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Memoirs

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LEO SCHACHTER MEMOIR by Sheldon Schachter

Leo Schachter emigrated from Poland to Canada by ship in 1927 at the age of 15. He started a clothing store on Queen St. E. near Coxwell Ave. and in 1957 switched synagogues to the Beach Hebrew Institute.

I had my Bar Mitzvah at the Beach Hebrew Institute in 1963. The cantor was Charles Pascoe – he had a superb singing voice and was well loved by the congregation. Women were only permitted to sit on the right side of the synagogue. The loft overlooking the sanctuary held an active classroom. The children sat with their parents or each other in the sanctuary during services. I remember the toilets backing up whenever Lake Ontario’s water level rose – we had to use portable toilets in front of the synagogue (versus the corner restaurant) when this would occur.

My father wasn’t a trained cantor but he had a very deep and resonant voice and, with Mr. Pascoe’s help, he learned to lead the congregation in the davening style with which they were already familiar. My father eventually became president and cantor when Mr. Pascoe was too ill to continue.

By the early 1970s, most of the Jewish families in the Beaches area had relocated to the north Bathurst area of Toronto. I remember my father spending hours on the phone before a holiday service in order to obtain a minyan. I remember at one service, we only had eight members show. The synagogue was running on a budget of approximately $1,200.00 per year. The classroom had closed for lack of children. Some of the family names at the time were as follows: Day, Tanenbaum, Long, Zand, Rowek, Babad, Barta, Horowitz.

A television producer at this point offered to purchase the synagogue with a plan to convert it into a private residence. The choice with the congregation, my father and the Canadian Jewish Congress could have gone either way. My father decided in the end to maintain the status quo in the hopes that there would be a future rejuvenation of the synagogue.

Shortly after, the Beaches became a popular area in which to live and Jews started to return to live in the area. The congregation flourished and a chorus of voices could once again be heard.

As my father’s health failed, Sam Tanenbaum stepped up to become a wonderful cantor. Arie Nerman stepped up to become the president of the synagogue. He was very adept at promoting the synagogue and organizing the new members to work on its behalf. Leo died on Oct 10, 1981 at the age of 69 and his funeral was well attended by the long term friends he had come to know at the Beach Hebrew Institute.