Toronto’s Prosserman JCC will (finally!) open Monday, Oct. 4

Barry and Honey Sherman Campus, Toronto. (Credit: IBI Group Inc.)

On Monday, Oct. 4, the last piece of the puzzle will fall into place: the expanded Prosserman JCC, on the sprawling Barry and Honey Sherman Campus on Bathurst Street north of Sheppard Avenue, finally will be fully open.

Monday’s official opening of the Sheff Family Building on the Sherman campus will mark the final phase of the 20-year, $300 million Tomorrow Campaign, an unprecedented infrastructure initiative by United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto that also funded construction of the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in York Region, the Miles Nadal JCC, and the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life in downtown Toronto.

There’s an array of patrons’ names sprinkled across the 27-acre Sherman campus, which is set against a backdrop of verdant ravines and leafy conservation areas. Every pathway, corridor, meeting room, studio, common area, sports complex, and atrium is named for a family or individual.

As Andrew Levy, executive director of the Schwartz/Reisman Centre in Vaughan and of the Prosserman JCC puts it: “The community has been very generous.”

There are really just three buildings to know: the Donald Gales Family Pavilion, opened in 2009, and the newer Sheff Family Building together house Prosserman JCC programming, while the Lipa Green Centre remains home to UJA Federation and a variety of Jewish communal and social service agencies.

Still to come in the Sheff building is an expanded and revamped Holocaust Education Centre. A recent gift of $12 million from the Azrieli Foundation means that the centre, to be renamed the Toronto Holocaust Museum, is projected to open in 2023 on about 10,000 square feet of space.

Since the Bathurst JCC was torn down in 2009 after 48 years, facilities at the Sheff Family Building have been expanded by more than 100,000 square feet, and now include two indoor saltwater pools, an outdoor saltwater pool, three outdoor sports courts, multifunctional group exercise studios, fitness centre, and running track. And a natural for any JCC: a shvitz (wet and dry).

Membership currently stands at about 1,250, with many so-called “legacy” members of the old JCC. Levy believes it will break 6,000 in three years. “It’s more than a fitness centre,” he said. “It’s a community hub.”

The campus also boasts a revamped Leah Posluns Theatre, with state-of-the-art sound and video equipment, and 320 seats that can retract to make space for a banquet hall or event space.

The four-floor, 40,000-square-feet Gales Pavilion houses a daycare and pre-school for up to 250 children, cultural programming, classrooms, programs for people with special needs, and “seniors engagement.”

Outdoors, one encounters a huge space for the Jack and Pat Kay Centre Camp, near the Murray and Marvelle Koffler Nature Path and the Honey & Barry Community Park.

The campus was to open fully in the spring of 2020 but COVID prevented that.

As Levy sees it, a JCC has a unique role to play in Jewish life.

“We’re trying to inspire people to live the Jewish lives they want to live. And we do so by strengthening their mind, body and soul,” he told The CJN on a tour of the facilities.

While the Schwartz/Reisman Centre has provided an anchor for Jewish life in York Region, Levy senses a certain nostalgia in the Bathurst-Sheppard neighbourhood, where the JCC was a staple of Jewish life for so many years.

“People are coming back because they really care about community. That’s the real value. We’re strengthening Jewish identity and fostering community.

“We’re not building,” Levy said. “We’re re-building.”