Left to right are gala honouree Anita Silber, Shalhevet Girls High School head of school Meira Federgrun and Shalhevet board president Vivian Claman. (Jocelyne Hallé Photography)
On April 7, Shalhevet Girls High School honoured Anita Silber with the Guardian of the Flame Award.
Vivian Claman, president of the Shalhevet board of directors, described Silber as someone “whose default is set to ‘giving.’”
“Anita leads by example, showing what it means to be charitable,” Claman told the Independent. “She is a woman devoted to her community and to her family.”
Having learned the importance of philanthropy from her father at a young age, Silber said, “It left a deep impression on me.”
When asked what she values most, she said, “Jewish education and philanthropy.” And, as a former educator herself, she said she recognizes the excellent quality of education the girls receive at Shalhevet.
“The amount of attention the students get and the mentoring they receive from their principal and teachers will serve them well in the future,” said Silber, who has followed some of the Shalhevet graduates and their careers and community involvement. “It’s so important to have options like Shalhevet Girls High School in order for our [Jewish] community to flourish and remain sustainable,” she said.
Silber’s background includes a variety of careers and leadership roles: elementary school teacher; marriage, family and child therapist; clinical art therapist; member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver Israel overseas allocations committee; and member of the Vancouver Jewish Community Foundation board of governors, to name just a few.
In the 1990s, Silber led support groups for people with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. She also led children-of-divorce groups at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver for Jewish Family Services. With the Silber Family Foundation, she helped establish an art therapy program at Ronald McDonald House.
Silber’s passion for Israel began just a few weeks after the Six Day War, in 1967, when she visited Israel for the first time, at age 22. While there, she volunteered at a hospital and fell in love with the country. Fast forward several decades and Silber, along with her husband Arnold, support numerous projects in Israel’s Upper Galilee, particularly the Friends of Beit Vancouver fundraising initiative in Kiryat Shmona.
“Beit Vancouver, which opened in 2006, is an amazing centre for at-risk kids and teens from the periphery, who go there after school for all kinds of programs, including educational and music programs, computer training and more,” explained Silber. “The centre also serves kids with disabilities, and offers family counseling and therapy.”
With her high regard for Jewish education, Silber was a fitting choice for Shalhevet’s Guardian of the Flame Award. The school, in existence for 13 years, was originally an extension of Vancouver Hebrew Academy, and then struck out on its own as Shalhevet in 2007. It is the only Orthodox girls high school in Vancouver.
According to Meira Federgrun, head of school, fundamental to the Shalhevet philosophy is “empathy and chesed – feeling for others, and seeking to understand them and their needs.”
Federgrun said Shalhevet’s teachers “instil in our students a passion for leadership, inspiring them to step up and take responsibility. Students are involved in planning and running school programs, Shabbatons, and extracurricular activities.” The teachers have created a real sense of community for the girls, both in and out of school, she said.
According to Claman, “When the girls are all together, they’re like a gigantic family.”
Shalhevet’s enrolment is not large – only 14 girls in grades 8 through 12 this year – yet they offer a full dual curriculum of Judaics and secular studies. Federgrun said it’s a small school, “but we pack a big punch.” The teacher-student ratio and small class size (one to four students) allow for personalized attention and learning.
Shalhevet has also offered some AP (advanced placement) and online classes.
“We definitely cater the curriculum to what the girls want to do. If we have a girl who wants a specific course, we’ll make sure to offer it for her,” said Federgrun. “We’ll also help out any special needs students by collaborating with the family, staff and any service providers to create an IEP (individualized education plan) for each student. That IEP guides our teaching and goal-setting for that student, and it’s reviewed often and adjusted as needed.”
Shalhevet offers a variety of extracurricular programming, including a basketball team, an annual play produced by the girls, holiday events and a student committee. Shalhevet accepts girls from a range of Orthodox Jewish backgrounds, complemented by a staff of teachers that includes secular educators.
Shalhevet graduates have gone on to study at top-notch universities, securing careers in areas such as medicine, speech language pathology, social work and law. Many Shalhevet graduates also have gone on to study in seminary.
“We teach our girls to look beyond themselves and to see others for who they really are on the inside, without fear, and with open hearts. This commitment extends beyond the walls of the classroom and the school. Shalhevet is known for our students’ commitment to volunteering and helping in the community,” said Federgrun in her gala speech. “The students volunteer, tutoring secular Jewish public school students in Hebrew reading, Jewish holidays and Torah knowledge once a week, which is a powerful way for the girls to play a role in the broader, non-religious community. The girls also volunteer at the Louis Brier Home, spending time with seniors, visiting the sick in hospital, and more.”
Shalhevet girls learn solid Torah values, continued Federgrun. “Our Judaics teachers are inspiring role models of devotion to Yiddishkeit, and they engage our students’ minds, hearts and souls through Torah study,” she said.
Claman emphasized that Shalhevet is important for the community, providing religious Jews a place to send their daughters for an Orthodox Jewish education that incorporates a secular education. “There was a big gap in the community because there was no Orthodox girls high school until Shalhevet,” said Claman. With concerns about the Pacific Torah Institute boys high school closing, Shalhevet wants the community to know that they are a strong, thriving school.
Asked what she is most proud of about Shalhevet, Federgrun said, “The warm environment, the girls giving back to our community, strong academics, and the students learning leadership skills.”
She added that many of their students go on to accomplish tremendous things. “We believe in offering a well-rounded education,” she said. “It’s very important to send girls out into the world today, and they need to be prepared.”
Claman said she’s most proud of what the girls do for the community.
More than 200 people attended the soldout Shalhevet gala honouring Silber, which was held at Schara Tzedeck and included entertainment by comedian Ashley Baker. Most of the money raised will go towards student scholarships.
Shelley Civkin is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review, and currently writes a bi-weekly column about retirement for the Richmond News.