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Yacov Fruchter, spiritual leader of Toronto's Annex Shul
Jon Cohen

Annex Shul founders, Richard Meloff and Bram Belzberg
Jon Cohen


Toronto's Annex Shul Celebrates Early Successes

by Sharon Chisvin, February 9, 2011

[Editor's note:  Yacov Fruchter will be one of several speakers coming to Winnipeg as part of Limmud:Festival of Jewish Learning on March 12-13. A  listing of other out of town speakers plus a samplinjg of  local speakers is given at the end of this article]

As many synagogues across North America struggle to attract and retain young adults to services, the Annex Shul has no such difficulty. The synagogue, founded in Toronto four years ago, easily attracts a crowd of up to 180 twenty and thirty somethings to its bimonthly Friday night Sabbath services. At present, these services are held at the Wolfond Center on Harbord Street in the heart of the Annex neighbourhood.

On the weekend of February 12-13, the Annex Shul will be holding its first ever milestone celebration. The weekend events, a Saturday morning Shabbat service and Kiddush and a Sunday evening cocktail party, will honour the shul’s founders, commemorate the shul’s achievements to date, and welcome the shul’s first full time spiritual leader. 

That spiritual leader is Yacov Fruchter, a gregarious 28-year-old who grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in Montreal, attended the Hebrew Academy there, and studied at a Yeshiva in Israel for one year. He learned to lead services and read Torah at the age of nine at a ‘shtiebel,’ a small participatory minyan that he attended with his father. 

Fruchter initially joined the Annex Shul as a part time lay leader in the summer of 2009, two years after moving to Toronto to assume the position of Director of Emerging Campuses with Hillel Canada. He already knew the founders of the shul, Richard Meloff and  Bram Belzberg, because they had also been among the student founders of Montreal’s Ghetto Shul  a few years before. 

Both Torontonians, Meloff and Belzberg, had recently moved back to Ontario and were anxious to mimic the success of the Ghetto Shul in their hometown. That success relied on creating a warm, welcoming environment in which young professionals, young families and students, could connect with their Judaism, participate in services, celebrate Shabbat and holidays, and enjoy a meaningful Jewish experience.  They knew that Fruchter could help them achieve that ambience. 

“After a year and a half of incredible successes at the shul,” Fruchter says, “we collectively decided it was time for me to come on full time.”
Fruchter is very excited about this new opportunity and intends to make use of much of the knowledge and many of the skills he gained at Hillel in his new position.  

“The most important nugget of knowledge that I gained through my work as a Jewish educator for Hillel is that young Jews yearn for the opportunity to have open and authentic conversations in which they can grapple with their own connection to Judaism within the framework of a trusting relationship,” he says.

As such, he is determined to make the Annex Shul the place that provides this opportunity by making it as comfortable, accepting and accommodating as possible. 

Although traditional in nature, the shul is also progressive. Women are active participants in services, and seating is divided into three sections, for men, for women and for men and women together. The shul also hosts family programs once a month, holiday parties and social events, and Tikkun Olam opportunities throughout the year. 

As well, Fruchter will be offering informal study classes as a means of keeping young adults, especially those living and working downtown, connected to and rejoicing in Jewish life and all it has to offer.  

For further information about the Annex Shul and the Milestone Weekend Celebrations, visit  

Please see the schedule of speakers for  Limmud in Winnipeg

                         Limmud: Festival of Jewish Learning is Coming to Winnipeg!

Saturday March 12and Sunday March 13
Asper Jewish Community Campus | 123 Doncaster | Winnipeg | Manitoba | Canada
Where else can you encounter the first Afro-American Jewish Orthodox Hip Hop Artist, Krav Maga Martial Arts, Jewish Cooking, Meditation, The Cool Jew Experience plus Winnipeg's  most extensive selection of Jewish learning options.   
The festival of Limmud or “learning” in Hebrew will be in Winnipeg for the first time this spring.  The community is invited to join this multi-organizational initiative for an incredible weekend of Jewish learning through music, food, zumba, text-based study, history and contemporary issues
Participants of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations will be able to choose from over 60 sessions offered by local talent local and international Jewish thinkers, artists and educators with a program as diverse as its participants. Children’s programming will also be offered for kids ages 3-10.
The Limmud concept was started in the UK in 1980 and is now being enjoyed by communities throughout the world. It is an ambitious and passionate organization with a global reputation for creating events with a lively approach to Jewish learning where Jews of all ages, backgrounds and experiences come together for thought provoking and engaging programs and activities.
The goal of Limmud is to enable each participant to go one step further on their own Jewish journey. Everyone is a student and everyone can be a teacher. Events feature all educational styles including lectures, workshops, text-study sessions, film, meditation, and discussions to ensure that there is always ‘something for everyone’. One of the key principles behind Limmud is that everyone has something to contribute and participants can learn from each other. Events are organized by teams made up of volunteers; presenters are treated as part of the community.


International Presenters

 Lisa Alcalay Klug is an award-winning journalist who has published hundreds of articles in The New York Times, Forward, and many other media outlets. Since the release of her book, Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe in 2008, she has presented at more than 100 events, including Limmud NY, Atlanta, Berlin, Amsterdam, Budapest, and the "mothership" in the UK.
Martin Lockshin who has Winnipeg roots  is professor of Jewish Studies and Hebrew at York University in Toronto where he has been working for the last 32 years.  His primary area of scholarly expertise is the history of Jewish Bible commentaries but he is interested in many issues related to Jewish intellectual history
Laura Wiseman is the Director of Jewish Educators Program at York University. She manages the Jewish Teacher Education Program at York University in Toronto. Her doctoral dissertation is called Lamentations of a Lovelorn Soul: Self Portraits in the Poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch.
Rabbi David Seidenberg is the creator of NeoHasid and teaches text and music, Jewish thought and spirituality, in their own right and in relation to ecology and the environment. Areas include Kabbalah and Chasidut (interpretation of Judaism articulated by the modern Hasidic movement), Talmud, Davening (prayer), evolution and cosmology, sustainability, Maimonides, Buber, and more.
Ryla Braemer, a native Winnipegger is currently the Manager, Israel Education and Advocacy at University Outreach Committee. a department of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy.
Yaacov Fruchter is the first full-time Spiritual Leader of the Annex Synagogue a vibrant and inclusive community based Synagogue for young professionals and families in downtown Toronto.
Moshe Katz is an Israeli Krav Maga (martial arts)expert.
Rabbi Tovia Singer is the Director of Outreach Judaism and renowned as a host on Israel National Radio. Outreach Judaism is dedicated to countering the efforts of Christian groups who target Jews for conversion. He is the author of 'Let’s Get Biblical: Why Doesn’t Judaism Accept the Christian Messiah?'
Sampling of Local Talent

[note: The editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review  will be speaking at Limmud on: Israel - Jordan relations in the aftermath of the upheaval in Egypt ]


         Larry Pinsker     Divine Dreams in New Bottles: Comic Book Superheroes and Jewish Social Idealism  


           Anibal Mass                 Jewish Issues in Opera 


  •  Neal Rose                    Kabbalah in the 21st Century, Spirituality of Aging 
  •  Larry Lander               Jewish Vocabulary 101 (For Intermarried Couples) 
  •  Ari Ellis                       Does God Really Want our Sacrifices? 
  •  Kayla Gordon              Jewish Improvisation/Storytelling 
  •  Yael Shrom                 American Jewish World Service; An Incredible Opportunity 
  •  Catherine Emanuel      Back to Basics:The Use of Jewish Ritual Objects, Hands on Judaism 
  •  Sharon Delbridge        Zumba Dance Fitness Party- Israeli Style 
  •  David Greaves             Zionism on Ice - My journey with the Israeli Bobsled Team  
  •  Alan Green                  Jewish Meditation  
  •  Allan Levine                General Themes in Jewish History  
  •  Steven Hyman              Peter Pan, Robin Hood, Bernie Madoff, and Steven Harper: Can Jewish Business Ethics teach us anything today? 
  •  Ben Baader                  Jewish Life after the Holocaust: Europe and North America,Then and Now  
  •  Faith Kaplan                Boreh Pri Hagafen: An Introduction to Wine Tasting 
  •  Daniel Ashrafi                    Iran’s Vision for the Middle East: What Israel and the West Should Know 
  •  Justin Jaron Lewis        Jewish Joke Swap 
  •  Ruth Ashrafi                  The Modern Jewish Parent’s Guide to Shabbat: Parenting with a Twist of Tradition 
  •  Kinsey Posen                Shalom Aleichem or Saalam Aleikum: How Hebrew and Arabic are Closer than You Think 
  •  Yael Silver                    Baba’s Recipes: Cooking Demonstration 
  •   Haskell Greenfield        Searching for Goliath: Archaeological Excavations  
  • Rena Elbaze                   Israel’s media image in France.
 Limmud is presentedby Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, Rady Jewish Community Centre, Chesed Shel Emet, Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education, Congregation Etz Chayim, Congregation Shaarey Zedek, Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, Winnipeg Chapter
Asper Jewish Community Campus
123 Doncaster Street


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