The pattern has been established. And it is devastating.
The Board of Directors of Associated Hebrew Schools (AHS) announced this week that it must downsize its northern GTA branch. The extent of student enrollment cannot justify housing the school in the Atkinson Avenue campus in Thornhill. AHS will begin the somber task of looking for an alternative site for the school.
The AHS announcement is the third GTA day school-related announcement in the past half-year.
In November, Leo Baeck Day School announced it would leave its northern campus. It subsequently sold the building. In March, CHAT announced it would close its northern Kimel campus and consolidate enrollment at the southern Wallenberg Campus.
Now comes the AHS announcement.
Like the resounding blasts of the shofar on Yom Kippur, the latest news must act as a wake-up call to the community. Where are we headed? What will become of the much vaunted activist Jewish community of Greater Toronto in 10 to 20 years if fewer and fewer of our children will receive an essential grounding in identity-building Jewish education? History will correctly judge our generation harshly if under our watch we allowed the broadly diverse Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish education system to be so undermined that we merely watched as it dwindled to its extinction, leaving in its footprints haredi or far-right Orthodox schools.
Some people in the community have attempted to explain the recent school closures and downsizing on the basis of demographic differences between the communities of the north and of the south. But the history of Jewish GTA belies this argument. Newly arriving waves of immigrants were always afforded educational opportunities when they wished it. Indeed, in a further sad historical irony, it was always AHS – as the default community elementary school – to which the children of new immigrant families were sent.
What is not in doubt however – over the last decade or more – is that the families of the northern GTA have not been given the possibility to decide on Jewish education for their children on the basis of paying affordable rates of tuition – without submitting to the dignity-denying process of applying for subsidies.
As a community, do we not owe those families – do we not owe all families – that possibility? In fact, until recently, we had always acknowledged that we did.
Some 25 years ago the Board of Jewish Education reminded the Federation of Greater Jewish Toronto that however it restructures the funding of its many communal priorities, its approach to the funding of Jewish education, “should assure the continued existence of a system that guarantees the right of Jewish education to all children whose families seek to provide them with such an education, regardless of the family’s ability to pay.”
Sadly, our community is now reaping the shriveling harvest of a failure to guarantee – in a meaningfully implementable way for average middle class families – the right of Jewish education to all children.
We must find the will to truly restore that guarantee.
We owe that to our grandparents as well as to our grandchildren.