One of our overarching goals at TanenbaumCHAT is to help studentsdevelop a deep relationship with Israel and Israelis. We have an exciting opportunity to bring a new type of Shalich (literally “emissary” or “messenger”; plural shlichim) to TanenbaumCHAT who will help advance that goal.

I am pleased to announce that we have recruited two married shlichim, Shlomi and Ya’ara Edelshtein, who will join our school community for the next two years. Their focus will be informal and experiential education as opposed to classroom teaching.

Shlomi and Ya’ara are about 4 years post-army.  Shlomi served as a commander in the Haruv Battalion and earned the rank of Company Sergeant Major.  On Israel’s Independence Day in 2010 he receive the “President’s Citation Award” for his excellence in service.  Ya’ara served as a medic in the Navy Seals unit and worked as a high ranking medic in IDF Central Command.  Both are current students at Hebrew University.  Shlomi is studying political science and education, and Ya’ara is studying political science and sociology.

Ya’ara has worked with at-risk youth in Jerusalem, served as a counselor at Camp Ramah in New England for three summers, worked as a counselor in the B’nei Akiva Youth Movement in Israel, and participated on the Birthright Partnership Program.  Shlomi has worked for Ramah Seminars in Israel as a Division Head and for Camp Ramah in New England as a summer counselor.  He is also a certified Guide in the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem museum. Like Ya’ara, he, too, was active in a leadership role in the B’nei Akiva Youth Movement in Israel.  Their references describe them as creative, passionate, hard-working, risk takers, not afraid of failure.

As I mentioned, Ya’ara and Shlomi are not formal teachers. Rather, they are experiential educators who will help infuse the school with additional Israeli ruach (spirit), explore ways to connect our students to their peers in Israel, enhance the shabbaton experience, increase awareness at school of Israeli current events, and assist with the hand-off from TanenbaumCHAT to university life.

They will report to Rabbi Mandel at TCW and Judith Shapero at TCK, work with Kyle Borenstein and Josh Sable at TCW and Keren Romm and Jamie Cohen at TCK, and collaborate with our current Shlichim and other staff members.

The continuation of our Shlichim program has been made possible through the generosity of the Jewish Agency in Israel, the UJA Federation here in Toronto, and donor parents who are committed to seeing the Shlichim program continue even amidst budget cuts.

The presence of Shlichim has been a signature program of TanenbaumCHAT that has made a significant impact on our students.  (For more about the change in the role of Shlichim, see my blog post on Edline dated January 29, 2015.)

Please join us in welcoming Shlomi and Ya’ara when they arrive September 1, 2015.

Tonight, I think not just about your last four years but about the last 17 or 18 years of your life. These were tumultuous times.

When you were about two years old, everyone everywhere was worried about the Y2K bug. People feared all our databases would crash on January 1, 2000. Christians feared the end of the world. Of all the New Year’s Eves to stay awake, this was the one to do so.

I remember where I was on December 31, 1999. It was erev shabbat. I had a big shabbat dinner with my wife and four boys; dinner and kiddush wine lulled me to sleep by 8 or 9 pm. I woke up the next day, and, as your presence today attests, the world didn’t come to an end.

When you were four, you were too young to understand, but the deadliest terrorist attack in history took place on American soil on September 11, 2001. America lost its innocence. I remember where I was at that time as I’m sure your parents do too.

When you were about 7, Facebook was launched; over a billion people now have accounts. It connects you and your “friends” but also guided the protests of the Arab Spring and transformed the war in Gaza this past summer into one that was personally felt in an unprecedented way by Jews everywhere because we are so connected.

You probably don’t remember when Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in June of 2006, but you certainly remember his release in Grade 9. You likely remember well the Boston Marathon bombing at the end of G10, and certainly the 12 Charlie Hebdo murders and those of 4 Jews two days later in a kosher grocery store in Paris in January of your G12 year. Those events were the backdrop of your educational journey.

As you prepare for the uncertain times ahead, I want to leave you with a message based on a comment by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century in America, an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam protest movement, who died in 1972.

Heschel once said that the worst thing a Jew can do is to forget what he or she represents. The worst sin we can commit is to forgot what we stand for because only if we stand for something, can we make a difference in the world.

Rabbi Heschel was right. Think of the great figures of the last century or two who were known for their wisdom.

Mahatma Ghandi was first and foremost a Hindu. His methods of civil disobedience influenced political activists in other countries decades after his death.

Mother Teresa, who died in the year many of you were born 1997, she was first and foremost a Catholic. She dedicated herself to helping the poor and sick throughout the world.

The more deeply these individuals immersed themselves in the message of their own particularistic tradition, the more universalistic they became. These individuals teach that when we are rooted in something, we affect the world most deeply. It`s when we are different that we make a difference, not just for ourselves but for other people.

A former student of mine was once asked when he was in Grade 10, whether or not he would be prepared to survive on a university campus, in the “real world,” after going to Jewish day school all his life. The person wanted to know: when he leaves the day school bubble, how will he navigate the diversity of university life?

He responded, “I will have such a good sense of who I am as a Jew that I will have something to contribute to that diversity.” Indeed, that’s what he did.

There is a man named Natan Sharansky who is head of an organization like the UJA Federation but in Israel. In the 1970`s and 80`s he was a human rights activist in the former Soviet Union. He fought on behalf of Soviet citizens like Andrei Sacharov who advocated freedom of thought and Alexander Solzhenitsyn who tried to draw public attention to the existence of forced labor camps during the Stalin era. When Sharansky, himself, tried to emigrate to Israel, he was refused an exit visa and thrown into prison. In his autobiography, Fear No Evil, he tells how the more he discovered his Jewish roots, the more he redoubled his efforts on behalf of all dissidents. He draws a famous analogy that I`m sure you know but is worth repeating. He says that just as a shofar only makes a sound if you blow from the narrow end, so too do we, as Jews, make an impact when we speak with a Jewish voice.

We make the biggest contribution to the world around us the more we remember who we are.

We Jews comprise a fifth of one percent of the world’s population. Yet, 3 of 9 Supreme Court Justices in the US are Jews, 1 in 3-4 Nobel Laureates are Jews, over half of world chess champions are Jews.

You are part of a people whose contributions to better the world are found in the inventors, scientists, thinkers, teachers and poets that have all helped make the world a better place to live.

You are part of an amazing people, graduating from one of the leading Jewish high schools in North America, with parents who have raised you with enduring values.

Remember who you are, and you will bring great blessing to the world.

Mazel tov and congratulations to the class of 2015.

The big news for the Jewish future in Toronto is that next year’s entering Grade 9 class at TanenbaumCHAT is on track to be larger than the current Grade 9.  Our goal is to continue that trend despite the precarious state of Jewish day school education.

The accepted wisdom is that there are factors underlying a vulnerable state of Jewish schooling that are beyond our immediate control, some demographic and some economic. As such, we might call out for a task force to solve the problem. We might hope and pray that someone devises a fantastic low-cost high yield model for privately educating Jewish youth.  Or we can solve the problem ourselves. The future is in our hands.

That’s why TanenbaumCHAT is pursuing an independent strategy towards academic excellence and financial sustainability at our two high school campuses. It is a strategy that focuses on evolution, not revolution.  We are making the changes that the times demand.

Like many other private schools in Toronto, we are transforming ourselves into a more competitive recruitment-based operation.  An energetic group of parents has been meeting regularly to drive this campaign.  Efforts are already yielding results: the entering Grade 9 class for 2015-2016 is now projected to exceed the size of this year’s Grade 9 class. Previously, we focused exclusively on admissions, i.e. processing applicants as they came to the school. Those days are over. We are now tapping into the collective power of our students, parents, alumni, and staff to reach out to prospective families.

Besides this shift to a recruitment-based focus, we are investing in the educational value proposition of the school by introducing more academic options for advanced students. A recent gift of approximately $1.5 million will see the launch of a robotics and engineering program at TanenbaumCHAT.  In 2016, we will offer Advanced Placement courses that enable students to gain university placement or credit. Curricular study in Israel during high school will become an integral dimension of a TanenbaumCHAT education. Last year, 30 of our students conducted 50 hours of research in marine biology in Eilat sponsored by Ben Gurion University; this year, students will study robotics at the Technion University in Haifa and conduct a three-week archaeological dig near Ashkelon under the auspices of Harvard University.

To continually enhance the TanenbaumCHAT experience, we are streamlining operations on both campuses to avoid duplication and have set as our goal to raise $1.5 million annually. As expenses continue to climb, we, as a community and as TanenbaumCHAT parents, must all do more to ensure that we put Jewish education as a priority.  We must raise necessary funds to ensure that we continue to raise the next generation of proud, passionate, and engaged Jews.

For over 50 years TanenbaumCHAT has graduated a steady stream of knowledgeable and empowered young people. Our alumni include many who become committed leaders in the layered communities that comprise Toronto.  We find them at the forefront of the Jewish community, active in all professional ranks, in Toronto’s educational leadership, in the business world, and political realm. Our graduates shape the Toronto Jewish community and much of Toronto and Canada well beyond it.  We will do the same for the next 50 years and we will set an example for others on how to create a sustainable, vibrant future of enduring significance.  There is a lot to talk about.

June is a good time to reflect back on the year’s accomplishments.  I can point to many sports tournaments where we took the trophy, mock trial championships where we won the championship, science and math competitions where we out-placed our competition.

However, what impresses me most are the instances where our students became a source of light to the world around them and illuminated the lives of others.  I think about one of our students who collects empty bottles from people’s recycling and takes them to the beer store for a refund and donates the money to charity; another who paints fingernails of patients in the hospital and of residents in old age home; and another who collects gently-used school supplies and sent one shipment already to India and a second to Kenya.

But it’s not just individuals.  It’s entire grades of students and in some cases the entire school–students and staff–that show the value of TanenbaumCHAT to the community.

Our Grade 11 and 12 students spent a week building and repairing homes in West Virginia on behalf of indigent families aided by Habit for Humanity.  The entire Grade 9 class spent a whole day engaged in Chesed Day around the community.  They prepared lunches for hungry members of our community who are served by Ve’ahavta, a Canadian Humanitarian Agency.  They sang with adult clients at REENA, read stories and taught about Purim to children at the SRC preschool, and offered companionship and company to residents of the VIVA Retirement Residence.

When a school reaches out to and serves others, it shows its value to the community.  A school gains significance as an indispensable agency when it serves as a source of light to others.

In fact this is the case for any institution.  It’s a truth that comes through in a midrash about the Temple in Jerusalem.  Our tradition teaches that the windows of the Temple were constructed in an unusual way.  Typically, windows were constructed in such a way to maximize the amount of sunlight that comes in.

With the Temple, the opposite was the case.  The windows were constructed in a way to allow the light of the menorah to emit outwards.  That light came from the seven-branched menorah.

The light of the menorah was meant to shine from the Temple and light up the world.  It was meant to be a source of illumination and inspiration to the outside world.  It enriched the world.

Our school is and must always be a source of light to the community and to others’ lives.

We have many stories and examples of how our students do that. And we need to share them with our outside communities – Federation, donors, prospective parents and students. When they see how brightly the light inside our schools shines, they are more likely to be invested in our school.  They will see that yes, TanenbaumCHAT may be a strain on the budget of our community or of families, but in fact, it’s a bargain.