Holy Blossom renovations to start this month

Holy Blossom Temple’s executive director, Russ Joseph, left, and spiritual leader Rabbi Yael Splansky share news with congregants about the renewal project at the shul’s annual general meeting last month.

TORONTO — Construction work on Holy Blossom Temple’s effort to renovate the shul’s 76-year-old building, which has been planned for more than a decade, will begin before the end of the month.

Tom Friedland, the chair of the synagogue’s renewal project steering committee, said more than $19 million has been raised, which is 85 per cent of the total cost of Phase 1 – a fundraising threshold that needed to be reached before construction could start.

“What people are going to see initially is the preliminary work that is being done on the existing school wing to ready it to house all the activities during Phase 1 construction, which we hope will start sometime in the spring,” Friedland said.

Phase 1 construction will include the building of a new central atrium, a family chapel, an administrative wing, a new elevator and an HVAC system.

But before those projects are tackled, the other areas of the shul have to be prepared to accommodate congregants who will still be “living” in the synagogue.

“We have to build a new elevator so the building will be fully accessible, because where the current elevator is, is right in the middle where the atrium is supposed to be. We have to build a new elevator, we have to build a temporary rabbinic suite on the third floor, we have to build some new washrooms and stairs and things like that. That is going to take us a few months through the spring so that we can be ready to do the demolition and construction in the [other area],” Friedland explained.

He said he expects all of Phase 1 construction to be completed by mid-2016. Throughout the months that construction is underway, fundraising will continue.

“The plan is, as we start construction of Phase 1, to complete the fundraising of Phase 1 – the remaining 15 per cent  – and then to roll right into Phase 2 construction,” Friedland said.

“We won’t start Phase 2 construction until we’ve raised 85 per cent [of its cost]… In a perfect world, we’ll roll right from Phase 1 into Phase 2, but if not, we’ll do it with as short a hiatus as possible as we raise the rest of the funds.”

Phase 2 is expected to cost about $12 million. 

“Phase 2 will include the renovation of the sanctuary, to restore its original splendour, it’ll be an upgrading of our Philip Smith Congregational Hall. It’ll be a new rabbinic suite on the second floor… on the third floor, where our current family chapel is, we’ll turn that into a social hall,” Friedland said, adding that there are also plans to address parking issues, creating a new parking area that connects Dewborne Avenue and Ava Road.

He said the renovation plans have led to a lot of positive energy within the congregation.

“A lot of it also goes along with the appointment of our senior rabbi, Yael Splansky, and her installation in the fall,” he said.

Rabbi Splansky has taken the reins from Rabbi John Moscowitz, who is completing a three-year sabbatical in 2015.

“There is really a very good sense of community, and growth, and opportunity that has led to us raising the funds that we need to start this,” Friedland said.

“Everyone has been very generous and everyone knows that it is important for Jewish continuity, it is important for Toronto Jewry overall, and it is important for Canadian Jewry.”