Our History

The First Thirty Years: 1972–2002

Founded in 1972 by a study group fascinated by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s teachings, Darchei Noam initially operated as a small havurah, gathering in congregants’ homes. As the group expanded, it transitioned to various rented spaces, ultimately settling in the B’nai Brith Building on Hove Street for more than two decades.

In 1979, Darchei Noam made history by hiring Rabbi Joy Levitt, becoming the first Toronto synagogue with a female rabbi. By 1981, Darchei Noam had evolved from its havurah roots and incorporated as a synagogue. Rabbi Richard Hirsh joined us as full-time rabbi at this pivotal moment, leading services and inspiring the community during the High Holy Days. Subsequent leaders included Rabbi Barry Blum and Rabbi Deborah Brin. Beginning in 1991, Rabbi Larry Pinsker served for eleven years, until Rabbi Tina Grimberg assumed leadership in 2002.

The Next Decade: 2002–2012

By 2002, Darchei Noam had grown to 460 congregants, offering diverse programming for all ages. A dedicated leadership team emerged, focused on securing a permanent home. Visioning sessions were conducted through town hall meetings.

In 2004, Darchei Noam signed an agreement to purchase land at 864 Sheppard Avenue West, including an existing synagogue. Recognizing the need for more space in the long term, the community initiated its first capital campaign, “Fulfill the Promise, Build Our Future.” Members were actively engaged, surpassing financial goals within two years. External donors, notably Leslie and Anna Dan, generously supported the vision, contributing $3,200,000 in 2006.

In 2008, Darchei Noam moved into its new home, an expanded and beautifully renovated synagogue designed by member-architect Les Klein of Quadrangle. The success of the capital campaign showcased our community’’s motivation, commitment, egalitarianism, and forward-looking approach.

2012–13 marked Darchei Noam’s 40th anniversary, celebrating a decade of Rabbi Tina Grimberg’s service. A weekend-long tribute, featuring a special Shabbat and fundraising gala, commemorated this milestone.

Looking Forward: Envisioning Darchei Noam’s Future

In the decade since 2013, Darchei Noam has hosted former Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc, Jenny Isaacs of Heart to Heart, Izzy Waxman of Mazon Canada, lawyer and disability justice advocate David Lepofsky, and other needle-movers in our community as part of our Social Justice Scholar-in-Residence program. 

Other highlights of the 2010s included our collective participation in the Torah Stitch by Stitch project; the launch of our Leslieville pop-up school; our 2014 Strategic Plan, created based on congregation-wide consultation sessions; UJA Shinshinim joining our community to deepen our connection with Israel and enrich our programming; and an in-depth Interfaith Task Force study.

The 2020s have been a challenging and exciting time! We’re proud of our quick and effective pivot to online services and programming in the early months of the COVID pandemic, continuing to offer our community the same warm embrace—if at a longer distance. Since 2020 we’ve evolved our streaming and hybrid services and events to make our services and programs accessible across Ontario and beyond.

In 2021, thanks to generous funding from our member Lorne Merkur z”l, we launched the annual Merkur Lectures  with a compelling talk by Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. Building from Dr. Blackstock’s lecture, our members created a grassroots study group on Indigenous issues, including a year-long study of the numbered treaties. The Merkur Lecture series has continued with Noa Mendelsohn Aviv (Executive Director, Canadian Civil Liberties Association) in 2022 and James Lockyer (Founding Director of the Innocence Project) in 2024.

In 2023, Darchei Noam welcomed Rabbi Ryan Leszner as our new Assistant Rabbi and Director of Jewish Living & Learning, with a mandate to revitalize and expand what we offer to children, families, teens, and younger adults and to extend engagement beyond the walls of our building. In September, we celebrated Rabbi Grimberg’s twenty-first anniversary at DN with a special Shabbat service featuring Rabbi Grimberg, Rabbi Leszner, and Rabbi Hirsh. 

Beginning in late 2022, a new round of strategic planning has engaged the community in collectively pursuing our vision of inclusive, inspiring multi-generational Jewish life. We’re actively planning our next decade and beyond—and we hope you’ll join us!

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe to our Friends of Darchei Noam Mailing List