Discrimination that can now be ended

Earlier this month The CJN published an article that tracked “the cost of being Jewish in Canada”. It provided the average cost of six different markers of Jewish life – challah, synagogue, day school, real estate, summer camp and burial – in the major Jewish centres of the country.

The article was informative and smartly presented. The reporter, Michael Fraiman, meaningfully presented a wealth of information in a format that was easy to read with helpful explanatory commentary.

Apart from isolated pieces of information, such as the cost of a home in the Jewish neighbourhood in Halifax, we suspect most readers – especially in the GTA – could not have been very surprised by the figures in the article. They saw in print an itemization of the burdens on their families’ backs.

The large, imposing elephant in the dense information packed into the article was the telling statement by its author, “Ontario is the sole province to not subsidize private schools,” Thus, to our great chagrin, the average cost of day school in the GTA, listed as $17,000, is significantly higher than in any other city in the country where day schools exist.

How is this discrimination still possible in the year 2018?

The government of Ontario has shown itself to move quickly on matters that offend its policy conscience. If it were to know the full, background, details and dire implications of this ongoing educational funding unfairness, it stands to reason that it would act in this policy realm as well to end the discrimination that has so unjustifiably marred educational funding in our province.

We urge GAJE members to inform their MPPs of this ongoing injustice and to seek their aid in bringing it to an end.


Shabbat Shalom.


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Are we responding to the significant challenges?

Professor Steven Windmueller teaches at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. He has just published an essay that examines the informative Pew Report of five years ago that examined the characteristics of the Jewish community in the United States. Appropriately enough his essay is entitled “Pew: Five Years Later: What We Have Learned & What Do We Need to Do?”.

Prof. Windmueller’s essay is important. It raises once again and places squarely in the centre of our communal discussions, if not also, alas, in our consciences, the fundamental questions of how we shall determine our future as Jews.

Windmueller wrote, “The Pew Study in many ways confirmed the findings of the 2012 New York Jewish Community Study. The signs of erosion of American Jewish identity from within are too strong to ignore. “They translate to less connection to Jewish practice and observance among younger Jews; less attachment to synagogues, and establishment Jewish organizations, including federations; and more tolerance and acceptance for marrying outside the faith.”

He also noted that the findings in relation to religious affiliation patterns and intermarriage rates were not a surprise to Jewish leaders but “nonetheless pose significant challenges to the primary institutions of the community, namely synagogues and federations.”

But Prof. Windmueller he did not restrict his observations to this brief, rather pessimistic, thumbnail summary. He also offered some positive nuggets from the Pew study: “belonging to the Jewish people” (75%) and the “deep emotional attachment to Israel” (69%).”

How might the Jewish community build off of these “positives” in order to galvanize communal involvement? Prof. Windmueller asked.

Three specific outcomes of the Pew study held special significance for Prof. Windmueller:

  1. The Study noted a particular concern over prejudice and hate.
  2. 56% of the respondents identified their Jewish identity as being connected to their commitment to “social justice.”
  3. The significant “pride” that American Jews express in connection with “being Jewish,” with some 94% embracing this notion.

He ties these positive findings into what he calls “the growing presence of non-traditional forms of Jewish engagement” and observes with, perhaps, a sense of resignation in his voice, that increasingly “the very adjective “Jewish” is open to debate.”

Of course, the Pew Study of five years ago concerned only the Jewish community in the United States. Its findings, however, are only a short stretch that we can all make toward the community in Canada.

Over and over again, GAJE notes that the studies, the commissions, the reports and the findings from all of the inquiries from all academic and other quarters into the state of the Jewish community in North America (i.e., apart from the Orthodox and Haredi communities), offered a variation on the same conclusion, namely that there are “significant challenges to the primary institutions of the community.” And now, in light of the evolving Jewish landscape, we quite reasonably also read the very adjective “Jewish” is open to debate.

There is truly only one long-term antidote to the various descriptions of the failing or evolving Jewish nature of our community: Investment in Jewish education.

In light of the acknowledged significant challenges the Pew Study implies to our synagogues and federations, it would be interesting to know in how many synagogues during the recently concluded High Holidays the subject of the need for Jewish education was discussed from the pulpit, in the pews, or in the hallways and Kiddush clubs.

If the answer is “not too many, if any at all” then it is no wonder that (non-Orthodox) synagogues face clouded, uncertain futures.


Shabbat Shalom.


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We will write our own history

Professor Jenna Weissman Joselit, teaches Judaic Studies and History at The George Washington University. She chronicles the development of the Jewish community in the United States. She recently wrote a short essay about the history of Jewish day schools in America. It was not an argument on behalf of day schools. Nor was it a polemic against. It was, simply, a brief outline of the rise of day school education as one among many of mainstream educational choices within the community.

The sub-headline of the essay captures its gist. “Once demonized as the community embraced public schools, they [day schools] eventually came into their own by teaching ‘Judaism and Americanism’ side by side.”

As in most new communities in Western societies where Jews arrived in the late 19th and then 20th century and then tried to integrate into the mainstream majority society, Joselit notes that “America’s Jews understood all too well that the public school was both the ticket to modernization and the price they had to pay to become full-fledged Americans.”

Not surprisingly therefore, public school education was embraced by the newcomers.

Some years later, as immigrants grew more accustomed to and secure in their surroundings, certain individuals decided to assert and preserve their religious identity by embarking on a new approach to education, in the form of intensive day school education.

“It took enormous vision, leavened by a giant leap of faith, to imagine a Jewish educational institution that could hold its own against the mighty public school and do right by American-born boys and girls, all the while offering first-rate instruction in Jewish subjects.”

Joselit describes the difficulties in initiating Jewish day schools and the opposition to doing so in certain circles. But despite the long odds in making day schools happen, Joselit writes: “Little by little, though, something started to give: Jewish day school education became an increasingly attractive option. Between 1917 and 1939, American Jews established 23 such institutions in the greater New York metropolitan area alone.”

Then Joselit makes note of one the key revelations that helped launch day schools throughout the United States: “What fueled their efforts was the sobering realization that hardly any committed or “sturdy Jews” emerged from the prevailing system in which Jewish education played second fiddle to the public school. (Our emphasis)

“In the years that followed, especially in the wake of the Shoah and the rise of the State of Israel, Jewish day schools gained in both number and collective esteem. Once marginalized and derided, they came to be seen, in the words of the Orthodox Union, as the “most exciting and hopeful phenomenon in Jewish life in America. Statistics bore out that optimistic assertion, as did the emergence of Conservative and Reform-affiliated day schools. By the late 1990s, according to one census, American Jewry could boast nearly 670 Jewish day schools; the most recent tabulation, in 2013-2014, puts that number at 861.”

Since Joselit’s essay is intended as a historical survey about the advent of day schools in the United States, she offers no conclusions about their importance or impact upon the generations of young and future Jews. Nor does she attempt to make the case for day schools.

Pointing to the obvious and widely acknowledged stumbling blocks to the further growth of days schools in our times, such as the “exorbitant costs” and the “decreasing denominationalism” among Jews, Joeselit concludes with a shrug.

“It’s anyone’s guess as to what the future holds.”


By making Jewish education in the GTA affordable––starting with day school education––we have the opportunity to actually determine what the future will hold in our community.

We have the opportunity to write our own history. It is imperative that we do so.


Shabbat Shalom. Mo’adim l’Simchah. Chag samayach.


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Arriving at genuine happiness

Rabbi Marc D. Angel, the founder of the New York-based Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals in New York shares a poignant thought about the holiday of Sukkot. He reflects upon the holiday’s alternate name, The Time of our Happiness in his article, Happiness: Thoughts for Succoth.

Rabbi Angel points to a tradition that suggests our forefather Jacob was 15 years old when his grandfather Abraham passed away. That Abraham’s and Jacob’s lives—and beliefs, values and ideals—overlapped leads Rabbi Angel to observe: “when grandparents and grandchildren share ideas and ideals, this is a sign of continuity, love… and genuine happiness. When there is a “generation gap,” there is sadness and alienation.

“The relationship between Abraham and Jacob suggests the key to the future redemption of Israel—when the traditions are shared, loved and experienced by the generations of grandparents and grandchildren. A teacher of mine once quipped: Who is a Jew? Someone with Jewish grandchildren! While this is not an objectively true statement, it underscores a vital principle in the Jewish adventure: the importance of transmitting our teachings and values through the generations.

“The genuine happiness that derives from family and national continuity does not just happen by chance. It is the result of deep devotion, strong commitment, and many sacrifices…Happiness entails a genuine and deep sense of wholeness. It is not attained casually…Succoth, the festival of our happiness, reminds us to strive for genuine happiness, to be committed to transmitting our traditions through the generations.”

The implications for GAJE of Rabbi Angel’s thoughts on genuine happiness are obvious: Rabbi’s Angel’s idea of genuine happiness stems from a sense of family and national continuity. Continuity stems from devotion, commitment, and sacrifice, the very qualities – we can all agree – that are required of families and especially the community in which they live, in providing a system of affordable Jewish education.


Shabbat Shalom. Mo’adim l’Simchah


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Truth from our children

Last week, at the launch of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s 2018 campaign, Emily Martell, a Grade 12 student at TanenbaumCHAT, spoke about the importance of Jewish Education.

Her brief remarks were deeply personal, sweetly written, emotionally moving and powerfully inspiring. They should be required reading during these ten “interim” days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when we are inclined to introspection and reflection. Or should be.

We excerpt only a few statements from Emily’s remarks. However we recommend that you read her remarks in their entirety here, in The CJN: http://www.cjnews.com/perspectives/opinions/the-importance-of-jewish-education-grade-12-student-speaks-to-uja-federation.

Emily acknowledged what empirical evidence has already proven, namely: The cost of tuition does indeed make a difference in bringing children into our schools.

“Even though it wasn’t the only reason,” Emily said, “the cost of tuition played a role in my family’s decision to put me in the public school system.”

Emily also provides the data that were the result of the reduced tuition at CHAT.

“When I started in Grade 9, the total enrolment for my grade was 250 students. Last year, it dropped to only 190. This year, as I embark on my last year in the Jewish education system, I am so thrilled to see nearly 300 grade 9 students roaming the halls of TanenbaumCHAT. It is truly a blessing to know that so many kids will be able to share the same kinds of experiences that I have benefited from and that they will be getting a first-class Jewish and general studies education.”

Emily also spoke from the heart about the life-changing, long term attachment that results from being part of a system of Jewish education.

“Fortunately, I went to a great public school that was strong academically and where I built friendships that are very meaningful to me. But, there is just something about a Jewish education that is extremely special. I think one of the greatest values of a Jewish education, whether it’s through a day school or supplementary school, is that it goes such a long way toward instilling a love of Jewish life. But beyond that, it leads to a desire to become active in Jewish life and in helping to strengthen the Jewish community.”

Emily’s words are a testament to the observation of the ancient sages who proclaimed that after the destruction of the Second Temple, prophecy would be heard from the mouths of our children. We will not burden Emily by saying she uttered words of prophecy. But we can and will indeed say that she spoke words of forceful, compelling truth. And we shall thank her for doing so. Thank you Emily for sharing your words and stirring our hearts.


Shabbat Shalom. Gmar Chatimah Tovah.


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Disappearing American Jewry, again

Some weeks ago The New York Jewish Week published a plain-speaking but hard-hitting op-ed by Rabbi Abraham Unger entitled “Two Radical Proposals To Ensure A Jewish Future.” Unger was responding to an essay by JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen.

Unger felt compelled to respond to Eisen’s essay because “it avoids the elephant in the room regarding our shared concern about a disappearing American Jewry.” He challenged Eisen’s observations that quality is “more important to Jewish survival than mere numbers.”

Community leaders have been worrying over “disappearing American Jewry” for decades. But not enough, apparently and alas, to have yet taken the steps necessary steps to stem and reverse the downward trend of American Jewish demographics.

And so, as much with stinging irony as with strong, sorrowful prescription, Unger writes that in the face of the declining numbers of non-Orthodox American Jewry “that two, and only two, choices remain for the organized Jewish community: to completely rethink and then quickly implement a radically new kind of American Judaism that meets the people where they are now, or give up and focus all communal energy and resources on Orthodoxy, which at least is suffering no attrition, has the highest Jewish birthrate, and is the most communally active of all the movements, meeting Dr. Eisen’s criteria of quality over quantity.”

The subject of disappearing American Jewry is now a too familiar, melancholy concern. With each passing year and each passing generation, it becomes more urgently so.

The deeper melancholy of Unger’s essay, however, is in one of his casual observations. “The missed opportunity of American Judaism is that the most favourable moment to develop a rich and vibrant communal life in the narrative of the Jewish diaspora has become a story of ethnic attrition.”

In Canada too.

The answer is also familiar to us all: Education! Affordable Jewish education.


Shabbat Shalom. Shana Tovah u’Metuka


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Wrap them in our love and help them to school in confidence

Fresh beginnings are upon us.

The new year begins in just more than a week and school restarts in just less than a week.

GAJE’s chief cause, of course, is for the affordability of Jewish education.

Irrespective of the type of school – Jewish or public – that our children will be attending next week, we acknowledge that the first day can be fraught with fluttery stomachs and anxious nerves, especially for the little ones and the first timers. And parents!

Thus our hope is that all children returning to or starting school next week will have an easy, uneventful, perhaps even enjoyable and exciting day. May it be the start or the continuation of an excellent educational experience for them. And for parents too!

May we – parents and grandparents – know the sweet feeling that we have sent our children to school wrapped totally in our love so that their first steps may be confident ones, if also at times, tentative.

May the educators, administrators and lay leaders without whom there would be no educational experience, also enjoy the day and the year ahead.

Good learning, good teaching, good luck to children, parents, and teachers.


We draw readers attention to an interesting article by Chavie N. Kahn, Director of Day School Initiatives at UJA-Federation of New York, that appeared on the Lehrhaus website.

In the article, entitled Back to School: A Path to Sustainability, Ms. Kahn explores various steps that community organizers in the United States are taking to make Jewish education affordable. She concludes that one of the best methods of ensuring affordability is to establish a permanent endowment fund for that purpose.

We reproduce the following statement by Ms. Kahn. It commands our attention.

“There is no magic bullet to “solve” the affordability crisis. But since it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we transmit our tradition and values from generation to generation (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Torah Study, Ch. 1), we must strategize, plan, and attract new investors to the day school system, all with the objective of yielding sustainable day schools and yeshivot for years to come. We cannot simply focus on this year and next year’s budget; we need to play the long game. The long-term sustainability of day schools and yeshivot should be on the communal agenda as a key component of a solution to a core communal challenge. And the best players are playing the endowment game.”


Shabbat Shalom.


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