Supposedly there’s a eruv (ritual enclosure) in downtown Toronto. Otherwise – for traditionally observant Jews – carrying objects on Shabbat is forbidden. But it’s hard to leave the house for, say, a synagogue service if you can’t carry the keys to your house with you. This vestige of downtown Toronto’s Jewish past is mysterious, nearly apocryphal, because it certainly did once exist, no one is quite sure where its boundaries and borders once began and ended.
Toronto’s Jewish community reaches back to the early 19th century, when immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe came to Canada, fleeing pogroms and persecution. Initially, Jews settled in Kensington Market, but many moved north following World War II, as a new influx of refugees emigrated from Holocaust-decimated Europe.
Today, the majority of Toronto’s Jews live in the north part of the city, mostly along Bathurst (a north-south street) between St. Clair Ave. and Steeles Ave. (For more information on Jewish Toronto, click here.)
Thus, Toronto has only one official eruv, and it comprises a narrow swath of the northern part of the city, leaving most of Toronto outside its boundaries. The semi-mythical downtown eruv, reportedly made not of streets or string but of the buildings of the city themselves, remains an enigma as no one can verify which buildings were a part of the eruv.
Maybe someday some enterprising historian will unearth the boundaries and history of the downtown eruv; it would certainly engender more picnics by Toronto’s southern shoreline, which (in the summer months, at least) would be a wonderful way to spend Shabbat.