, a speakers’ series that challenges the mind, or a place to gather each year for the High Holydays. In a few short years, we have established ourselves as a community group with a long-term commitment to nurturing progressive Jewish life in Toronto.

Roots and Branches: 25 years of the DJC

Edited by Paul Axelrod and Karen Robbins, and filled with contributions from numerous DJC members, Roots and Branches: The Making of a Progressive Jewish Community celebrates the DJC’s first 25 years and is now available to purchase. Its insightful chapters and poignant personal vignettes explain how the DJC resonates in the lives of its members, and the important place of this unconventional community on the contemporary Jewish landscape.

The publication and sale of Roots and Branches helps sustain the Danforth Jewish Circle as it enters its next 25 years. We hope you enjoy the book as much as we enjoyed making it.

A photo collage of founding members, bagels, shoots and a dinner
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