Beth Tikvah and Beth David: Light gets shed on a merger of two Toronto synagogues

Two long-established Toronto synagogues have been tightlipped about plans to merge, but a recent email to members of the shuls provides some details.

The merger is between Beth Tikvah Synagogue at 3080 Bayview Ave. and Beth David Congregation at 55 Yeomans Rd. Both synagogues are Conservative and egalitarian. An amalgamation of the houses of worship has been rumoured for months.

But details were scarce until an email to members this month, saying that in the coming weeks, the synagogues “will be looking at some key issues,” including establishing working groups to develop an operating model, a financial model, a strategy for facilities and real estate, a joint governance model, and “an approach to consultations and communications.”

The letter said “numerous questions” have been raised about the merger and that discussions are “still at an early stage.” However, it added that the new congregation “could very likely” be at Beth David’s current location.

The email also noted that the synagogues have asked their clergies to meet “for an initial discussion about our respective approaches to Halachah and egalitarianism, and to find some creative ways for each community to experience the other’s services and clergy in the coming months.”

Founded in 1964 as Shaarei Tikvah, Beth Tikvah took its name two years later after it merged with the Bayview Synagogue Association. Over the past decade, its membership has declined from 1,100 family members to around 900.

Rabbi Jarrod Grover has been Beth Tikvah’s senior spiritual leader since 2013.

He told The CJN he could not comment on the merger, as he was asked to step down from the merger committee. “The discussion should take place between lay leaders. I’m just an employee,” he said.

Beth Tikvah’s website relates that in April 2017, “with a clear and resounding voice,” members voted to become egalitarian.

Beth David Congregation merged with B’nai Israel Congregation in 1960 and with Beth Am Congregation in 1977. Its formal name is Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Congregation.

The synagogue became egalitarian in May 2013, permitting women to lead services and be counted in a minyan. It tallies an estimated 800 family members.

Rabbi Philip Scheim joined Beth David as assistant rabbi in 1981 and became senior rabbi in 1984. He became rabbi emeritus on Aug. 1 this year, and no replacement for him has been announced. He told The CJN that he’s not involved in merger discussions.

The message to members of both shuls said there are plans to hire an “independent facilitator with experience in merging non-profit organizations.” Costs will be shared.

The two synagogues will also launch a “community consultation program” to hear members’ views on the merger and “to define a shared vision for the new synagogue.”

The program will be led by an external consultant and will include surveys, interviews and focus groups, the email stated.

As well, the synagogues’ websites will have a merger FAQ page and a dedicated email address for inquiries.

Responding to The CJN’s queries for details about the merger, Andy Pascoe, Beth David’s president, said the synagogues “have no further information to share with CJN readers. Our priority is to communicate with our own communities about the progress of our discussion.”

In an email, Pascoe said he and Douglas Millstone, president of Beth Tikvah, agree “that it would not be appropriate to share details about our merger discussions with the media.”

In a separate email to The CJN, Millstone said he’s “on the same page” as Pascoe.