Tuition has dropped for the next five years by about $10,000, and we’ve received over 60 inquiries since the announcement.  The reduction in tuition makes a big difference for many families, and it’s important to spread the news.  We greatly appreciate the generosity of the donors who have made this possible.  However, as important as the price reduction is, our value proposition is not that a TanenbaumCHAT education is less expensive than it used to be.  What makes TanenbaumCHAT worthy of consideration is what we offer, not just our price.

We prepare students not just academically, but Jewishly as well. We empower today’s Jewish teens to have the confidence to stand up for Israel when no one else does, to continue their exploration of Judaism even when their peers have stopped, and to remain loyal to Jewish tradition even when it’s unpopular. We connect students to their Jewish roots, the Jewish people, and the Jewish State so that they enter university comfortable in their Jewish skin.

TanenbaumCHAT is a place where students can bring their whole selves to school: not only their academic and athletic and artistic “self” but their Jewish “self” as well.  At TanenbaumCHAT students have Jewish experiences in the hallways, in casual discussions with teachers during lunch, and on the weekends at a shabbaton.  They encounter something Jewish in the daily announcements, in the music over the loudspeaker, and, of course, during class.

When that happens, when Judaism is relevant at all times of the day and not just a few times a year or even one night a week, Judaism becomes part of who you are. The beauty of our school is that students can take their whole self with them, including their identity as a Jew, to the place where they spend more hours of the day than in any other place of the first 18 years of their life.

Our vision at TanenbaumCHAT is to raise a generation of young adults of high moral character who are intellectually curious, deeply connected to their Jewish roots, the Jewish community, and Israel, and prepared to make a unique contribution as a citizen of the world. The magic of TanenbaumCHAT happens everyday… in the way a teacher teaches not just the subject matter but a valuable life lesson; in the way the music or arts or Tanach or sports helps students discover an ability that he or she never recognized; in the way TanenbaumCHAT students accept, embrace, and help kids who wouldn’t necessarily fit in some place else; in the way that regardless of denominational affiliation, everyone gets along and studies Jewish texts together under one roof.

While we share the news of the reduced price of tuition, this gift is, to quote one of our parents, “a gift of opportunity.” What’s priceless is what we offer.

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This Tuesday evening is the start of Yom Yerushalayim, the day celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem 50 years ago.  It is the day that invokes the stirring words “Har Habayit b’yadeinu,” the Temple mount is in our hands. In an era like ours when wars endure for years, it is hard to comprehend that Israel defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in merely six days.  It was a miraculous victory.

Amidst the euphoria of our celebration, it is appropriate to recall that victory came with a price.  Approximately 800 Israelis were killed and over 4,000 were wounded.  In gratitude and in memory of those who sacrificed their lives so that Jerusalem could be the reunited eternal capital of the Jewish nation, I share excerpts of the words of Galit Baram, The Israeli Consul General which she spoke at this year’s city-wide Yom Hazikaron ceremony.

Many of us carry in our hearts names and faces of our fallen family members, friends from school, neighbours, army buddies and colleagues.  Each one of them has a name; each one of them was a whole world of hopes, dreams, plans, talents – that will never materialize.  And the feeling of loss is unbearable.

On this day (Yom Hazikaron), we go to military cemeteries and attend memorial ceremonies.  We see their parents and ourselves growing old, see their children or nephews and nieces growing up.  Time passes and they will forever remain young and handsome in our memory.            

The State of Israel is an unprecedented miracle of an ancient people returning to its ancestral home after 2000 years of exile.  Israel’s social, regional and economic achievements in its relatively short modern history are magnificent.  It is a country that absorbs immigrants, guarantees democratic values and defends its population in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the world.  It has managed to sign two peace agreements with its former enemies – Egypt and Jordan.  It provides humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees, and is willing to negotiate with any party in our region sincerely committed to peace.

All this could not be achieved without the sense of duty, sacrifice, resilience and determination of the people of Israel.  Canadian visitors to Israel, elected officials among them, told me on more than one occasion how impressed they were with the vitality and energy of our diverse Israeli society, and with the resilience and courage of our population….

Israeli musician and songwriter Naomi Shemer wrote in her song,“We Aren’t There Yet”:

That’s a sign we have not yet arrived,

And the horizon is still far away,

And your heart is still open to the four winds –

And we must continue walking,

And we must continue marching,

And the road continues to be long.”

We are committed to continue to fight for the defense of Israel, for its identity, for its growth and prosperity; and to make sure it will be worthy of the sacrifice of your loved ones, of our loved ones.

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I remember visiting TanenbaumCHAT five years ago and inquiring about the school’s STEM curricula (the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  I was told surprisingly “we don’t do that here.”  It was odd given that STEM occupations were growing rapidly throughout the world and STEM careers are driving innovation and a thriving global economy.

Thanks to a million and a half dollar gift from Danny and Anita Chai, we founded an Engineering Academy last year, established a competitive robotics team, and sent a group of students to the Technion to learn how to design robots that mimic biological systems.  STEM is taking root at TanenbaumCHAT.  This fall will be the Academy’s second year and we will be welcoming 33 students into the program, double the number currently enrolled.

Who are next year’s cohort of Grade 9 budding engineers?  Most of them are tinkerers. They like taking things apart and building things. Some got their start building sand castles and figuring out how to make tall towers stay up.   One built a robot that closes his bedroom door and another that senses when his water bottle is full so that he stops filling it.  Another designed his own website; one does breadboarding (designing electronic circuits).

Whether it’s a zipper, a car, or a robot, figuring out how things work and how to make them better intrigues these students.  “I am very interested in the idea of how things work,” wrote one applicant, “and the science behind it.”  Some have taught themselves coding such as Javascript, HTML, CSS, Scratch, and Python; one is teaching himself how to build an Android app.  All seem to be Lego aficionados.

Among our applicants are students who have built and launched their own rockets, built towers and bridges, reprogrammed crashed or non-functioning cell phones into working computer platforms and working phones with great capabilities, built a solar panelled windmill, created a lottery game using Scratch, and recycled old scraps into new usable objects.  One student was the youngest member of his middle school’s professional IT Department whose job it was to repair computer software problems for the Senior Division laptop program.  Several have experience building robots with Mindstorms EV3.

The entering class is made up of problem solvers, creative thinkers, and inventors.  They are inquisitive and curious.  They like math and logic and programming and a good challenge.  “No matter how hard the task,” one wrote, “I’ll always be optimistic and won’t stop trying until I solve it or fix it.”  All enjoy hands-on projects.

They tend to learn things on their own (Codeacademy, YouTube, Numberphile, and Scishow are popular), but they also recognize that engineers work in teams.  They value collaboration.  They understand that engineering is an “iterative” process; you work on a design over and over until it works.  One student said it this way: “I like the fact that there is no such things as a bad idea.”

I was struck by the number of students who had an influential role model in their life.  For some it was a parent or grandparent.  For another it was a middle school math teacher.  One admires Elon Musk for his dedication to building electric vehicles and rocket ships.  Many attributed their interest to middle school clubs, classes, a bridge building competition, or robotics team.  One said it was the STEM class that sparked her interest; for another, it was a Rube Goldberg contest.

Some know they want to go into engineering as a career.  One thinks a lot about ways to integrate technology into the design of aircraft.  Another aspires to be an astronaut in space.  One wants to understand how hardware and software interact in order to design new electronic devices.

Why are these students interested in the Anita and Danny Chai Engineering Academy?

All acknowledge the important role that robotics, automation, and technology in general will increasingly play in the world of tomorrow.  One wrote “I believe it is essential that all kinds of people have the knowledge of engineering so they can use it for the benefit of the world and humankind.”

Another cleverly captured the thoughts of all the applicants: “In today’s technological world, I feel the engineering program is a pathway for life (Chai) into a highly skilled field that will open up many options for me.”

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I’m a lover of Hebrew.  I like languages in general, but especially Hebrew.  Throughout my life, Hebrew was and is one of the primary ways that I identify as a Zionist.  In fact, since my four sons were born (our oldest was born in 1989), I have spoken only Hebrew to them.  My Hebrew still has an American accent.  I make mistakes in grammar and syntax.  I’m not proficient in street Hebrew and often use antiquated words that make Israelis cringe or laugh.  Nevertheless, our sons have learned Hebrew (thanks also to their day school education).

My Eliezer ben Yehudah craziness about Hebrew wasn’t always received well by my kids.  At times they responded in English, but they also knew that if they wanted something they needed to make the request in Hebrew. Now, our two sons who served in the IDF have authentic Israeli accents. The one who currently lives in Israel has near-native abilities and gently and respectfully corrects my Hebrew.  The other two speak to me predominantly in Hebrew but mix in English and do well around Israelis.

As committed as I am to the Hebrew language, I must admit that we fight an uphill battle in the Diaspora to make the case for Hebrew.  In the world today, more Jews speak English than Hebrew; English may now be the lingua franca of our people.  To advance in academia in Israel, one must publish in English.  Almost every classical text that was originally published in Hebrew is now available in English translation thus making the incentive to read texts “in the original” not so pressing.

Given this new reality, I wasn’t surprised to read the findings of a recent study conducted by Professors Jack Wertheimer and Alex Pomson about Hebrew language instruction in Jewish day schools.  It is available online at: https://www.rosovconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Hebrew-for-What-AVI-CHAI-Foundation.pdf.

One of the most intriguing and disturbing  findings is that older day school students typically perceive their Hebrew language skills to be poorer than younger students’ perceptions of their abilities. Older students also enjoy learning Hebrew less than do their younger peers.

Alex Pomson explains the results this way:

In the early phases of learning a language, the gains come quickly, and the motivation to learn comes from a sense of making progress. The satisfactions are intrinsic to the task. We thrill at being able to say things in a foreign tongue. At some point – sooner or later – we hit a wall. We enter what the Proficiency Method people call a “silent phase” where language learning advances less dramatically, and the intrinsic pleasures are not enough to sustain our language growth. We start to say less even if we understand more. And the question is what might it take for us to scale that wall or break through the silence.

It’s in that “silent phase,” when Hebrew takes a plunge, that students begin asking themselves why they are breaking their teeth on Hebrew.  Some don’t hit a wall and progress is its own motivation.  However, the vast majority of students need reason to “keep calm and carry on.”

Another study, conducted by the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education, offered some encouragement.  The latter research found that kids who have relatives in Israel and who visit those relatives in Israel are more likely to gain proficiency in Hebrew and feel positive about their abilities.  These findings have implications for students who don’t have relatives in Israel.

Here’s what Alex Pomson writes:

Educators need to provide students with relevant goals and reasons for persevering with this task. If teachers would truly only respond when students speak in Hebrew, that would provide reason to persist. If students know that they need Hebrew to communicate with peers in Israel – not just on a two-week trip but on an ongoing basis -that would be another reason. And if teachers would be ready to explore with students what they see as compelling reasons to study Hebrew, that would make a difference too.

I don’t put the responsibility on teachers alone.  All of us need to make the case to our children why it’s worth learning Hebrew.  It’s starts by asking ourselves the question:  Why do we think it’s important to learn Hebrew?

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