What I call ‘The Heart of the Old World’ is a Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto located along Bathurst Street between Lawrence Avenue West and Wilson Avenue. My particular little section of that neighbourhood is a kind of wide ‘H-shaped’ area with Ameer Avenue as the left side of the “H”, Bathurst Street as the right side of the “H” and Ranee Avenue as the long crosspiece in the middle.
A heck of a lot of my Jewish life is lovingly crammed into those few blocks. Almost all of my Jewish friends live there, most of them within a block or so north, south or east of Ranee and Ameer.
My tiny shteibl , Bais Dov Yosef Congregation (aka Rabbi Bartfeld’s shul, aka The Strudel King) is located on the east side of Bathurst at the corner of Ranee. It used to be an old store and is now my spiritual home. I know most of the guys there. I study there. I pray there. It’s where I discuss and debate and argue. It’s where I recharge my spiritual batteries. It’s where I am closer to G-d.
A lot of neighbourhoods in Toronto, as with other large cities, are a block-by-block proposition. Within this particular few blocks of Bathurst Street it is practically a door by door proposition. The Gur Shteibl (aka The Gerer Shtiebl) is a few doors down from R’ Bartfeld’s shul. Stepping inside the Ger on a Friday evening, you can almost feel the holiness there!
Both are across the street from Isaac’s Bakery.
A few doors further up Bathurst and you are at the Grodzinki kosher bakery. The Grodzinki’s have been bakers in England since 1888. In 1999, the first Grodzinski bakery was opened in Toronto thus continuing the family baking traditions into the fourth and fifth generations. It’s worth it just to step inside and breathe in the goodness. Their baked goods are out of this world. Aside from the challahs hand-made by my dear friends Sheryl Burke (Toronto), Channa Lavin (Hamilton) or Aviva Cohen (Winnipeg), the Grodzinki challahs are near or at the top of the list. 
A few more doors up Bathurst and you are at the Aleph Bet Judaica bookstore owned and operated by a seriously cool Israeli family. Whenever I am coming into town for Shabbes (Sabbath) or a yontiff (Jewish holy day), I make a point of going into this book store first and buying as many English language Jewish newspapers as I can get a hold of… Yated Ne’eman, HaModia, Canadian Jewish News, Jewish Press and even ‘that shmatta’… The Forward, (i.e. The Jewish Daily Forward, which is actually a weekly).
One door up from Aleph Bet is Milk ‘N Honey kosher dairy restaurant and catering. Wonderful stuff in a good, friendly and heimishe  atmosphere.
The very next door up is the incredible Umami Sushi… Toronto’s Original Kosher authentic sushi establishment. It opened in the summer of 2001, and has since become the premier choice in Toronto for Sushi. Andrew Novak has been involved with Umami Sushi since 2002. In 2007 Sarah & Andrew Novak purchased Umami Sushi and, continuing in the Umami Sushi tradition, Andrew provides the best and freshest product available. (Full disclosure… Sarah Zeldman-Novak is a friend of mine) It’s basically a take-out and catering place although you could pull up a stool at the counter at the front window and have a sushi snack right there!
I don’t know why this appears to be so… but while most regular run-of-the-mill garden variety (i.e. non-Orthodox) Jews love chinese food, a great many Orthodox Jews adore sushi. I am no exception although I recently realized I have developed a mild allergic skin reaction to wasabi. I disclosed this shocking development in a previous blog. I don’t want to get into it right now. It’s still too upsetting.
The very next door up is Toronto Kosher. Great place for grabbing things at the last minute for Shabbes dinner but I have to warn you, the closer you get to closing time, the more jam-packed and crazy it’s going to be in there! 
A few doors up is Negev Book & Gift Store, another wonderful Jewish bookstore. I try to split my business between Negev and Aleph Bet so they can both earn my money and I don’t favour one over the other. Parnassa (‘livelihood’ in Yiddish and Hebrew) is a very important concept in Judaism and I feel obligated to try to give my business to as many people as I can.
Across the street from Aleph Bet, Milk N Honey, Umami Sushi and Toronto Kosher is Kosher City Plus. This is a kosher supermarket with a wide selection of products. I don’t think I have ever seen Kosher City Plus with fewer than 20 customers in it at any given time. The place is always packed. The produce is good and it is just so great walking up and down the aisles and not have to worry about whether the product you want is kosher or not. EVERYTHING is kosher there so just grab what you like! For a view inside Kosher City Plus, check out this YouTube music video, ‘Yalili in Toronto’.
A few doors up from Kosher City Plus is Hartmans Fine Kosher Foods… an old-fashioned butcher shop with modern sensibilities. There’s a full-service meat counter and everything is cut on the premises, so customers’ specifications are easily accommodated. A wide selection of prepared foods (from spicy eggplant salad to the ever-popular chopped liver) makes it easy to put together a quick and delicious meal. There is also a range of items that caters to the local South African market, including such finds as boerwurst and biltong jerky. Can’t say that I’ve ever eaten boerwurst and biltong jerky myself but my Capetown and Jo’burg friends assure me that I am a fool for not trying this stuff.
Right next to Hartmans is the Dairy Treats European Café & Bakery, a wonderful kosher place for breakfast or lunch. Great food in a casual, friendly atmosphere. Last time I was there, it was shoulder to shoulder throughout the restaurant but everyone was really enjoying themselves.
Across the street from Dairy Treats and just a bit up from Negev is Tov-Li. I recently had one of their famous falafels. It was SO delicious and very filling! Perfect for a quick satisfying lunch!
Across the street from that… and up the street from that… and a few doors past that… and across the street from that… and beside that… and next door to that…
And… this is not to mention the dozen or so synagogues and other religious and cultural organizations scattered about in these few small blocks including one that is most near and dear to my heart, the Canadian office of Jews for Judaism!
It is a fabulous part of town and it is so vibrant and full of life. I would expect that many people drive by it or through it and hardly notice an entire Orthodox Jewish culture and civilization right under their noses and under the radar… unseen and yet in plain sight. All you have to do is look… really look… and a whole new world will open up to you!
Wednesday evening, September 28, 2011, is the beginning of Rosh HaShana… the first day of Tishrei, 5772!
G-d willing, I will have the pleasure of spending the Jewish High Holy Days in Toronto in The Heart of the Old World.
 A shtiebl, also shtiebel, (Yiddish: שטיבל meaning “little house” or “little room”) is a place used for communal Jewish prayer – basically a tiny synagogue. In contrast to a larger more formal synagogue, a shtiebel is far smaller and approached more casually. A shtiebel is most often a little hole-in-the-wall place where Orthodox Jews, often comprised partially or entirely of hasidim, come to pray and study.
 Honourable mention goes to the sweet raisin egg challahs from the Sobey’s in Thornhill.
 Heimishe. (Yiddish) means ‘homey.’
 Many years ago, it used to be the location of Stroli’s, a kosher food store owned and operated by Rabbi Stroli. I loved going there and talking to his kitchen staff who were almost all Italian! R’ Stroli used to make these meat-filled knishes (we called them ‘cannon balls’) which he would hand out free to his customers.