From the Beth Sholom Bulletin, Toronto, Spring 2013
It is a busy day for Gerald and Naomi Goldenberg as they help plan some last-minute details for the upcoming wedding of one of their grandchildren. But even so, they kindly take a few minutes to sit down with me in the den of their Briar Hill home and recollect details of their long history with Beth Sholom, including their wedding there nearly 60 years ago.
Jerry and Naomi (nee Merkur) were married in the shul on May 2, 1954 in a double wedding ceremony with Naomi’s sister Selma Merkur and soon-to-be-husband Julie Hanson. That ceremony, the couple say, was the happiest of many happy Beth Sholom memories they have gathered over the years.
Theirs was perhaps the first double wedding at Beth Sholom. The guest list was too large for the party to take place in the synagogue, however, so it was held at the Palace Pier nightclub on Lakeshore Boulevard where the Palace Pier condominiums now stand.
“It was quite a deal because, to make it kosher, they had to bring everything from Beth Sholom and they had to cater it down there,” Naomi says. The rule in Toronto back then was that you couldn’t drink on a Sunday, “so we had liquor in pitchers on the tables,” she recalls, laughing. “Leave it to Jews to know how to work it out!”
Jerry, a chartered accountant until he went into his father-in-law’s construction business, served on the shul’s board for many years. He was treasurer for 14 years until recently, and is now honourary treasurer. Their son, Steven Goldenberg, is presently the shul’s second vice-president.
Jerry was also chair of the fund-raising committee for the synagogue’s new addition in the early 1980s. “I can’t remember how many millions it cost, but they were borrowed funds and subsequently, through the years of fund-raising, we paid it off,” he says. “The shul remains in good financial shape.”
His parents, Louis and Ethel Goldenberg, came to Ontario from Galician Poland in the early 1920s and at first sold dry goods in various small towns; Jerry was born in Walkerton. “My father came into this country with six brothers and two sisters. And most of his brothers settled in these small towns — Owen Sound, Walkerton, Chesley. They all started dry goods places — socks, shoes, men’s wear, ladies’ wear, things like that. I was born in Walkerton but I was probably three four or five months old when they moved back to Toronto.”
His father eventually opened a men’s wear store at Queen and Broadview. The family lived on Pendrith Street in the Bloor-Ossington area and belonged to Bais Yehudah Synagogue on Ossington. Later they joined the Shaarei Shomayim on St. Clair where Jerry attended cheder; Rabbi David Monson was then Shaarei Shomayim’s spiritual leader. Monson founded Beth Sholom in 1946 and over the years the Goldenbergs built up a good friendship with him; by then the family had moved into a house near the shul on Chiltern Hill Road.
“Before they raised the money to build Beth Sholom, they used to daven in the basement of the store at the corner of Chiltern Hill and Eglinton,” Jerry recalls. “Then the services were held in the basement of the shul until the sanctuary was built.”
He also remembers the days when “Eglinton Avenue was just a little street and you could easily walk across it. My mother used to send me across the road to the grocery store and there wasn’t traffic like there is now. We played baseball and other sports right at the corner of our street.”
Naomi also remembers the neighbourhood in a less busy time: “Where Pharma Plus is now, that was a playground,” she says.
Her father, David Merkur, came from Poland at age 17 with his younger brother Max. “They were brought over by their older brother Abram. I was always amazed that these two little ‘pishers’ who knew nothing and came from this little shtetl crossed Europe by train all by themselves, boarded their ship to Halifax where they were met by the Jewish Agency, and then took the train to Toronto.”
Naomi’s father and uncles were fruit brokers — Merkur Brothers — in a downtown market on Colborne Street, and eventually became successful enough to start buying real estate. They entered the construction trade in the late 1940s and founded the building company Meridian.
Her family lived on Heydon Park Road in the Dovercourt-College area and belonged to the Shaw Street shul. Later they moved to Strathearn Road and joined Beth Sholom. “Rabbi Monson also lived on Strathearn and he used to walk by our house and we’d see him all the time. We had a very close warm family feeling with him.”
Indeed, the Goldenbergs have been friends with all of the shul’s rabbis and cantors, including Rabbi Jacob Mendel Kirshenblatt who lived next door, right down to the present team of Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich and Cantor Eric Moses. “I believe we have the best clergy in Canada,” says Jerry, who attends daily and sometimes leads the davening and even reads the haftorah on occasion.
Three of the Goldenberg’s four children (Linda, Steven, Neil, Risa) were married in Beth Sholom and numerous other family simchas have taken place there over the years: they have 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren with more on the way. “We’ve had a wonderful relationship with the shul,” Jerry declares. “We have lots of good memories.” ♦