The Jews who dispersed thousands of years ago to different parts of the world bring many unique voices and layers to our collective Jewish identity. In Toronto, Congregation BINA represents one of those distinct communities: Jews who lived in India.
Our story goes back to the early 1960’s when Jewish immigration from India to Canada accelerated. Many families who settled in Toronto could not afford High Holiday services at the local synagogues. In 1970, a few families organized affordable High Holiday services for the community and for many this was the first they could attend since leaving India. This tradition has continued throughout the years.
In 1981 we incorporated Congregation BINA. Having a community to support one another, share common customs, history – and challenges -- was important. How to ensure our children fit in, when their peers and families had never even known an ‘Indian Jew’? How to respond when our children came home exclaiming that we were doing it ‘wrong’ because the Jewish schools taught different customs and melodies for prayers from our own? How to ensure our community had access to Jewish education and community? How to integrate into our new community without assimilating? How to ensure our people have proper Jewish burial plots when their time came?
In India we lived vibrantly as Jews without persecution. We were blessed for this but the paradox is we arrived in Canada as strangers to our Jewish brethren. Most hadn’t heard of Indian-born Jews nor did they understand that we were the same albeit with some unique customs. The early days brought challenges in being seen, understood and welcomed as part of the multi-faceted Jewish community.
Over the years we worked hard to support our community’s integration into our new society but were steadfast in not losing our rich identity. We sponsored educational scholarships, social and holiday gatherings – and much more.
Today with more than 120 families strong we still must work harder than ever to preserve our identity and legacy. This becomes more challenging as the years progress because with each new generation the touchstone to our Indian roots becomes more distant.
We are looking ahead to new ways, new tools and even technology to ensure our children, grandchildren and future generations will know and remember our unique story and customs — and carry forth our legacy.
Every community is an important piece of the Jewish Canadian mosaic. No one deserves to be left out. We are doing our part to be remembered. We invite you to get to know us. www.congregationbina.ca.