Aug. 31, 2001
Look ahead for Jewish schools
PAT JOHNSON REPORTER
As the new school year gets underway, the Bulletin takes
a look at how B.C.'s Jewish schools are doing.
Hebrew Academy stable
Rabbi Mordechai Loiterman is happy to see some status quo. After
a year of upheaval and impending change, the principal of Judaic
studies for Hebrew Academy said he is looking forward to emphasizing
There was unsettling news earlier this year, when the Ministry
of Education announced that it was handing over control of the building
in which Hebrew Academy is located for use as a French-language
school. Loiterman said he still hopes for some form of accommodation
in which both institutions could use the space beyond this year,
but no guarantees are likely until December.
Like other local Jewish schools, Hebrew Academy is holding firm
on its enrolment, with 125 students signed up this year, compared
to 123 last year.
Lubavitch B.C. had also been sharing the school building where
Hebrew Academy is located. Now that they have moved into new digs
at their old location on the corner of 49th and Oak, Hebrew Academy
has been able to expand a little. They have a dedicated computer
lab and an expanded library.
"We're looking forward to a year of maintenance," said
Loiterman. "Things being nice and steady."
Although this year will be stable, Loiterman and Anne Thompson,
the school's principal of general studies, have their eyes further
down the road.
"We want to talk about five, 10 years planning," said
Although they will not necessarily be evicted from their space,
the academy certainly would like the assurance of having a permanent
location, he said. There is an allocated fund for capital construction,
though obtaining an appropriate location for construction could
provide a challenge.
Regardless of location, though, Loiterman said the school is increasing
its sense of community. Last year, a parent-teacher association
was formed, which allowed for greater family involvement in the
institution. The school has seen various permutations over the years.
Begun in 1987, upstairs in the Chabad building, it was later run
by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council and, in 1998, was turned over
to an independent body, the Vancouver Hebrew Academy Society.
"It's basically a democracy," said Loiterman, "It's
run by the parents."
In the next few years, Hebrew Academy may expand its after-school
care program and increase extra-curricular activities including
sports, music and the arts.
Academics top TT goals
Vancouver Talmud Torah school is venturing forth with numerous
new endeavors this year. The student population has remained steady
compared to last year - about 500 elementary students and about
70 in the newly unified high school that used to be Vancouver Jewish
The two schools unified during the last academic year in an effort
to combine forces for a complete kindergarten-to-Grade 12 education.
As part of ongoing changes, the school will have the addition this
year of an educational psychologist to aid children with special
needs. There are also expanded enrichment programs and added emphasis
on Hebrew and English for kids with learning disabilities.
Eyal Daniel, Talmud Torah's head of school, said staff will continue
building on the school's remarkable academic success. In the provincewide
language arts and math exams given to students in Grade 4 and Grade
7, Talmud Torah is among the top five per cent of schools, both
public and private.
Meanwhile, there will also be some exciting trips in the offing.
Grade 9 and 10 students may be going to Israel, while the Asper
Foundation is expected to grant funds for students in grades 9 to
11 to fly to Washington, D.C., to visit the Holocaust education
Also new this year is a multimedia projector system donated to
the school through an endowment fund set up to honor Reta Wolochow,
a long-time volunteer who co-ordinated the publication of the annual
Jewish community phone directory. In 1996, friends and colleagues
created a fund in her honor and 200 people donated. Each year, Wolochow
decides how the revenue from the fund is to be designated. In past
years, she has dedicated funds for Talmud Torah to receive a piano
and other musical instruments.
Among Talmud Torah students, there is a strong commitment to community.
After the Indian earthquake, students initiated efforts to raise
funds for relief. They have also, on their own, raised funds for
the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The connections to Israel will continue to be strengthened this
year, with the arrival of two young women from Israel who will be
in Vancouver volunteering as a national service alternative to military
duty in Israel. The school's twinning program with a school in the
Upper Galilee will also continue to link Talmud Torah students to
the Jewish state.
Hillel will be hopping
Hillel House at the University of British Columbia should be a
busy place this fall. Gabe Meranda, executive director of Hillel,
said they expect a larger number of Jewish students to enrol at
the Vancouver institution this year.
Anecdotally, he said, it sounds like more Jewish students are opting
to stay in town rather than go away to college in Eastern Canada
or in the United States.
"We are anticipating a fairly large first-year [Jewish] student
body," said Meranda.
Organizing events for the anticipated crowds will be Aviel Barclay,
the newly hired programming director. Any new programs will be considered
by the new executive and members after school starts next month,
but Meranda said the old stand-bys are still on. A welcome-back
barbecue and occasional Shabbat dinners will take place after the
school-year routine kicks in. A weekly hot lunch program begins
again after Sept. 11.
As they do each year, Hillel members will co-ordinate a Holocaust
Awareness Week, with displays in the Student Union Building in November,
as well as speakers and possible a vigil.
The popular annual formal boat cruise will probably take place
next spring. Last year, the event attracted 250 partiers. "We're
hoping for more this year," said Meranda.
RJDS gets a face-lift
Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS) students will find plenty of
improvements when they return to school this fall. Thanks to an
anonymous $35,000 donation, the school library is being equipped
with piles of new books that will make it not only adequate by the
standards of the Ministry of Education, but ideal for researching
Jewish and general topics.
Co-principals Leah Levitt and Ken Clausen are excited about other
changes as well. The school has a wholly renewed computer lab, with
educational software and even its own Internet platform.
"It's a state-of-the-art computer lab," said Clausen.
The new library and computer lab contents are just part of the
upgrades that extend into the academic programming. Clausen said
the school is putting an added emphasis on educational basics.
"We're focusing on the writing process and mathematics and
reading," he said.
Levitt added that, for the first time, the school is integrating
its French component with its Judaic studies component, teaching
some aspects of Judaic programming in the French language. Levitt
noted that RJDS is an inclusive school that makes every effort to
accommodate students with special needs and, this year, they will
endeavor to expand on this front.
"We pride ourselves on including all students, regardless
of their needs," she said.
In addition to the academic expansions, the school is undergoing
changes to its structure. For added safety, the school parking lot
is being redesigned, with pedestrian and car paths more clearly
defined and a new parking lot at the side of the building.
Meanwhile, the fund-raising continues on the ongoing capital campaign
that would see the portable buildings on the site replaced with
a new, expanded, permanent structure. The school is now 8,000 square
feet and Levitt said the finished school should be about double
that. Progress depends on the continued success of the campaign,
which seeks a minimum of $2.5 million to build the addition. Neither
principal could say exactly where the capital fund stands at present,
but they said they hope to have the funding in place within one
to three years.
"We are doing quite well and we are hoping to reach our goal,"
said Levitt. This year's enrolment remains about the same level
as last year's, at about 150.