Aurora, Newmarket and Barrie City Profiles
A Smaller Community With Its Own Rewards
By Elysse Zarek, revised by Sarah Bleiwas
There are benefits to living north of Toronto: cleaner air, less traffic, more affordable housing. However, the Jewish population in northern York Region and beyond is small and scattered. Jewish residents say that it’s not enough to be Jewish in a small community – you have to work hard at it. In many of these smaller towns, the synagogue is the centre of Jewish life, filling religious, educational and social needs for the community.
Marty T. who grew up in Toronto and now lives in a town with “a variety store and a four-way stop sign” north of Barrie, says that it takes more effort to live Jewishly in a smaller city.
“You have to definitely search it out. You can easily stay hidden if you choose to. You have to make more of an effort because it’s a smaller community but that offers its own rewards,” he says. “You have to put in more, especially with children, to do Shabbat and things like that. My kids almost demanded that I come into their public schools and do Chanukah and Pesach. They’re very proud of their Judaism. They’re quite unique. The parents of the kids in their classes always come and thank me for bringing a little bit of different culture to their school.”
Aurora is located in York Region, directly north of Richmond Hill. Aurora is a picturesque town of approximately 43,500 people. The town has experienced an unprecedented population explosion – since 1986, Aurora’s population has more than doubled from 20,905 to its current size, and town planners expect it to continue growing. Many Aurora residents commute to Toronto. The proximity of Highway 404 means that traveling to the city is quick and easy.
UIA Canada's National Task Force on Jewish Demographics, 2009 noted that Aurora has 3,851 Jews, more than double the number noted in the 2001 Census. Children to age 14 make up over 35% of the Jewish population. The only Jewish infrastructure in the town is the Chabad of Aurora. Chabad of Aurora is part of the Chabad Lubavitch movement and welcomes all Jews regardless of background or affiliation, to participate in its programs – which include regular classes for adults, featured lectures, Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation, family counselling and much more. They also have a preschool and women’s circle.
Alternatively, Jewish residents can commute to other areas for Jewish infrastructure. Some Aurora Jews drive north to Or Hadash Congregation in Newmarket for synagogue services, Hebrew school and religious programming. Others often make the 10 minute commute to Richmond Hill, where one can find shuls, Jewish schools, shops and services. Thornhill is also nearby. The median price for a single detached house in Aurora is $420,300.
Newmarket is located north of Aurora in northern York Region. Its population of 65,800 is relatively young – nearly 25 per cent of Newmarket’s population is under 15. Many residents commute to work in Richmond Hill, Thornhill and Toronto, but choose to live in Newmarket because of more affordable housing. Although Newmarket has a public bus service, most residents get around by car.
There are 740 Jews living in Newmarket, according to the 2001 census.
Shelley has made her home in Newmarket for nearly 20 years. Although she commutes to downtown Toronto for work, she says moving back to the big city isn’t an option for her.
“My daughter is growing up here. She has all her friends here. And to be perfectly honest, I have Or Hadash here and it has become a very big part of my life,” she says.
Or Hadash Congregation is the only Jewish infrastructure in Newmarket. The Reform synagogue has weekly Shabbat services, Jewish education for children and adults, and social and community events. Its 80 member families come from Aurora, Bradford, Keswick and Gwillimbury.
Local grocery stores carry limited selections of kosher food during Passover. Residents seeking kosher meat head south to Richmond Hill, which is 20 minutes . away. The median price for a single detached house in Newmarket is $407,500.
The city of Barrie is located in Simcoe County, one hour north of Toronto. It sits at the south end of Lake Simcoe and is the gateway to Muskoka, Ontario’s cottage country. Barrie is also one of the fastest-growing cities in Ontario. The 2001 Canadian census, shows that Barrie has grown by 31 per cent since 1996, which is the largest population growth in Ontario outside of the GTA. Its current population is more than 100,000. Barrie’s Jewish population is 715 people (Canada Census, 2001). The median price for a single detached house is $440,100.
Barrie is home to the Am Shalom Congregation. The Reform congregation began as the Simcoe County Jewish Association. For forty years, the Simcoe County Jewish Association met in private homes, offices and rented spaces. In 2001, it changed its name to Am Shalom Congregation, and in 2003 bult a 5000 square-foot building. There are currently 80 member families coming from as far as Newmarket to the south, Bracebridge to the north and Collingwood to the west. It has weekly Shabbat services and a Hebrew school. The congregation offers regular Shabbat and High Holy Day services, in addition to a vibrant Hebrew school with programs for all ages – from toddlers to adult education. The synagogue also hosts social activities, film festivals and houses a Jewish library
Also in Barrie one finds the Jewish Community of Barrie (JACOB). This unaffiliated group meets often for social gatherings, guest speakers, and holidays. The goal of JACOB is to establish a community where Jews can feel at home – with a support system and educational programs.
Further north of Barrie is the town of Orillia where one can visit the Orillia Country Shul. Jews from Barrie can commute here for the Sabbath morning services which take place during July and August.
There is a selection of kosher foods at local grocery stores, especially during Passover. Kosher wine is available at the local liquor store.
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