Despite the unceasing medical, economic, emotional, psychological and physical stresses of the past 21 months, the institutions of our society remain intact. The democratic underpinnings of our way of life are strong and unyielding. That is not the case, as we sadly know, in other jurisdictions.
Within the larger society, our Jewish community has been exemplary. Responding to crisis with compassion and a plan, the community’s intervention has been based upon the reasoned hierarchy of urgent needs. The community – “ordinary” members, lay and professional leadership – has attempted to give real-time, contemporary meaning to the catchword “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh.” (We are guarantors and responsible one for the other.)
Hardships and suffering in certain pockets persist. How could they not? But caring for each other is no mere slogan in Jewish GTA. It is, rather, a guiding value. For example, it was during the early stages of the pandemic, that the community launched the Generations Trust Scholarship Fund to help middle class families afford day school tuition.
Three years ago, Adam Minsky, president and CEO of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, referred to Jewish education as “the backbone of our community”. He said at the time that UJA Federation would devise a plan to place the affordability of Jewish education “at the forefront of [the community’s] efforts.” The Generations Trust Scholarship Fund is an imperfect instrument. But its creation is evidence that the community has been true to its word.
There is more to do. And we must all try – in our own way- to do our part.
Last year, in the final GAJE update of 2020, we wrote: “There is still time to move the provincial government to act fairly in distributing federally funded Covid relief funds for the benefit of all of Ontario’s school children. Next month Ontario will disburse the second tranche of some $400 million from the federal government designed to help make our schools Covid safe. Independent schools received none of the monies from the first federal allocation even though the funding Ontario received was based upon a formula that included all school-aged children.”
As we all know, Ontario distributed not even one penny to independent schools of the $760 million from the federally funded school Covid safety funds. We do acknowledge and thank the province for making rapid testing kits available to independent schools. But isn’t that the right thing to have done all along?
There is no denying however, that Ontario continues to discriminate against secular and denominational independent schools in relation to educational funding. GAJE believes that the best way, at this stage, to end that discrimination is by appealing to the courts.
There is so much in our heritage, our wisdom literature, our history, our customs and in our traditions from which to find inspiration. Indeed, we also find inspiration in the many kindnesses that people do for each other and have been doing for each other during these nearly two years of confined, confounding pandemic.
Helping to make Jewish education affordable to our many Jewish families is not a matter of kindness. In Ontario, alas, it is a matter of fundamental justice.
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Shabbat shalom. And best wishes for a healthy, Covid-free new year.
Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE),
December 31, 2021