Fiddlers raise money for historic synagogue

Multi-instrumentalist Ian Bell with fiddler Anne Lederman.

It seemed appropriate that the skies opened up and it rained on a recent Sunday afternoon when the Kiever Shul held a musical fundraiser to replace the leaky roof on its historic building adjacent to Toronto’s Kensington Market.

The synagogue’s fundraising campaign was launched last spring with the goal of raising $100,000, and the shul’s president, Adam Cohen, said they still have a ways to go.

The synagogue is also waiting for the results of an architectural assessment, to find out what other repairs need to be made to the building, and a report on how to make it more accessible. Built in 1927, the Kiever is part of the legacy of the Toronto Jewish community. But the heritage building requires constant maintenance, Cohen said.

Ian Mirlin, the former vice-president of the shul, added that a spiritual renovation is going on at the Kiever, as well. They hope the synagogue will become a magnet for Jews in the downtown core. “That’s our ambition, so that the shul becomes a hub for not only services, but also for community events and for learning, whatever we can be for some sort of headquarters downtown for Jewish life,” he said.

The Kiever’s fundraising event, Fiddlers for the Roof, which was held on Sept. 15, featured traditional Iranian music with a focus on Jewish musicians, klezmer and other eastern European styles, along with cajun and zydeco music. Donors sponsored individual groups.

Luckily, the Kiever’s administrators had the foresight to provide a tent outside their gem of a building for the musicians to perform in. The audience was cosy and dry under the tent, enjoying the lively music, clapping and dancing, while the rain pelted down around them.

Fiddlers for the Roof was curated by violinist Anne Lederman. The event opened with Lederman on the fiddle and the Hardanger fiddle – a traditional stringed instrument used to play Norwegian music – and Ian Bell on vocals, guitar, jaw harp, concertina and button accordion. They performed traditional Canadian music, original tunes and klezmer.


Lederman said she had a choice of hiring many fantastic local bands with fiddlers and it was difficult to narrow the groups down to four. She ended up choosing duos and trios, with the exception of Swamperella, a five-member cajun band that’s dominated by female musicians.

She said that she is conscious of hiring women.

“I teach and I know that amongst teenagers, and even college students, there are as many or more women than men playing violin, for example, and hoping to make a career out of it. And by the time they’re 30 years old, there are very few women left and I think (that’s) because it’s just much harder for them to get gigs and be noticed,” Lederman said.

The performances were interspersed with singers and musicians, part of the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, who played in the warm sanctuary of the Kiever. The jazz festival portion of the program was curated by David Wall, who programmed an afternoon of Jewish music and jazz.

The musicians included: Beyond the Pale, a group that plays klezmer and other types of music from eastern Europe; Broadsway, featuring Diane Leah on piano with singers Heather Bambrick and Julie Michaels, and Aviva Chernick and David Wall, who sang Jewish liturgical songs.


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