One of the key elements that is facilitating the merger of our two campuses is a series of programs and activities that are planned to bring our students together.  Last weekend was our Grade 11 shabbaton.  Starting a year or two ago, we already began implementing joint programming in order to reduce cross-campus duplication.  Our Jewish Student Activities leaders have paved the way for this type of collaboration.  Below is a powerful testament to collaboration and resilience written by guest bloggers Olivia Varkul and Marci Jacobs.

Over the past three years at TanenbaumCHAT,  the Shabbaton program has greatly enhanced  our connection with the school and to our Jewish identities. Shabbatonim give us, as well as many other students, the unique opportunity to observe Shabbat, think more deeply about our Jewish values, enhance our knowledge regarding Zionism and provide us with a strong feeling of community.  Although in school we study many Jewish topics, the Shabbaton is a time where we can be with our friends in an informal setting and apply our knowledge and beliefs learned in class to hands-on activities and discussions.

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to go on the grade eleven Shabbaton with students from both TCK and TCW. With the recent announcement of the merger, we feared that there would be tension and segregation between the two campuses. We were both nervous that our Shabbaton experience that we cherish and love would be negatively impacted. Nobody knew what to expect, and it is safe to say we were all extremely worried and uncertain of what was to come over the next couple of days.

When we arrived, our nervous feelings quickly subsided as we realized that the Shabbaton program, which both campuses love so much, would be something that would help to bring us together. Everyone was there with the same intentions: to have an amazing, ruach-filled weekend. The Shabbaton began with ice breakers,  debates about hot topics in Israel and a shabbaton favourite, Kumzitz (campfire songs).  Kumzitz is a program that is so dear to both campuses although each campus runs the Kumsitz in a unique way. This was one of the first times we were able to see TCK and TCW begin to truly mesh their traditions together.  TCK was able to learn new things from TCW and vice versa. Not only did this enhance the Kumzitz experience as a whole, it showed us that both campuses have truly great things to offer and we all have so much to learn from one another.

On Friday afternoon, the special Shabbat feeling began to sink in as we all got ready for Shabbat. This traditional day of rest allows for self reflection. This Shabbat especially gave us the opportunity to contemplate all that has happened and enabled us to keep open minds about the rest of the Shabbaton and about the upcoming school year. At first, it was hard to accept the two campuses, two cultures and two communities will soon be one.  However, as the Shabbaton progressed, we were able to realize the importance of keeping an open mind in the face of change. The merger is not something that will be easy and it will take time to adjust. However, this weekend proved that bringing the best of both campuses together is what is going to make this transition as easy, effective and positive as possible. We are excited about the opportunities ahead and look forward to embarking on this journey together.

Shabbat shalom!

Marci Jacobs (Grade 11, TCK) and Olivia Varkul (Grade 11, TCW)

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It’s often difficult to reduce to a sound bite complex issues.  It is especially true in a heated Town Hall meeting.  However, certain questions deserve a thoughtful response.  In today’s blog I explain the principles behind teacher retention.

April 1st is the deadline by which TanenbaumCHAT must issue layoff notices.    Since 2008 when enrollment began to decline, teachers wait anxiously through March to hear whether or not they or their colleagues will be laid off.

The collective bargaining agreements govern teacher layoffs in terms of who and when.  As a general rule, the most recently hired teachers, regardless of which campus they are from, are the first to be laid off when the number of students decline in the overall system. That is, a teacher may be laid off from a campus that is not experiencing a declining student population if he or she is the most recently hired.

This coming year, as enrollment in the combined TanenbaumCHAT system is expected to drop by over 100 students, teachers on both campuses wait with nervous uncertainty to hear if they have a job next year.  We know this is very difficult for teachers and we empathize with them.

Understanding this reality, the administration works creatively to retain as many teachers as possible.  For those whom we simply cannot retain, we help teachers network and find new employment.  We write letters of recommendation and speak to other school administrators.

It is a sad reality that as enrollment declines, we must say goodbye to friends and colleagues.  Our hope is that the number is as few as possible and that every one of us remembers to say thank you for playing a role in shaping the next generation of strong, passionate and proud Jews.


It’s often difficult to reduce to a sound bite complex issues.  It is especially true in a heated Town Hall meeting.  However, certain questions deserve a thoughtful response, and I am utilizing my blog to launch a series of responses that address the questions on everyone’s mind.  The first addresses student recruitment, the far-reaching efforts to maximize enrollment. Consider it also as one more invitation to get involved.

What drives any school’s viability is enrollment.  One of the great paradoxes is that even though the Jewish population north of Steeles has grown rapidly and significantly over the past ten years, the vast majority of these families are not enrolling in day schools.  We know this from the fact that enrollment is down considerably at Leo Baeck North and the Kamin branch of Associated Hebrew Schools on Atkinson just as it is at TCK.

Three years ago, we hired a consulting firm that helped us develop a strategic plan to slow the downturn in enrollment.  If it had not been for the plan (described in the next paragraphs), it is likely that the need to close TCK would have occurred sooner.  The plan called for several changes which included the following:  We shifted our focus from admissions to recruitment, from “management” to “sales.”  We increased the number of full-time staff in the admissions office by redeploying a senior staff member to manage this vital area. The director reported to me weekly but also provided reports to the board and UJA.

We established a committee of 40 parents with representation from both campuses as well as the Board. These parents were subdivided by feeder school in order to intensify recruitment in their former school whether a Jewish day school or public or secular private school.  We formed a student hosts committee at TCW and worked together with the highly successful TCK student ambassador program.  They worked at every open house and recruitment event and also made phone calls to prospective applicants (see the January, 2106 blog post “Bring people onto the dance floor” at  They also attended “parlor” meetings in homes where we met with groups of families from a particular neighbourhood.

We created the Scholars Circle to provide not only additional tuition relief to new families and Judaic content to discuss as a family, but also exposure to our Jewish Studies teachers in an intensive way so that parents will become even stronger ambassadors of the school.  To help ease the burden of tuition for even more families, we offered the UJA’s Extended Payment Program.

We developed novel ways to reach New Stream students by going to Jewish summer camps to make recruitment pitches and showcase some of our unique offerings like robotics.  We follow up with families who receive One Happy Camper grants, a program that targets a population that can feed our New Stream program.  We built relationships with supplementary Jewish schools (particularly JRoots, Neshama, Ahavat Israel, Beit Rayim, Kachol Lavan) and brought TanenbaumCHAT into the classroom so that these students can learn what opportunities can be theirs.  Rabbis have been provided material to promote TanenbaumCHAT from the pulpit.  Synagogues have created TanenbaumCHAT shabbatot where our students participate as a group in the main sanctuary Shabbat morning service.

We worked with a marketing firm to help strengthen our brand and have a stronger presence in social media. That firm encouraged me to start a blog to publicize all the wonderful things our teachers and students do in the school, make the case for TanenbaumCHAT, and alert families to the challenges that lie before us (

We ramped up advertising to prospective students in specific ways via:

  • Postal drops (3 rounds of 10,000-11,000 postcards advertising Open House) (35% of the people who attended Open House heard about it through the postcard they received)
  • Feeder school calendar
  • Feeder school newsletters
  • The CHATTER magazine to incoming and feeder school families
  • Facebook ads
  • Russian language advertisements and articles
  • Flyers for open house posted around the city: Starbucks, grocery stores, etc.

We developed deeper partnerships with our Jewish day school feeders via:

  • Alumni success packages showcasing how well grads of feeder schools do at our school
  • The Student Leadership Conference for feeder school student councils
  • The Robotics outreach program for middle school students held at TanenbaumCHAT
  • Student hosts/ambassadors calling prospective students to answer questions
  • Feeder school students come for half a day to experience the arts program
  • Personal phone calls to any Grade 8 day school child who did NOT enroll

That enrollment has declined is not due to a lack of effort on the part of teachers, staff, students, parents, and community members. Yes, we can always benefit from more ideas and more TanenbaumCHAT evangelists.  The need to do so is no more evident than now.  To get involved, contact Laurie Wasser at  The long-term health of our school depends on you.


The Book of Genesis is a book that is filled with sibling rivalries and jealousies.  It is framed by Cain killing Abel at the start of the book and Joseph’s brothers throwing him into a pit at the end of the book. In truth, however, Genesis begins with fratricide, but ends in fraternity. Joseph and his brothers reconcile.  Thus, although the Book of Genesis begins with conflict and continues with contention (Isaac and Ishmael, Yakov and Esau), it ends with conciliation.

The Book of Exodus also presents a sibling pair, Moshe and Aaron, except that these brothers from the start seem to appreciate their different strengths.  Moshe is a man of truth.  Aaron is a man of peace.  Moshe becomes the leader of the people.  Aaron becomes the speaker on behalf of the people.  Moshe becomes the law giver.  Aaron becomes the high priest.

I can imagine that inside they may have felt envy; the text, however, gives us no indication that this was the case.  They do not seem to covet or resent the other’s position or honour.  Instead each rejoices in the other’s contribution and accomplishments.

As a result of their combined effort, they succeed in liberating an entire nation of ex-slaves and raise them to the level of a royal people ennobled by the charge to become “a kingdom of priests and holy nation.” Together, Moshe and Aaron lead them safely to the Promised Land.  It was because they stood together, led together, functioned as a team, pooled their talents, strengths, and aspirations that they accomplished one of the most grand missions in human history.  We are who we are today because of their partnership.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it this way in his d’var torah on this week’s Torah portion:

“The story of Aaron and Moses is where, finally, fraternity reaches the heights. And that surely is the meaning of Psalm 133, with its explicit reference to Aaron and his sacred garments: “‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!  It is like precious oil poured on the head…running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.’”

My hope is that Aaron and Moses’ example of brotherhood is one that guides the lives of all members of our magnificent TanenbaumCHAT family especially when our loyalty to each other is tested.



This week, I visited Mr. Steinfeld’s Grade 10 New Stream Tanach class at TCK. The course is on the Book of Samuel and specifically the themes of love, loyalty, and leadership. The day of my visit, the students were asked to characterize different relationships in the book, e.g., Saul and David, David and Jonathan, Michal and David.

Three years ago, we implemented a new way of teaching and thinking about Tanach called Standards and Benchmarks where our Tanach curriculum was re-shaped.  It was a project spearheaded by Rabbi Michael Rootman, the head of the department at TCK, and Judith Shapero, TCK’s Vice Principal.  The teachers in the Tanach department have been revising the curriculum and organizing it around what’s called in the field of education, Big Ideas and Essential Questions.

Big Ideas refer to core concepts, principles, and theories in a field of study.  Essential Questions are questions that are open-ended, don’t have a single correct answer; they’re thought-provoking and demand higher order thinking. These Essential Questions point to the hard-won big ideas that we want students to understand.  They spark the curiosity of the students to explore the Big Ideas, the key issues and problems that are discussed in the subject.  The idea is to focus not on minutia but on large organizing principles and universal themes that then help the student gain insight into their own experiences.

In Mr. Steinfeld’s Tanach class some of the Essential Questions include:

  • When should we relinquish our personal perspective and desire for the sake of our purpose or role?
  • When should we listen to others and when should we just do what’s right?
  • How can we make sure that leaders do what’s right and not just what’s popular?
  • How do we deal with biblical texts that have a troubling message?

Some of the Big Ideas include:

  • All people, even prophets, have their personal bias and perspective.
  • Relationships with others (with God, community, other people) require that we look beyond our own personal needs and perspective.
  • The Divine perspective is not always the same as the human perspective.

The Standards and Benchmarks process has been transformative. The Tanach faculty at TCK is invested in ongoing learning and improvement, and our students are gaining a deep understanding of the important themes and questions raised in our Tanach.   The training for Standards and Benchmarks is currently underway in the Rabbinics department at both campuses as well.  We thank the faculty who have dedicated their passion, expertise and time, and we thank the generous donors for their support of these enhancements of faculty and student learning at TanenbaumCHAT.

The next time you ask a student “What’s the Big Idea?,” don’t be surprised if he or she gives you a serious answer.

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Everyday, a team of 200 adults sets out to spark the curiosity of nearly 1000 TanenbaumCHAT students, help them build a strong sense of character,  inspire them to connect to their Jewish roots and the Jewish community globally and in Israel, and challenge them to become productive citizens who use their talents and skills to make a contribution to others.

The profound impact that a TanenbaumCHAT education has on our children is as varied as the number of students in the school.  A few weeks ago, I bumped into Keren (Shilling) Green, Class of ’04, at a shiva house.  She could not help but share with me the way her TanenbaumCHAT experience continues to shape her life.  She said:

“My time at CHAT transformed me, not only as a young professional leader in the Jewish community, but in all aspects of my life. My closest friends are my high school girls; I keep in touch with my teachers via social media; and I love looking through the ‘mazel tov’ section of the CHATter to keep up to date with my high-achieving classmates. But most importantly, as I now work at Buffalo Jewish Federation organizing events and working with various families in the community, I realize that my job is no different than my role as chairperson of Religious Affairs Committee or director of the CHAT school play. CHAT taught me leadership, to believe in myself, and to be proud of my Jewish upbringing by inspiring me to put my children through day school and hopefully give them a fraction of the incredible opportunities I received in my four years of high school.”

Each time a current or former student expresses appreciation for a lesson taught, an experience provided, or a relationship created at TanenbaumCHAT, I realize how priceless it is what we offer.  Much of what we do we are able to do because of tuition revenue.  However, a good portion of the extras come from generous parents who not only fulfill their tuition obligation but who also feel an expanded sense of responsibility beyond their own child.

I can list many of those “extras,” but one of them is our experiential shlichim program.  The impact that Shlomi and Ya’ara have had on our children is captured well by this comment by one of our student leaders who said:

..this program has played a very important role in strengthening my connection to Israel….  Ya’ara has challenged me to think deeply about the reasons that Israel is important in my life…in order to help other TanenbaumCHAT students feel connected to Israel. I am very grateful to Ya’ara for her guidance and her thoughtful approach to Israel engagement.

On an annual basis, we turn to our parents, grandparents, and community members to raise the funds necessary to continue to make this transformative education a birthright for as many Jewish children possible.  Our goal is $850,000 this year.  We are already halfway there.

I ask you to participate at whatever level you can, and I thank you in advance for strengthening TanenbaumCHAT and the future of our Jewish community.

This past Friday, a small group of TCK students, Shlomi Edelshtein, and I went to express our condolences to the members of the Ahmadiyya community, located nearby in Maple, ON, who were mourning the loss of the six murdered victims in the Quebec City massacre.

One of the students who attended, Daniel Minden, wrote a reaction to the tragic events and published it on Times of Israel.  “Whatever our differences,” he writes, “we must always remember the imperative of standing together against religious hatred. Judaism teaches compassion, respect, and understanding. Needless to say, Jews have seen and endured too much not to stand with others in their time of need.”

I bring to your attention the entirety of his moving post:

As well, I share with you a copy of the letter that I sent in advance of our visit to the members of the Ahmadiyya mosque this past Friday.

Dear Asif,

I want to express our condolences to you on the tragic deaths of members of the Islamic community in Quebec City.  This past Monday, in the school that I lead, we stood for a moment of silence and in solidarity with the victims of this horrific crime.  We recognized that this act of terror was a desecration of human life, an attack on religious freedom, and a violation of sacred space.

Our tradition teaches that all people are created in the image of God with infinite value.  Our Torah begins not with the first Jew, Abraham, but with the first human being, Adam.  Regardless of religious background, political party, or skin colour, a life is a life.  In both Islamic and Jewish tradition, we believe that to destroy one life is to destroy a whole world.  This past week, the worlds of each one of the victims was irreparably shattered.

We are saddened by these events and extend our sympathies to the family members and friends of those who perished.  We wish a “refuah sheleimah,” a speedy recovery to those who were “only” injured.  Our thoughts are with you and your community.

As Jews and Canadians, we will continue to remember, cherish, affirm, and preserve what is right and true and worth fighting for:  the sanctity of human life, human dignity, freedom, religious expression, and equality. We will continue to pray that we will see a day when all people can live together in peace and harmony.


Rabbi Lee Buckman


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This past Sunday’s Super Bowl game was a stunning victory.  I was certain that Atlanta had it in the bag, and New England pulled it out.  I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the Patriots’ locker room during half-time.  What was said?  How did they defy the odds?

We may never know the key to the turnaround.  However, there are likely many lessons we can learn from the game.  One that was evident to me has to do with statistics.  When the Falcons were winning 28-3, a political pundit said that they had an 86% chance of winning the game…the same odds as Hillary Clinton.  I guess one lesson is that statistics aren’t destiny.

I asked a few football enthusiasts what they thought we can learn from the incredible and unexpected New England victory.

Ben Eisen, ‘17 at TCW, said “even when failure seems certain, it may be avoided. A dramatic spark or catalyst can cause a great turnaround, and it can only be reached if one stays hopeful and optimistic….With perseverance, New England was able to battle back and create this spark that gave them additional momentum for a game tying drive, and eventually an overtime win.”

Noah Greenberg, ‘17 at TCW, echoed Ben’s point and commented that the big lesson was one on the power of determination.  However, he also observed that “certain statistics (like the 86% chance of winning the game or election) are merely educated predictions. While everyone likes to be comforted by favourable statistics, it is important to understand that once game time comes around (especially the Super Bowl), they don’t mean much. I say this because it is very tough to predict how the individual human will react/perform ‘in the moment.’”

Max Handelman, ‘17 at TCW, highlighted the importance of taking a responsible risk when it comes to success.  He notes:  “Both the coaches and players had to make risky moves and decisions in order to give the team a shot at victory. Playing a conservative game in the second half would not have brought the Lombardi Trophy back to New England for the fifth time in the Brady Era.”

However, sometimes it’s about luck.  Adam Gropper, ‘16 from TCW, admits “that some luck is involved in every great triumph because had the Falcons won the OT coin toss and scored, the Patriots great comeback to force overtime would have been forgotten.  Sometimes winning is the result of hard work, preparation and perseverance, but sometimes it’s just determined by a coin flip.”

Mr. Shindo, one of our Phys. Ed. teachers at TCW, pointed to the value of staying calm and true to one’s core.  He put it this way: “Although the Patriots were down 28-3 with three minutes left in the third quarter, they did not panic under adversity. The Patriots played their style of football by executing a flawless passing game by throwing under the defense to their slot receivers and capitalising on the mistakes that the Falcons made.  When faced with adversity try not to panic, focus, and revert to your game plan to achieve your ultimate goal.”

Mr. Chaim, the Athletic Director and a Phys. Ed. teacher at TCK, waxed philosophic on his Facebook page and wrote:  “It’s never too late.  Don’t ever count yourself out of anything no matter what others tell you. You can do anything you set your mind to, and impossible is a myth. Take that and go be whatever you want to be. Go do whatever you want to do because you can.”

Mr. Steinfeld, head of Jewish Thought and a Rabbinics, Talmud and Tanach teacher at TCK, suggested that the key to success if often a focus on small wins, “one play at a time.”  He added another key element.  “Belichik,” the New England coach, “creates a culture of accountability, humility, and profound work ethic.  Players who demand too much money, or who think they’re invaluable find themselves traded quickly.”  For Belichik  “it’s not about the individual, but the team, and the team is about achievement and execution, professionalism and humility.”

I’ll end with Sam Neumark’s ‘17 at TCW, pithy observation which harkens back to the adage “it ain’t over till it’s over.” He applied the lessons of the game to school.  “No matter how bad your mark is in a class halfway through the year, it is always possible to raise your grade in the second half of the year if you put in the effort.”

There you have it, sports fans.  Super Bowl 51 showed the power of perseverance, hope, determination, risk-taking, the limitless capacity to achieve, not panicking, focusing on small wins and accountability, not quitting in the middle.  What a game!

What is Rabbinics?  It is one of the four Jewish Studies courses, but what should be included in Rabbinics? What should be its focus?  These are the questions the Jewish Studies teachers are discussing as we review the curriculum.

To gather some “data” that might enrich the conversation, I emailed a half dozen TanenbaumCHAT graduates to find out what units stuck with them and why.  Below is a sampling of their comments–their choice for most meaningful unit and why:

  • Organ donation “A family friend of mine, who is very religious, donated an organ completely anonymously. I was pretty confused as to how it was permissible to donate an organ, as I thought that according to religious reasons, a Jewish person had to have all their organs in order to be buried as a Jew. Thanks to my Rabbinics class, I was able to truly understand the specific laws that come from donating organs, and what is required.”
  • Death and Mourning “The Death and Mourning Unit was the most meaningful and helpful. It is very practical knowledge that is definitely useful and necessary. It just so happened that my Great Aunt passed away and that side of the family was unfamiliar with Shiva customs. I was able to help explain and give my family some clarity because I had studied it in school.”  Another student:  “I liked the topics in the Mourning unit because they were the most relatable and practical topics, regardless of one’s religious background.”
  • Sexual ethics “The grade 11 topics of marriage and conversion were interesting. Rabbinics was one my favourite Jewish studies courses, and as a university student I am trying to find a Jewish learning program that explores similar contemporary issues, as it is more relatable for students. These types of topics generate a lot of debate and affect everyone’s lives.”

What I learned from our graduates is that the most meaningful topics were the ones that had practical value, that dealt with some issue of contemporary Jewish living.  It’s that insight that led me to draft a mission statement for Jewish Studies in the words of Rabbi David Ellenson, former president of the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College:

The true goals of Jewish education are deep and broad. For individual Jews, our program of study should provide students access to the rich resources of our tradition. These resources can add meaning to their lives and help them answer life’s most challenging questions. Beyond the personal dimension, the goal should also be enculturation – connecting individuals to the ongoing experience of the Jewish people, past, present and future. Finally, Jewish education must also be generative – inspiring our graduates to create and support vibrant Jewish communities that sustain Jewish life, help repair a broken world, and ensure the future of the Jewish people.





Being a teacher is not only about teaching others, but about continuously learning yourself. This, above all, is what I have come to realize as a participant in TCK’s Legacy Teaching Fellowship.

This is the first year that TCK has run this incredible program for students in grades 11 and 12. The program consists of weekly in-class workshops run by Ms. Socken, an inspiring English and drama teacher at TCK, as well as placements in Beit Rayim Synagogue’s supplementary Hebrew school. The Fellowship curriculum aims to educate aspiring teachers and give us a sense of the mysterious lesson-planning-essay-marking world that is a teacher’s reality.

The workshops with Ms. Socken have quickly become a highlight of my week. The set-up is much the same every Monday: the eight of us congregate in the Perlis boardroom, seated around a big table in comfy swivel chairs that make us feel exceptionally professional.  We begin our meetings with a snack (always a hit!) and chat about interesting classroom observations we made over the course of the week. We then move onto the topic of the day, which can range from classroom management to learning styles to promoting a positive mindset in students. We receive handouts and activities, but the sessions are primarily conversation-based, with interesting anecdotes from Ms. Socken’s experiences and a chance for us to share ideas as well. We always have such interesting discussions, and ninety minutes later we are still totally immersed, laughing and polishing off the last chocolate chip cookies.

The placement component of the program puts all that we learn in class into action as we join grades 4 to 7 Hebrew school classes at Beit Rayim. We mainly observe, keeping in mind all that we have learned in our sessions, and help out the students with classwork. We are also working towards teaching a lesson ourselves in the spring term! It has been such an interesting experience, seeing the workings of a classroom from a new perspective and applying what we are learning to a real life situation.

The best thing about the program overall, aside from all that we learn, of course, is the positive, collegial atmosphere. The eight of us have quickly become a community in which we are encouraged to share our thoughts and are made to feel that our ideas are just as important in the learning process as those of our teacher. This program has not only taught me so many practical skills of being a teacher, but it has also opened my eyes to the power of ongoing participatory learning. I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this invaluable program and to have created such wonderful memories with my Fellowship Family.