A bold plan to reimagine “yesterday’s schools”

It is now beyond doubt that the future of Jewish education is one of the most frequently discussed subjects around the community’s proverbial “water cooler.” The epicentre of the discussion usually focuses on the tuition costs of such education.

Affordability is the key issue of the discussion on Jewish education. Tributaries of related subjects, however, flow from it. For example, many educators, educational administrators and educational policy planners are currently directing their minds to rethinking the delivery of education as a way to make schools more affordable to the large swath of middle income families without compromising the provision of an excellent education.

Hillel David Rapp, Director of Education at Bnei Akiva Schools of Toronto, has recently joined the discussion with an essay entitled “Will we support the day school of tomorrow?”

Rapp combines educational and business expertise and background to challenge us into re-imagining the Jewish day school system of the future. “Instead of working to sustain this system, we should be thinking about redesigning a better system. Along these lines, the edifice of our broader education system may be beginning to show cracks,” he boldly writes.

But rather than simply point to the “cracks” in the current system, Rapp commendably offers a prescription for the possibilities of tomorrow. To his credit, he does not retreat from making suggestions that some might find controversial. He advocates a full embrace of Artificial-Intelligence-Supported Online Learning. Many others do as well in this day and age. Others are more cautious with the integration of on-line learning. Perhaps most provocative is his reference to our current educational system as “yesterday’s school”. The reference is out of regret not out of derision.

Rapp’s essay is a worthwhile read.

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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New, unique fundraiser for local schools

Generosity, caring, giving, helping — tzedakah in the full and profoundly moving meaning of the word –- are embedded into the deep DNA structure of the Jewish people.

From the modest “pushka” into which regular attendees at synagogue drop their coins each morning, to the large capital projects in almost all communities where Jews live that arise due to the philanthropy of civic-minded individuals, or to the unheralded, off-the-record, “quiet” assistance that one person extends to a needy individual, family or a cause, Jews – in the main – have always strived to make things better for the next person, for the community.

Responding affirmatively to the call for help stems from the values that are part of the remarkable legacy bequeathed to each one of us by our ancestors.

In his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Trumah, Rabbi Marc D. Angel observes “the money we spend is a reflection of our values. The way we allocate our funds… tells us much about the meaning of our prayers and aspirations, and about who we really are.”

Of course, the very entire enterprise of making Jewish education more affordable is one of pleading with members of the wide Jewish community personally to play a role in substantially reducing the tuition costs of Jewish schools and to thus spend money in a manner that also champions the value that sustains Jewish life in perpetuity.

It is therefore in the spirit of Rabbi Angel’s words, that GAJE advises readers of a new fundraising effort in our community — the ORT Toronto Gala 2019 for Jewish Education — a project aimed at benefiting Toronto area Jewish schools, camps, after school programs and ORT’s youth village in Kfar Silver, Israel.

The ORT Gala for Jewish Education is a fixture on the annual communal calendar of Montreal Jewry. Proceeds from the gala are shared there each year with the participating educational institutions and provide invaluable assistance to the schools. ORT Canada is attempting to introduce the Gala in Toronto to benefit formal and informal Jewish education here and to establish the GALA, as in Montreal, as a cherished annual event.

The Toronto GALA takes place on Tuesday March 26 at 7:00 pm at the Mattamy Centre, formerly Maple Leaf Gardens. The event itself is a musical celebration of The Beatles’ music led by The Classical Mystery Tour and a 26-member U of T Symphony Orchestra.

Some readers might be unfamiliar with ORT. It is well credentialed as one of the pre-eminent educational institutions of the Jewish world. Founded in 1880 in Russia to help Jews become economically self-sufficient, ORT today is a renowned educational program –- especially in Israel where it plays a key role in the broader educational system. ORT provides occupational training and vital life skills to hundreds of thousands of students in 59 countries.

For more information about the event and about the unique way in which local educational programs benefit from the GALA, call the ORT Toronto Office at 416.787. 0339.

Tickets can be purchased through the ORT website at: https://ort-toronto.org/gala-2019/ or directly through the online form:
https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/WebLink.aspx?name=E920166QE&id=36&formid=362&Preview=true

We urge readers who are able, to take part in the event.

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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At the forefront

Anna Pava, Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Office of Education and Engagement published an instructive, important article this past week on the eJewishPhilanthropy website. Entitled Redefining Jewish Education: Federations’ Goals for a New Century, Pava writes that it is through Jewish education that individuals will be able to answer the increasingly asked question “Why be Jewish” and all its various iterations that are increasingly being asked by mostly young North American Jewry.

Writing from the broad “macro” North American perspective, Pava states “Jewish education has transformed to address these questions in a truly diverse and multifaceted landscape of opportunity, for varied ages and stages, happening across settings and around the world.”

She writes with pride about the efforts of Jewish federations across the continent to respond to the urgent double-sided need to bring young Jews to Jewish schools and to make Jewish schools places where young Jews and especially their parents will want to learn.

“As Jews and Jewish life have changed and as Jewish education has transformed, so have Federation priorities. Today, Jewish education and engagement is the cornerstone of federation work,” she writes.

Pava concludes by saying “Jewish education is no longer at the side but at the forefront of what we do. Through experiences and through relationships, through study and through doing, we connect and provide tools for people to raise engaged Jewish families and build Jewish communities of interdependence, warmth and joy.”

GAJE notes Jewish education has always been at the forefront in Greater Toronto community. The Federation of Greater Toronto and its forebears long ago understood the necessary, essential and direct relationship between Jewish education and life-long Jewish engagement. Jewish education has always been a key Federation priority in our community. Indeed, the Federation recently re-emphasized Jewish education’s pre-eminence and announced a reinvigorated effort to make education affordable to all families who seek it for their children.

And as we noted in the weekly update in Dec. 21, Federation deserves kudos – and support from the entire community – for its forward thinking. It has been “at the forefront” for a very long time.

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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Make your views known

As most of the readers of this weekly update know, CIJA–The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs–is a non-partisan, non-profit advocacy agency of the Jewish Federations of Canada. Its broad mandate is to be a voice to government and other high profile decision-making bodies on policy matters that affect the quality of life for the Jewish community of Canada. By advocating on behalf of the welfare of the Jewish community of course, CIJA is also advocating on behalf of the welfare of the general community.

Educational matters are among the many key public policy issues that occupy CIJA’s staff. Some months ago, CIJA launched an initiative – Every Kid Counts – whose aim is to place all Ontario children with learning disabilities on an equal footing in terms of receiving health support services from the Government of Ontario.

Each year, CIJA consults directly from members of the community to hear what we consider to be the most important policy priorities for the Jewish community. That direct consultation in the Greater Toronto Area is taking place from January 27 – January 30. To be part of this consultation, individuals must register online.

The schedule for the CIJA consultations is:

  • Toronto North: Sunday, January 27th at 10:00 AM
  • Thornhill: Tuesday, January 29th at 7:00 PM
  • Toronto Midtown (Young Professionals): Wednesday, January 30th at 7:00 PM
  • Toronto Downtown: Sunday, February 3rd at 1:00 PM

However, in addition to participating directly in the consultation, or in case the sessions are already fully subscribed, you can complete an online survey to personally convey your views of the most urgent and most pressing communal priorities.

You can access the online survey/consultation at:
https://cija.ca/grassroots-survey-2019/

We urge you to go online to complete the survey and let CIJA know your views about communal priorities and especially, of course, about the need to make Jewish education affordable. Thank you.

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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Where lessons can be learned

Even as we ponder ways to make Jewish education more affordable for middle-income families, it is also worthwhile from time to time to reflect upon aspects of that education from a broader perspective. To that end, we bring readers’ attention to an instructive reflection by Rabbi Shaul Feldman the executive director of Bnei Akiva of the United States and Canada.

Rabbi Feldman recently wrote an article, “Who is Wise? One Who Learns from All”, ostensibly about a summer seminar program in Israel called Generation Now Fellowship. It’s truer purpose, however, was to urge a wider, more patient approach in learning about and developing a sense of belonging to the Jewish people.

 “There is always more to learn about this awe-inspiring and often vexing project of our people,” Rabbi Feldman wrote. Then, as an instruction for the approach to learning about our people, he encapsulated six “critical messages for the world of education.”

  1. It is never too late to start learning from all.
  2. Good education can – and at times should – be unsettling.
  3. One must learn directly from/with those with opposing views and try to see if you can actually understand their viewpoints.
  4. As an educator, give youth a full picture. Don’t hide the issues that are uncomfortable and challenging from our teens.
  5. Strive for personal encounters, without borders that separate us from “the other.”
  6. Learn to truly love humans. After all, they are the designs of the Creator.

He then concluded with counsel that we should take to heart when trying to understand and connect with fellow Jews and fellow human beings who are different than we are.

“I believe that it is incumbent upon us to try to create more and more opportunities… where critical dialogue and (sometimes fraught) conversation among a group of committed educators/community leaders can take place.”

•••

Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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A radically relevant education

Rabbi Philip Graubart, Chief Jewish Officer & Director, Advanced Institute for Judaic Studies at San Diego Jewish Academy has posted an article for eJewish Philanthropy in which he reflects upon the deeply lasting achievement of Jewish education in an American social milieu in which most young Jewish adults are simply trying to find their own personally meaningful way through the hardscrabble of their lives without joining the increasingly fractious politics of left or right.

Entitled “Jewish Day Schools and the Canary Mission,” the article points out how the ideas, values and concepts imparted in Jewish day schools touch the core of human, let alone, Jewish existence and form a buttressing support when, inevitably, someone encounters personal crisis.

In a tone of apparent surprise, Rabbi Graubart writes “there’s not a universally agreed upon body of knowledge that conveys Jewish literacy or confidence or identity, certainly not at our school, an independent, pluralistic Jewish day school. But…I realized that we do provide radically relevant guidance on the key human crises that all our students will face.”

“It seems ridiculously obvious to have to say it,” Rabbi Graubart adds, “but if we really want to create a lasting, dynamic Jewish identity for American Jews, we have to show that Judaism is relevant on a day to day, deeply personal level.

“And which institutions provide precisely these teachings?” he asks. “The organizations that will carry us forward are the old fashioned ones: synagogues and Jewish schools. That’s where you’ll find educators and rabbis who dedicate their professional lives to teaching Jewish wisdom’s ongoing relevance.”

It is a message educators have been conveying since the first intensive Jewish education was offered in our community over 100 years ago. Judaism is indeed radically relevant on a day-to-day personal level. Moreover the message, in modern times, also speaks to the excellence of the overall education – Jewish and general studies – provided today in our diverse day schools.

The children who graduate from the day school, for the most part, are well equipped intellectually and emotionally to forge their own paths through the uncertainties, stresses and unceasing demands of life. And they will do so knowing who they are as Jews. This is a blessing to themselves and their families and to the wider community.

•••

Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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Standing tall to vanquish injustice and injustice

The advent of a new calendar year is an appropriate moment to restate “first principles”.

  1. The community’s mission – indeed the mission for every Jewish community throughout the long history of our people – is to strive to make Jewish education in our community affordable for every family that wishes to send its children to a Jewish day school.
  2. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto is committed to ensuring the affordability of Jewish education as its top priority.
  3. But we must not forget that Ontario’s educational funding policies are discriminatory.
    • Students across the province with learning disabilities do not receive equal treatment in relation to supportive health support services.
    • Students in independent schools receive no funding whatsoever for even a portion of the cost of the general studies curriculum. Yet, all the western provinces and Quebec, on the other hand, do provide some funding to independent schools for the cost of general studies.
  4. Despite the important, laudable decision by UJA Federation to conscript and mobilize resources to resolve the crisis of affordability, it is still of paramount importance to seek justice and fair treatment from the Government of Ontario.

•••

The commentary by Rabbi Marc D. Angel on this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, offers guidance on how and why we should not abandon the justice we seek from the government.

“And the Lord said unto Moses: Rise up early in the morning and stand [tall] before Pharaoh.” (Shemoth 9:13)”

“Often enough, people are confronted with…injustice; but instead of standing tall in opposition to the perpetrators … people bow their heads. They lose self-confidence. They think: I am too small and too weak to resist. It’s best to go along or to stay quiet. Resistance can be unpleasant, even dangerous…While retaining our inner humility and gentleness, we must not bend our heads in the presence of…unjust people.

“How can humanity overcome widespread apathy in the face of injustice? How can the arrogant be humbled? There is only one answer, and it is for each person to assume personal responsibility. It is for each good and moral person to express indignation…

“And the Lord said unto Moses: Rise up early in the morning and stand [tall] before Pharaoh.” (Shemoth 9:13)”

“We are likewise commanded to stand tall before the Pharaohs of our times, to resist the agents of oppression, falsehood and injustice who undermine the fabric of our society and our world.”

Rabbi Angel offers excellent advice. Let us act on it.

•••

Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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