When someone says “Toronto,” Jewish history probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps you think of the Leafs, maple syrup, or the CN Tower. But the truth is, Toronto boasts a vibrant Jewish community and a rich Jewish history that stretches back to the 19th century.
Editor’s note: This article is part of our series on travel guides to your favorite destinations. Check out our Vienna, Berlin, Budapest, Kraków, Milan, Rome and New York City guides, and look out for guides to other cities coming soon.
Toronto is known as the most multicultural city in the world, so it’s no surprise that Jews of all denominations call it home. In fact, half of all Canadian Jews live in Toronto and the city has countless synagogues and Jewish day schools of all denominations.
So, if you’re planning on visiting Toronto soon or searching for a travel destination where you can explore Jewish culture and history, look no further than this guide.
What to see:
On the surface, Kensington Market may seem like a typical market neighborhood, but this area has so much more than meets the eye. Not only is this market where Toronto’s Jewish history truly shines, but it’s also an Instagram-worthy hotspot, known for its art scene, thrift shopping, and cute cafes.
Kensington began as a Jewish market in the 1900s, where merchants would sell goods from their homes.
Today, this area is home to a diverse array of vendors that extends beyond the Jewish community. However, it remains fascinating to walk around and appreciate that Kensington’s allure originated from its Jewish heritage. Take your time walking the streets and make sure to visit some shops and synagogues in the area.
Beth Tzedec Congregation
Created in 1995 when two of the oldest synagogues in Toronto united, the Conservative synagogue Beth Tzedec now has over 4,000 members.
The synagogue hosts Jewish music concerts, social action gatherings, and events for participants of all ages. Visiting here, you can see the sets from Adam Sandler’s 2023 film, “You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah,” which was primarily filmed in the synagogue, making this a must-visit location.
Holy Blossom Temple
Founded in 1856, Holy Blossom is Toronto’s oldest and arguably most famous synagogue. They host community gatherings throughout the year, celebrating holidays and other events.
For example, if you’re visiting during Hanukkah, you can attend the Lots of Light Family Chanukah Celebration or Chag Habanot: A Wine & Cheese Chanukah Celebration. Plus, if you’re looking for a souvenir, there’s a Judaica gift shop within the synagogue.
Although officially a Reform synagogue, Holy Blossom embraces both the traditional and modern sides of Judaism, welcoming Jews of diverse beliefs and backgrounds.
Toronto Holocaust Museum
The Toronto Holocaust Museum opened its doors in June 2023, making it the newest addition to Toronto’s list of Jewish attractions.
Visit the exhibit to learn the history of the Holocaust, including from a Canadian perspective. Aside from the exhibit, the museum also hosts sessions with survivors, classes, and special events.
The Toronto Holocaust Museum is run by the United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto (UJA), which organizes countless Jewish events throughout the year. So if you’re still looking for things to do, visit their website for more ways to get involved.
Ontario Jewish Archives
If you’re a history lover and want to learn more about Toronto’s Jewish roots, stop by the Ontario Jewish Archives, which is also run by the UJA.
Their various limited exhibitions shed light on different chapters of Jewish history — some recent ones include: “The Manor,” focusing on Jewish life in an area called Bathurst Manor, and “Women+” about the contributions of Ontarian Jewish women, past and present.
Before your visit, check the museum’s website for current exhibitions, and get ready to learn!
What to do:
This renowned festival celebrates Ashkenazi Jewish culture with music, food, and art, taking place biennially at the Harbourfront Centre in downtown Toronto. It’s a vibrant display of tradition and creativity, drawing in a diverse crowd from all backgrounds and focusing on Yiddish culture. Ashkenaz also hosts other events throughout the year, so check their website before your trip.
Toronto Jewish Film Festival:
It’s an excellent opportunity for film enthusiasts and those curious about Jewish stories from around the world. A truly unique and renowned event, it’s worth booking your trip just for this festival.
How to spend Shabbat
Alternatively, countless Toronto synagogues host weekly Shabbat services. Representing various denominations, dozens of synagogues around the city would love to have you.
Where to eat:
The kosher scene
A Middle Eastern sit-down restaurant, Aish Tanoor is a must-visit for authentic, fresh Israeli cuisine, whether or not you keep kosher. I suggest getting the falafel, and be sure to try at least one dip with their freshly-made laffa.
If you’re in search of a kosher bagel shop, Bubby’s Bagels won’t disappoint. They offer a wide range of delicious options, and in my opinion, it’s the best place in Toronto for a kosher breakfast. Specifically, if you’re into tuna melts or pizza bagels, you’ve got to try those here.
For a comprehensive list of kosher dining in Toronto, check out the COR website.
Traditional Jewish-style fare
A Toronto staple, Bagel World has been serving some of the city’s best bagels for over 55 years. Sit down for lunch here and you’ll feel right at home, or take out their famous twisters and delicious Jewish pastries (the rugelach are especially delectable).
If you haven’t had enough bagels yet, try Gryfe’s for a family-style vibe. It was ranked the #1 best bagel in Toronto, too, although it’s completely up to your preference — these ones are more fluffy and light.
It’s practically an unspoken rule that you’re not a Toronto Jew until you’ve eaten at United Bakers. Established in 1912, this dairy restaurant is famous for its delicious eats. Sit down at UB for a quick meal, and be sure to try their famous pea soup and Greek salad. Then, if you have some time, walk along Bathurst Street to immerse yourself in Jewish life in Toronto.
Originating in Israel before expanding globally, Cafe Landwer will transport you right to the Middle East. It’s a cool, modern restaurant that houses a variety of delicious eats — notably, their range of shakshuka options and other Israeli classics make this spot unique.
For an authentic Jewish-style deli experience, Pancer’s is the place to go. Their deli sandwiches like corned beef and pastrami are beloved in Toronto’s Jewish community. With recipes dating back to the 1950s in Europe, Pancer’s is guaranteed to impress deli lovers.
Ranked Toronto’s best deli by blogTO, Centre Street is iconic. Located in Thornhill, a suburb north of Toronto, it offers delicious sandwiches and other Jewish classics like latkes and matzo ball soup.