A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BRIEF NOTE] Minsker Synagogue

I’d seen the synagogue at 10 St. Andrew Street, on the eastern fringes of Kensington Market not fifty metres away from Spadina Avenue, before. It was only this evening, as I got closer to look for a name, that I found that it was formally known as the Minsker Synagogue. Presumably, this Orthodox synagogue, one of the older synagogues in the Greater Toronto Area, was named after the Belarusian capital city of Minsk; almost certainly, the first Jews in the Kensington Market area were Litvaks.

Belarus has a long Jewish history, stemming back to the time when, as the core of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th and 15th centuries, the territory of Belarus attracted waves of Jewish immigrants fleeing western and central Europe. Jews were well-implanted in Belarus, which was included in its entirely in the infamous Pale of Settlement maintained throughout the century and a quarter of Tsarist rule. Minsk province was almost 12% Jewish by population at the end of the 19th century, Mogilev 16%. Alas, Belarus’ Jews, like their Roman and Uniate Catholic neighbours and like all Belarusians, suffered from the Tsarist empire’s Russification programs and from the poverty that pervaded what was until recently a rather poor agricultural area. So, the Litvaks fled in large numbers from their oppressed and impoverished homeland.

Hitler exterminated the Jews of Belarus in the course of Nazi Germany’s three-year occupation of the country, part of his regime’s reduction of that country’s population by a quarter, while post-Soviet emigration has gutted the remainder. Curiously enough, the largest and most coherent Litvak community is to be found in South Africa, product of post-Boer War emigration to the gold fields and their cities. Clearly, South Africa wasn’t their only destination.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2006 at 11:44 pm

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