magic lantern show: the Jews of the Ward on High Holy Days

Jews High Holy Days installation view Market Square September 2001313.44 people, perhaps Jewish, standing at lakeshore reading books detail This year, Rosh Hashanah falls on September 24-26 and Yom Kippur on October 3-4

The rituals of the High Holy Days were interpreted for those interested in learning more about the Jewish traditions of “the Ward” in the October 4, 1910 issue of The Globe.  The scenes described in the Globe article as well as street scenes and views of some of the synagogues in the Ward are represented within set 39 of the James lantern slide collection. The City of Toronto Archives database offers little or no information about the individual images and William James Sr. left no record of why the set had been created.

I have uploaded set 39 as an album on Flikr  and selected some images from it for this post to show alongside excerpts of the 1910 article. With this conjunction of text and images, one can assume that William James’ undated photos of Tashlikh are taking place along the lake between York and Bay streets. This disappeared shoreline was an important ritual site for the Ward community.

Your city archives is eager to fill in its database information gaps. Perhaps you can help! Contribute your recommendation for image captions on the flikr comment window and I will forward your information to archives staff.

Although the places of ceremony and celebration from a century ago have all but disappeared the flavours endure in numerous households around the market.

Jewish New Year is Here... Globe Oct. 4, 1910 p.9

The Globe, Oct. 4, 1910 p. 9

Jewish New Year is Here; Ram’s Horn Will Blow Today

The Jewish New Year commenced last night at 8 o’clock. It is always the occasion of a great religious revival among the Jews… this is the great time for the clearing away of the sins, for the shaking themselves free from the consequences of any bad acts they may have committed during the year, and placing them at the beginning of the new year with a clean sheet before them.

39.30 Jewish people, well dressed, out for stroll CTA 1244 S2119  it39.30 label: “Jewish people, well dressed, out for stroll”

Last night the streets were quiet through “the Ward.” Candles gleamed through the windows of houses and families could be seen gathered around them. The synagogues were open all day, and chants in the ancient Talmudical languages were earnestly sung. At night they presented a beautiful sight, lighted by thousands of candles.

Yesterday was, however, simply preparation day. To-day the synagogues will be filled to overflowing. Today, also, the Ram’s Horn or shofer will be blown that satan, the great adversary, may become confused, and so be unable to accuse them before the Almighty.

13.2 synagogue interior CTA 1244 S2119  it13.2 label: “synagogue interior”   Can you identify this synagogue?

39.25 Jewish men and boys in synagogue doorway and on sidewalk CTA 1244 S2119  it39.25 label: “Jewish men and boys in synagogue doorway and on sidewalk” (identified by Noam Sienna as reversed image of Shomrei Shabbos congregation, 109 Chestnut street, see flikr comment)

This afternoon thousands of people will most likely be seen making their way down to the brink of the Bay in order that they can throw their sins into the water. Somewhere between 4 o’clock and 6 in the afternoon they will be seen between York street and Bay street with their prayer books, praying, shaking the ends of their garments, turning their pockets inside out and shaking them until they regard themselves as entirely purified. This starts the time of penance which will last until a week from Thursday, when the most religious will fast every day, and the others content themselves with a form of prayer.

13.44 people, perhaps Jewish, standing at lakeshore reading books CTA 1244 S2119  it13.44 label: “people, perhaps Jewish, standing at lakeshore reading books”

39.21 Jewish man at lakefront service CTA 1244 S2119  it39.21 label: “Jewish man at lakefront service”

13.47 Jewish lakefront service CTA 1224 S2219 it13.47 label: “Jewish lakefront service”

39.22 Jewsih girls at lakefront service  CTA 1244 S2119 it39.22 label: “Jewish girls at lakefront service”

 A week from Wednesday night all will start fasting, without food or drink from sundown to sundown. Some will take off their shoes and spend the whole time in the synagogue. On the night previous there will be thousands of chickens taken into “the Ward” to be sacrificed as an atonement for sins. Later the chickens will be cleaned and eaten.

13.3 poultry salesman, S. Flotkin, greengrocer CTA 1244 S2119 it13.3 label: “poultry salesman, S. Flotkin, greengrocer”

39.3 Man buying a chicken CTA 1244 S2119 it39.3 label: “Man buying a chicken”

 39.17 Man holding chicken CTA 1244 S2119 it39.17 label: “Man holding chicken”


Tashlikh is a short service where you symbolically cleanse yourself of all the sins of the previous year by emptying out your pockets of crumbs into flowing water.

Kapparot  (in Hebrew) or kappores (in Yiddish), is a ritual done just before the holiday of Yom Kippur. One chicken per family is sacrificed. It is swung around the head to symbolically transfer sins to the chicken, and then it is killed and donated to the poor. Although in 1910 they would have used chickens, today it is considered a controversial practice and the chicken is replaced with a bag with the sum of money that it is worth.

Market Square  Food memories:

39.15 Jewish family 1907 F1244 it39.15 Jewish family 1907

One market visitor said that the above must be a “Kiddush” photo. He remembered his family enjoying honey cake and a bit of schnapps with friends after service.

Another market visitor lamented, “I have a million of my mother’s recipes but I wouldn’t even dare try to recreate her kreplach, they were so delicous–why even try?”

There were fond memories of chicken cracklings or gribenebits of fried chicken skin and onions left over when chicken fat was rendered into the schmaltz.

Visiting Kensington market in the 1950’s and early sixties, said someone looking at the photos of men carrying chickens along streets, one saw not only live chickens but also eels. This was a sign of the Portuguese foods commingling with the Jewish as one community came in and the other was on its way out of the  area.

Polish gefilte fish was far sweeter than the Russian variety.

Cisco, a herring type of indigenous Ontario fish in smoked form was a favorite part of weekend brunches.

Apples and honey is central to the Ashkenazic tradition of observing Rosh Hashanah.

For Rosh Hashanah it was important to serve the best food that you could afford. If you didn’t serve meat the rest of the year that was the occasion to serve it. Brisket, in one market visitor’s family, was “any cheap cut of meat that you cooked for a hundred hours before serving”.

The carrying of live chickens along the street, a much documented phenomenon in James’ photographs, reflected the fact that chickens were purchased live and then taken to another location for Shechita, kosher slaughtering.

39.4 Sign in Yiddish advertising chickens F1244 it39.4 label: Sign in Yiddish advertising chickens

Rosh Hashanah was equated, in the mind of a market visitor, with cabbage rolls filled with meat. It also brought to mind the four or five different kinds of honey that his father would have on hand, each offering a slightly different taste of the preceding summer. Honey cake and an ultra sweet form of Challah in which dried fruit would be braided into dough before cooking was another emblem of the holiday in his family.

Further Reading

The New York Times, For Rosh Hashanah-Roast Chicken with Honey (fiery, tart, complex & sweet)

Toronto’s First Synagogues, Ontario Jewish Archives & Ryerson University

Ontario Jewish Archives, Sense of Spadina Walking Tours

Ontario Jewish Archives, Jewish Landmarks of Ontario interactive map

toronto's waterfront from the foot of york strret  Toronto waterfront at the foot of York street

The lantern slides in the City of Toronto Archives were created by William James from his own photos published in the Toronto Star Weekly on September 21, 1912. (Click press cuttings to enlarge.)

Yom Kippur, Star Weekly News Section, Sept. 21, 1912-page-001

Celebrating the Jewish New Year, Star Weekly, Sept. 21, 1912 p4-page-001Celebrating the New Year, Casting Sins in Water, Star Weekly, Sept. 21, 1912-page-001



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