For over 40 years, Congregation BINA has provided Indian Jewish families in the Greater Toronto Area a venue where they could come together for Festivals and social occasions.
New immigrants were welcomed by a community to which they could relate and within which they would be comfortable.
Congregation BINA also welcomed members from the wider Jewish community and accommodated their requests, such as adding the Yizkor service to the Yom Kippur morning service.
Cemetery plots are secured for members at Pardes Shalom and Pardes Chaim cemeteries.
Scholarships have been awarded to students who wished to pursue higher education.
In the Beginning
A marked increase in Jewish immigration from India to Canada began in the early 1960’s. Most settled in Toronto, some in Hamilton, Montreal and a few in other parts of Canada. As newly arrived immigrants, with very limited resources, they were faced with the challenges of finding accommodations and jobs.
Given their circumstances, they couldn’t afford costly tickets to attend High Holiday services. In 1970, a couple of families managed to arrange affordable services for the Bene Israel community. For some families, it was the first High Holiday services they had attended since leaving India.
A Turning Point
In January 1975, Elijah (z”l) and Erusha (z”l) Hyams’ eldest son, Joshua (z”l), died suddenly at the age of 21. Solomon Samson and Bill Isaac, an Ashkenazi friend, went from one Jewish organization to the next asking for a burial plot for Joshua. Every organization gave them the same answer, “How do we know you are Jewish? We can’t give you a burial plot.” Bill suggested they approach Chabad. Chabad never doubted or questioned their Jewish identity and provided them with a burial plot for Joshua.
Bene Israel children were mistreated at school by other Jewish children as well as by their teachers. Bene Israel parents were determined to show their children and the wider Jewish community that they had a rich Jewish heritage, one in which their children should be very proud.
Elijah and Erusha Hyams, and Solomon and Ann Samson connected with other Bene Israel families in Toronto, Hamilton and New York who were also determined to maintain their Indian Jewish culture and traditions, religious customs and melodies. They wanted to organize their own High Holiday Services. A second goal was to achieve recognition and acceptance from the wider Jewish community.
As more Bene Israel immigrants from India settled in Toronto, they felt the need to get together socially, to be supportive of each other and provide opportunities for their children to get acquainted. In 1978, a potluck social was held, to great success! The organizers and participants were encouraged to continue to get together as a community. This success was followed in 1979 by a Purim social and a picnic.
A number of families expressed the desire to have High Holiday services according to Bene Israel traditions. Some had doubts and others were opposed. Those in favour moved forward. Elijah and Erusha Hyams asked Rabbi Albert Pappenheim, of Beth David Synagogue, for the loan of two Torahs, to which he agreed. In September 1979, High Holiday services were held at the Jewish Women’s Council House on Bathurst Street. They were led by Elijah Hyams, Albert Moses, Victor Abraham and George Abraham.
And Then it Came to Pass
In February 1980, it was decided to establish an umbrella organization of Jews from India residing in North America. The process to incorporate the organization began with the writing of the Constitution for Congregation BINA. Ann Samson and Elijah Hyams (z”l) drafted the Constitution which was approved by all the members at the Annual General Meeting.
On March 31, 1981, the corporation was registered as Congregation BINA in our Letters Patent. The registration documents were signed by Albert Moses (z”l), Ann Samson and David Saul (z”l).
In 1982, the Board made an application for Charitable Status to the Government of Canada. This was granted in 1983, retroactive to June 1982. Work then began on writing By-Laws consistent with our Constitution and relevant to the needs of the community.
George and Lavina (z”l) Abraham donated two Sefer Torahs, one in 1988 and one in 1989. BINA purchased a third Sefer Torah in 1997.
From Then to Now
High Holiday Services, Chanukah and Purim socials were held at Jewish Women’s Council House until 2017. Congregation BINA then held services at Lodzer Congregation until 2020, at which time, due to COVID-19, services were held virtually.