It’s hard to believe the year is winding down already.  Our students can rightly boast of many spectacular achievements:  

  • Our TCK mock trial team just won first place in the regional competition.  
  • Our TCK budding scientists and engineers took first-place in the Toronto Weizmann Physics Competition and competed in Israel in the international competition.  
  • Our TCW DECA team qualified among over 6,000 students in the provincial competition and earned a place at the International DECA competition in Orlando, Florida.  
  • Our TCW Tigers added two more league championships to make it four for this year’s Junior and Varsity Girls’ Basketball championships and the Varsity Boys’ and Girls’ Hockey championships. 
  • Students from both campuses in Grade 10 recently returned from a mini-mester in Eilat where they conducted field research in marine biology with post-doctorate students from Ben Gurion University.  

I say:  Spread the word!  We’re on fire!  Every day, we have over 1,100 reasons to be proud.  Each student is contributing something important to the school and brings honour to the Jewish community.

Spread the word because I hear concern in the community about declining enrolment.  Yes, our enrolment is declining, as it is in all schools in Toronto due largely to demographic shifts.  Sadly, this has meant, for us, that we have had to lay off teachers.  However, we have developed a long-term plan that ensures that TanenbaumCHAT will remain the premier place for educating Toronto’s Jewish teens.

Spread the word about what we are doing to retain our edge. Let the community know that we are: 

  1. Intensifying recruitment efforts by hiring a full-time recruitment and admissions director and establishing a parent Recruitment and Volunteer Engagement committee.
  2. Managing expenses more tightly, eliminating tiny classes (<4 students) that drain the budget, and implementing cross-campus programming that minimizes duplication.
  3. Adding Advanced Placement (AP) and other advanced Jewish Studies and General Studies courses starting 2016-2017 as well as offering summer school courses starting 2016.
  4. Raising the academic standards of grads by requiring Grade 12 students to take G12 English at TanenbaumCHAT and not through an outside service – effective the 2016-2017 academic year.
  5. Piloting a new Jewish Studies curriculum in New Stream written by the Melton Centre and tested in Jewish day high schools in the USA.
  6. Developing the Jewish Studies curriculum so that students in the upper grades starting 2016-2017 have a wider variety of Jewish Studies courses from which to choose.
  7. Utilizing technology to link the two campuses so that we can continue to offer a broad range of courses and minimize course cancellation due to lower numbers.

If you hear negative rumours such as we’re closing a campus, please assure them we have marshalled the creativity, grit, and vision to retain two campuses of enduring significance. 

Let me conclude by saying how much joy I have experienced at TanenbaumCHAT and what a privilege it is to lead this great institution.  Although we are living through challenging times, I see opportunity and excitement in the years ahead.  The administration, board and I welcome your questions and ideas.  We are stronger when we work in partnership.

Over Pesach a friend of mine passed away.  He was 93 and lived in Detroit, Michigan.  He is the grandfather of two of our students here at TCW.  And he was a survivor.  His name is Henry.  I officiated at his funeral.

He was one of the smartest people you’d ever meet.  He taught little kids how to multiply two-digit numbers in their head before their teachers thought they knew how to add.  

He was a lawyer and an accountant and worked for the Internal Revenue Service.  The most difficult tax cases that the US government was working on would be sent to him to figure out.

He loved to read and learn and attend classes even in his his 90’s.  He was known by his teachers as the one who asked the toughest questions.

But what’s most remarkable about him wasn’t his intellect. That was a gift that God gave him.  What was most remarkable was his resilience.  That was an act of will.

Henry had just finished Grade 12 when the war broke out.  He and his family split up.  He went with his mother to a city called Radom thinking it was safe.  When the SS came in, they gave the 33,000 Jews there 10 days to relocate themselves into a small ghetto.

Within a short period of time, people were dying of hunger and disease.  There were daily transports taking out the dead from the ghetto leaving the strongest there.

Henry was assigned with some other prisoners to work the night shift at an SS ammunition factory.  

One night Henry saw a glow over the ghetto and at dawn there were bodies strewn all over.  He ran to his grandmother’s place and saw her body lying beside his aunt’s.  They had been shot.

Henry worked a 10 hour shift. Prisoners were given one piece of bread and watered soup everyday.  He came to the conclusion he wouldn’t last much longer.

But he did. He survived a death march, a beating, and typhus.

Somehow this man who weighed only 92 pounds when he was liberated found the strength of body and mind to start life over in the United States.  This man who had every reason to lose his faith in God, raised a family that is so committed to the Jewish community that he now has grandchildren here at TanenbaumCHAT.  This man who had every reason to lose his faith in people, would sing in German about the brotherhood of mankind.  

Elie Weisel worte a book called Messengers of God about different biblical stories.  He describes what he calls the first genocide:  Cain kills Abel.  Abel is dead.  Cain is exiled. Remarkably, Adam and Eve survive the loss of two children and they have a third child, Seth.  The greatness of Adam and Eve was not that they were the first couple, says Weisel.  That’s an accident of chronology.  Their greatness is not that they began but that they began again.  They loved.  They lost, and they began again. That was an act of will.

Henry was a man who began again. He reminds us that we are part of a people that generation after generation has figured out how to begin again.  All of us today who come to school daily and study Torah are proof that we are an undying people always prepared to begin again.

I am a guest blogger on The Times of Israel*. I have included a blog post about my late teacher Mora Nechama. Please click HERE to read my thoughts.

* The Times of Israel is a Jerusalem-based online newspaper founded in 2012 to document developments in Israel, the Middle East and around the Jewish world.