“Women of the Bimah” photo exhibit visits the Terraces of Baycrest

From left to right: Esther Kirshenblatt, Sarah Tessis, Rabbi Rena Arshinoff, Shirley Train and Sylvia Soicher.

From left to right: Esther Kirshenblatt, Sarah Tessis, Rabbi Rena Arshinoff, Shirley Train and Sylvia Soicher.

This past month, photographer Victor Helfand brought his photo exhibition, titled Women of the Bimah, to the Terraces of Baycrest.

Dedicated to women contributing to synagogue services, the idea came to him when he was in shul for his mother’s yahrzeit. Victor started by taking a photo of a friend who was the gabbai on the bimah, and as his shul was celebrating its 100th anniversary, he came up with the idea of creating a centennial book featuring photos of women involved with the synagogue.

“I took pictures of 18 women from our synagogue from 16 to 92 years old. It was a very interesting project, and in the middle of producing the book I naturally decided to search for images of women on the bimah by other photographers,” says Helfand. “What came up was just women at the wall, and I realized that what I was doing was pretty unique.”

Helfand didn’t stop there, as he continued to capture photos of women participating in synagogue services all over Toronto, and then all around the world. Currently, his collection contains pictures from synagogues in New York, Miami, Boston and Berlin. Next, Helfand plans to photograph women at synagogues in Hong Kong.

“Photographs from the Terraces of Baycrest are a very meaningful part of my collection,” says Helfand. “When Rabbi Rena contacted me, I thought that it was a great opportunity to photograph older women who are taking an active role at their synagogue.”

Ena Segall, a Terraces of Baycrest Resident, with her picture at the exhibit.

Ena Segall, a Terraces of Baycrest Resident, with her picture at the exhibit.

This past spring, Helfand’s photo collection was on display at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre for the Scotiabank Contact Photograph Festival. This November, Helfand brought the exhibition to the Terraces of Baycrest.

“A lot of people at Baycrest feel they did not grow up with women having an active role in either being a Rabbi or taking part in the services,” says Rabbi Rena Arshinoff, a specialist in Pastoral Care at Baycrest. “As a female Rabbi, when I first came to Baycrest, it was a surprise for some clients. Women can take an active role at the synagogue. It provides opportunities that make them feel wonderful. They can learn something new and not to be afraid to do something that they were not so familiar with. With some assistance, many women come up and stand next to me to say blessings in front of the Torah, and that’s a wonderful feeling.”

Helfand plans to continue this photo series for another year and a half. From there, he hopes to produce a Women on the Bimah book, which will include all the best shots from his travels around the world.