Interfaith leaders build houses for low-income families

From left, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Rabbi Shalom Schachter, Rabbi Jennifer Gorman and Rabbi Debra Landsberg. SUSAN MINUK PHOTO

On Sept. 13, more than 30 religious leaders from a variety of faiths volunteered to swing hammers and build interfaith relationships on a construction site in Toronto.

Faith in Canada 150 is a program started by the think tank Cardus, whose mission is to celebrate the role of faith in our lives. It partnered with Habitat for Humanity Greater Toronto Area (GTA), a non-profit housing organization that brings communities together to help low-income working families gain stability and independence through affordable home ownership.

Putting faith into action was the foundation for the Faith 150 Build, which was spearheaded by Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of Beth Tzedec Congregation.


“One of the ways we are celebrating Canada at 150 is by recognizing the role that different faith communities have played in the development of Canada, and continue to play in the life of the Canadian community, so that it’s not simply each religious community looking out for itself; it’s all of us together understanding there are important tasks in Canada, on which we can work together – and housing is a big one. We want to create a difference and one of the simplest ways is using a hammer, a saw and a drill – putting things up and making things happen,” said Rabbi Frydman-Kohl.

“The larger conversation that we are trying to promote through Faith in Canada 150 is that faith matters. Canada has a rich faith heritage that we’re celebrating in this 150th anniversary year,” said Ray Pennings, Cardus’ executive vice-president.

This is the largest build in Habitat for Humanity’s history. By 2019, the site’s $18 million stacked townhouses will house 50 low-income families.

Members of various faith communities will gather at the same site – 140 Pinery Rd. in Scarborough – for A Faith Community Build on Oct. 25, followed by a Women of Faith Build on Oct. 26.

‘it’s not simply each religious community looking out for itself’

“This isn’t just a partnership with faith groups – this is a partnership with these families. What’s so great about this build site is that over these three build days, we are going to be coming from all different faith heritages,” said Ene Underwood, CEO of Habitat for Humanity GTA. “The same is true of the families that will be living in these homes.”

The Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Pentecostal and Anglican communities were represented.

At the start of the build day, Rabbi Frydman-Kohl sounded the shofar.

“The shofar is a prayer without words,” he explained to the faith leaders.

There was also a Christian prayer that was recited, and opportunities throughout the day for faith leaders to talk amongst themselves about their prayers and traditions.

Faith and cultural requirements relating to food, traditions and attire were accommodated. All building volunteers wore steel-toed boots, hardhats, safety goggles and gloves. Tools were provided to the participants who worked together in groups of six to 10, under the supervision of a skilled volunteer crew leader.


“I think it’s particularly important on Canada’s 150th to come together and build a future for other Canadians. We all know the power of a place to call home and that’s the power of the Habitat for Humanity builds. There’s a little bit of Jewish heart in every home that’s built,” said Rabbi Debra Landsberg of Temple Emanu-el.

But what makes a Jewish home?

“The home in our tradition is sacred. Part of building these residences is that a home is not just created by ideas. A home is created by material culture, by what you put in the home – whether it’s a mezuzah, which becomes the most visible and first image that people see, or whether it’s kosher dishes, a chanukiyah or a Passover seder plate,” said Rabbi Frydman-Kohl.

“The books, the art and the presence of Shabbat,” added Rabbi Jennifer Gorman, executive director of MERCAZ-Canada.

“A commitment to family, but also a commitment to community, and to have open doors to welcome friends and neighbours and those in need. If we can provide them with more physical sustenance, we then have the opportunity to also try and expose them to spiritual sustenance,” said Rabbi Shalom Schachter of the Toronto Board of Rabbis.

There are still 20 units left for families in need. For more information, visit