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Where To Experience The Best Of Jewish Toronto In 2016

03/01/2016 12:09 EST | Updated 03/02/2017 05:12 EST

2016-02-29-1456764678-5851402-MiriamandNoahTorontosign.JPG Photo: Miriam Porter

Growing up in Toronto I can attest to its thriving Jewish community. Not only is Toronto a great place for locals, it's truly a special destination as a Jewish tourist. In fact, half of Toronto's population was born outside of Canada, so it's fitting that Toronto's motto is "Diversity is our Strength."

Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with more than 140 languages and dialects spoken and a population of close to three million people. According to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Toronto is home to Canada's largest Jewish population with approximately 200,000 Jews living in the Greater Toronto Area. If you want to be immersed in unique Jewish culture and explore all that Jewish Toronto has to offer, pack your bags and come on down!

Porter Airlines flies direct to Toronto from many major U.S. and Canadian cities, arriving at the city island airport versus Toronto's main airport hub -- so you are right downtown in the heart of Toronto upon landing.

The airport is connected to the mainland by ferries (a 90-second ride) and a tunnel where you can zoom along a moving sidewalk towards the city. If you fly into Pearson International Airport from one of the many airlines you can take the new convenient UP Express downtown to Union Station.

Ashkenaz Festival

Not far from the world famous CN Tower is the Harbourfront Centre. Located on 10 acres along the shores of Lake Ontario, it's a non-profit cultural organization with events for the whole family rotating seasonally. They have original vendors, music, films, and cultural festivals; including the Ashkenaz Festival -- one of the biggest showcases of Jewish culture and music in the world. It was created to profile Yiddish and Klezmer music and has grown over time to offer Jewish cultural arts, traditions of Eastern Europe, Sephardic, Mizrachi and Israeli culture. The next Ashkenaz Festival takes place from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, 2016.

Jewish Film Festival

While on the theme of Jewish entertainment, Toronto has a Jewish Film Festival. Watching movies are a great way to learn about Jewish culture, identity, and diversity. The next festival is May 5 to15, 2016 and will feature original films with Jewish themes about the past, present and future and an ideal way for all cultural backgrounds to learn about Jewish culture.

Jewish Music Week

Get ready to sing your favourite Jewish songs or learn some new ones at Jewish Music Week from May 29 to June 5, 2016. There are concerts, recitals and musical events throughout the city. These lively events include Sephardic and Klezmer music, Israeli pop, Jazz, folk, gospel, Yiddish theater and more! Daytime events are free and money raised from most evening concerts benefit Toronto charities.

Hungry yet?

Toronto's got you covered for authentic and tasty food and diversity comes through in restaurants too. If you keep kosher you can check out multiple restaurants along historic Bathurst Street, including an exceptional place for kosher sushi take-out hiding in the back of Richmond's Kosher Bakery (4119 Bathurst St). As a kid, I grew up going to United Bakers (not kosher, but no meat) and it has a very Jew-ish feel to it, complete with Bubbie and Zadies eating there regularly. My personal favourites are the plethora of restaurants serving up healthy vegan food and are ideal if you don't consume animal products or are looking for meat-free dining. You can easily find them scattered throughout the city such as Fresh, Vegetarian Haven and Urban Herbivore.

A Hotel that gives Tzedakah (Hebrew for 'charity')

After a busy day you will want a cozy place to sleep and the Chelsea Hotel Toronto is perfect. Located downtown, it's Canada's largest hotel and great for families. It's the hotel my son and I choose every summer for our annual "stay-cation" getaway. He loves the 130-foot corkscrew waterslide and the games in the Family Fun Zone, not to mention the adorable rabbits that call this unique hotel home. I have always been impressed with the Chelsea's commitment to Tzedakah and giving back to the community through their support of SickKids Foundation. In 2014 they presented $90,000 dollars to the Foundation to help patients at Toronto's world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children.

Historical Synagogues

Should you be staying at the Chelsea over Shabbat and want to attend synagogue, you can walk to Kensington Market. The Anshei Minsk Synagogue in Kensington is the last remaining downtown Orthodox Shul, which began around 1916. Kensington is considered one of the best street markets in Canada and has a feel for all things trendy, alternative, and old school, mixed together. During the 1920s this was a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood and now represents people of all backgrounds and cultures -- a perfect example of Toronto's motto.

If you are looking for more background on Toronto's Jewish culture while in town, check out the Holocaust Museum and Memorial at the Holocaust Education Centre and the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, which hosts a permanent photography exhibit of Toronto's first synagogues.

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