It’s been a year. Let the government hear from us

Just over a year ago Doug Ford was elected to form the government of Ontario. He became the province’s 26th premier. The year has veritably galloped across the field of time. With one week left in the school year, it is appropriate to measure the government’s path in relation to the issues of concern to GAJE.

Alas. There appears to have been no public movement by the government to ameliorate the unfairness of the current educational funding system. The five largest provinces, outside of Ontario, extend some funding to independent schools. This is not simply a matter of self-interest on the part of families wishing to enrol their children in independent schools. The experience of B.C. has shown that by conferring some form of funding assistance to independent schools, they spend public funds more efficiently than Ontario and achieve stronger educational outcomes than Ontario. 

We must not retreat from reminding the government of the need to address these vital educational funding matters. Nor is there any harm in doing so. Indeed, there is only harm in not doing so. 

An excellent starting point is to join the education-related, communal initiative – Every Kid Counts – already underway. We wrote about this campaign last month. It is important that we do so again.

Every Kid Counts is aimed at changing the government’s policy that “denies many students with special needs access to various essential health services because they happen to attend an independent school.”

Federation and CIJA are urging the government “to expand the range of services offered by the School Health Support Services program” to include every child with special needs who face unique learning challenges. The government’s funding policy is wrong, Federation and CIJA state, ”because it denies children with disabilities access to the educational environments they may require. We believe every student, regardless of ability, should have equal access to the services they need to succeed.”

The Every Kid Counts campaign may be accessed at:

After one year, the Government of Ontario is no longer new. It is time they heard from our grassroots about the issues that matter so vitally to us and to our future.

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

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‘Encouraging questions encourages learning’

Israeli-based author Maayan Gutbezahl posted an article on Jeducation World entitled Let My People Know: The Steinsaltz Approach to Jewish Education that explores the radically thoughtful approach to teaching established by the renown scholar, writer, educator, thinker.

In the course of the article, Gutbezahl quotes Rabbi Michel Falk, the head of the Steinsaltz Yeshiva in Tekoa, Israel and a former student of Steinsaltz. “Many young Jews don’t feel totally at home in their Jewish lives,” Rabbi Falk said. He must have been speaking tongue-in-cheek for his observation ranks as profound understatement.

But in describing the essential task of the educator, Rabbi Falk spoke plainly the core challenge. “Many young Jews feel that a Jewish life is something that belongs to their grandparent’s generation, or to the rabbis in the synagogue, but it’s not something accessible to the personal life of the common Jew. And that is the challenge we have today – how to help young students understand that they, too, can really ‘own’ their Judaism.”

How young Jews can be helped to feel that they too can “own” their Judaism in an authentic, meaningful way is an appropriate question to ponder on the eve of Shavuot.

For it is, after all, the holiday that commemorates when the disparate, rabble of former slaves received the prescription for leading a good, worthy, purposeful life: freedom, a mission and the Law. 

The teaching method that Rabbi Steinsaltz introduced and which subsequently became considered as revolutionary in the Orthodox world “seeks to pull back the veil obscuring texts and encourages students to find their way to the peshat, or simple meaning, by blazing their own trail in the pursuit of Jewish knowledge.”

In other words, the venerated scholar/teacher encourages, even demands, that his students think for themselves and not be afraid to ask questions.

“The Steinsaltz philosophy,”Gutbezahl wrote, “is rooted in the importance of questions as an educational tool, as they are uniquely personal. By asking questions, and receiving targeted answers, students start to feel like a piece of text is something that they can understand and relate to, instead of something that rabbis with many years of study managed to “figure out,” with unquestioned accuracy.”

The motto of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s educational endeavours is “Let my People Know.” He is not reluctant to hear, let alone answer difficult, if sincere, questions.

It is a motto GAJE endorses on behalf of the community’s families and children. It is imperative that young Jews know who they are. Only thus can they make informed decisions about how they wish to live their lives as Jews. But the schools, where their questions will be encouraged, must be affordable.

Gutbezahl’s article is available here:

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach

GAJE

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Good intentions are not enough

In his commentary this week on parshat Behukotai, Rabbi Marc D. Angel, inspires us that we can take to heart in our efforts to make Jewish education truly affordable. He imparts the message that it is vital for individuals to move past good intentions. To make a difference, individuals must actually take steps.

It is not always an easy thing to do. Rabbi Angel understands this. People become locked into their routines and often cannot summon the will to make the required change. But he encourages us not to yield to the inertia of good intentions.

He finds compelling wisdom in the words traditionally spoken out loud by synagogue congregations when the public reading of one of the Five Books is completed. The words vary somewhat between Sephardi and Ashkenazi congregations. But they are variations on the same theme. Indeed, they rely upon the very same core phrase. In Rabbi Angel’s synagogue the congregation proclaims (in Hebrew, of course): “Be strong, and let us strengthen ourselves; be strong and let your heart have courage, all you who hope in the Lord.”

He tells us that “hizku” can be translated as “strengthen yourselves, be resolute”. Only after we adopt that sense of resolve, “ve-ye-ametz levavhem”, then “God, in turn, will give courage to your hearts.”

The first step, Rabbi Angel suggests, is to strengthen ourselves in the face of self-doubt, or lack of confidence, or feeling stymied. Then we must decide to take action. Rabbi Angel writes it very succinctly: “We need to take the initiative; we need to demonstrate resolution; we need to assume responsibility.”

Rabbi Angel’s insistence upon the need to act, to take initiative resonated for him with a memory of a reading in “The Heart of Man” by Erich Fromm. “Most people fail in the art of living not because they are inherently bad or so without will that they cannot live a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see when they stand at a fork in the road and have to decide.” (Our emphasis)

It is not hard to see how Rabbi Angel’s and Fromm’s insights apply to GAJE’s mission. Affordable Jewish education is achievable. We – the community – must make it so. We stand at a fork in the road. The path we choose will determine the Jewish future of our community. We cannot leave the responsibility to the next generation. We must act now.

Rabbi Angel’s dvar Torah is available here.

The Federation agrees with this depiction of the situation. The leadership has proclaimed making Jewish education affordable to be the community’s top priority.

One of the education-related, communal initiatives underway is a campaign, Every Kid Counts, to remedy discrimination by the Government of Ontario that “denies many students with special needs access to various essential health services because they happen to attend an independent school.”

Federation and CIJA are urging the government “to expand the range of services offered by the School Health Support Services program” to include every child with special needs who face unique learning challenges. The government’s funding policy is wrong, Federation and CIJA state, ”because it denies children with disabilities access to the educational environments they may require. We believe every student, regardless of ability, should have equal access to the services they need to succeed.”

GAJE agrees with this effort by Federation and CIJA. Community members must join the effort. In the words of Rabbi Angel and Erich Fromm, we must recognize we are at a fork in the road that requires us to decide to act. Go to the Every Kid Counts site to let the government know that the discrimination in its funding policies is offensive and objectionable.

The Every Kid Counts campaign may be accessed here.

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

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Cultural virtuosity possible through day school

People familiar with modern scholarship in the field of Jewish education know Alex Pomson. He is Principal and Managing Director of Rosov Consulting Israel, and is renowned worldwide as an expert on Jewish day school.

Pomson also has a special connection to the GTA. He was Koschitzky Family Chair in Jewish Teacher Education at York University where he was the coordinator of York’s Jewish Teacher Education Programme. When he writes about Jewish education it is worthwhile to pay attention.

Last week, Pomson published an article on eJewishPhilanthropy entitled The Promise of Day School Education: Cultural Virtuosity in which he effusively celebrates the potential of day school education “to create Jewish cultural virtuosos  – people with outstanding ability to contribute to Jewish culture” thereby permanently contributing to the life of the student and to surrounding society.

He recorded his thoughts after a visit to a day school in Nashville and one in Chicago during the post-Pesach holidays.

“Hundreds of miles apart, these students were being initiated into the essentials of Jewish culture: the ability to tell stories about profound moments from the Jewish past, contribute to the well-being of society, engage in meaning-generating text-study, pray fluently, and appreciate Israel’s significance. These skills and knowledge went beyond merely being culturally competent.

“Research about those who become virtuosos in music, art, and business highlights the benefits of doing the same tasks repeatedly….

“In a day school setting, through the repeated practice of well-crafted experiences, day after day, week after week, year after year, children have an opportunity to become virtuosos of sorts. The day school setting offers a routinized structure (routine in the healthy sense of regularized) with the opportunity over time for learners to internalize important values, become experts in complex endeavors, and grow in responsibility – when skilled school leadership and educators are in place. With the possibility of achieving such outcomes, day school students have a launching pad from which to make a decisive contribution to Jewish communal thriving.”

We do not frequently enough hear about or read of the rich, long-lasting, transformative value of a day school education, let alone of its excellence. And yet what is true in the GTA, is probably true in every community where Jews live, the vast majority of graduates from a Jewish high school will be able to move on and succeed to the next stage of their lives, whether at university, college or other places of post secondary study, employment or other manner of personal adventure and development.

For most of our children, day school is a profoundly positive experience. Pomson adds that it can be a potential preparation for surpassingly virtuosic performances later in life. If only it were affordable for all the families that seek such education for their children.

Pomson’s full article is available here

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

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An innovate effort

We  – and many others before us – have often made the point that the best, though not only, way of ensuring a meaningful, vibrant, compassionate, active, diversely Jewish community in the future is through education. Education is the foundation that will permanently support the communal structure. The singular purpose of making Jewish education more affordable, therefore, is to bring more children into Jewish schools.

The key, however, is getting more children into Jewish schools. That is the preeminent cause, the success of which will reap long-lasting cultural, moral and societal benefits.

That is why GAJE has always let our readers know about the other important and innovative attempts in the community to seat more children in the chairs of a Jewish school. ADRABA is one such innovative effort. We have written about it in the past.

ADRABA, the reimagined Jewish high school, whose doors are slated to open in the fall of 2019 has announced that it is launching a part-time program in September.    

ADRABA organizers advise that the school will meet twice a week, once at its 47 Glenbrook Ave. location and once in a “satellite location” that will rotate around the GTA based on numbers and neighbourhoods.  The course will run from September through June and focus on comparative religion (which is, essentially, Medieval Jewish history).  The cost will be $500.  

For further information about this part-time program, you are asked to email Dan Aviv at drdan@adraba.ca or at this email (adraba.toronto@gmail.com).  There’s also a bot at the ADRABA website (adraba.ca) as well as at their Facebook page

More opportunities for our children to acquire Jewish education are to be encouraged and always welcome.

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

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The candles we lit

The two weeks on the Jewish calendar after Pesach continue with the powerful theme of peoplehood so poignantly introduced and taught in our forebears’ exodus from Egypt.

Yesterday, the 27th day of Nisan, we commemorated Yom Hashoah v’Hagvurah. Next week on the 4th and 5th days of Iyar, respectively – adjusted for the Sabbath this year – we mark Yom Hazicaron and Yom Ha’atzma’ut.

It is only through education – in all its enriching forms – that we can ensure these commemorations and celebrations of peoplehood will endure. That is and has been an irrefutable truth of Jewish history. Thus, if we wish to help shape Jewish history, we must also help secure the availability of affordable Jewish education for the families who seek it for their children.

That is our individual and collective mission.

Whether by raising our voices to the provincial government or through individual philanthropy or both, we urge everyone to join the mission in whichever way is most appropriate for them.

Twenty-four hours ago we lit memorial candles to “remember” the souls of the precious millions whom the Nazis and their confederates murdered.

O how much we – and the world – lost.

May the glow from those candles, however, also light our way forward.

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

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Each day we put it off, we fail our kids

The affordability of Jewish education may actually be the pre-eminent subject on the agenda of most Jewish communities in North America. It certainly is one of the most talked about around community “water coolers”.  

One of the most recent contributions to the discussion is by Lindsey Bodner in New York. In an essay for eJewish Philanthropy entitled, Thinking Big and Funding Small: Models for Making Jewish Education Affordable, she presents her own innovative approach for enabling more children to benefit from Jewish education. To be sure, her suggestions are specific to her situation in New York and may not be widely adaptable in our jurisdiction. But Bodner does propagate a strong principle that is relevant for all Jewish jurisdictions.

Families are already leaving our Jewish day schools. We know this because people have been vocal about leaving and because so many day schools are struggling. Leaders in the Jewish space must confront this issue head on. Each day we put it off, we miss the opportunity to strengthen our community, and we fail kids who want a Jewish education but are attending public schools, and we fail parents with kids at Jewish schools who are struggling to make ends meet.”

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Bodner’s intention in writing the essay was “to spark additional conversation about affordable Jewish education within the funding space.” She succeeded.

The specifics of her suggestions are secondary to the fact that she is offering suggestions. As she writes “If the priority is giving our kids great education, we can absolutely do that in a way that is accessible to all our kids.”

To this belief statement let us all say: “Amen”.

Bodner’s full article is available here:

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Chag Samayach and Shabbat Shalom,

GAJE

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We would like to share personal stories about how the affordability issue has affected families in our community. We will post these stories anonymously on our Facebook page and on our website.

We will not include any personal information such as names, schools, other institutions, or any other identifying information. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

To share your story, either send us a message on our Facebook page or email us @ info @ gaje.ca.

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