Left to right: Jeff Ross and Stephen Kaye, King David High School co-presidents in 2006, and Diane Friedman and Alain Guez, this year’s co-presidents. (photo from KDHS)
“At King David, Jewish memory and education intersect, creating a unique and powerful learning experience that prepares our students for a lifetime of meaning and purpose,” said King David High School board co-president Alain Guez in his closing remarks at the school’s Golden Thread Gala May 18.
The gala is KDHS’s primary fundraising event of the year, and more than 300 people filled the ballroom at Congregation Beth Israel, including some 50 King David alumni, to celebrate the school’s 18 years in its current building, at Willow Street and 41st Avenue. The school itself is double chai (36) years old, its origins being found in Maimonides Secondary School, which opened in September 1987.
“We would not be here today if Maimonides … had not started us on our path, our derech, to where we are now,” said head of school Russ Klein in his opening remarks.
“This evening is to celebrate what our community has built together,” he said. “The Diamond Foundation, who support so many of our community efforts, made King David possible with their generous support, belief in our importance, and their strong Jewish values.”
Rabbi Stephen Berger, head of Judaic studies at KDHS, noted that the event was taking place on erev Yom Yerushalayim. He compared Yerushalayim – “a holy place for all people, all people can worship G-d in this one place” – to KDHS, in that there are many different Jewish schools in Metro Vancouver but only one high school, and this one high school has to serve everybody across the religious and cultural spectrum. “We don’t always get it right, but it is a place where we can try, and respect and show love to everybody,” he said.
Event co-chairs Heidi Seidman and Sherri Wise said a few words about the school, as well. “It is important to note,” said Seidman, “that not one student is left behind and, when you look around the room tonight, you are all part of the village that makes that possible.”
As auctioneer, Fred Lee – who is a regular contributor to CBC, the Province, Boulevard and Vancouver Magazine – stressed this idea. He spoke about the Jewish community and the importance of the high school. He also helped raise funds that will go towards the school’s programs and students. There was a silent auction, a 50/50 draw and other opportunities to donate.
The gala featured panelists Stephen Kaye, and Jeff Ross and Reisa Schwartzman, who were integral to the transition of the school from Maimonides to King David, and for taking the school from the portables it occupied on Baillie Street to having its own building on Willow. They were introduced in a video by their respective children, David Kaye and Zachary Ross, graduates of the inaugural KDHS Class of 2006.
Stephen Kaye came to Canada from South Africa, where there is a network of Jewish day schools called King David Schools. He described himself as “very passionate about Jewish education” and said, “The feedback we got from the community was that, if we could show enough commitment from parents to send their kids to a Jewish high school, there would be support from the community.” It was a hard sell, he said, but then the Diamonds bought the land at Willow and 41st.
Stephen and Sandy Kaye shlepped three kids from North Vancouver to King David in Vancouver, noted Klein, who emceed the panel discussion.
Ross spoke of studies showing that kids who have gone to a Jewish high school are more Jewishly knowledgeable and involved. And yet, he said that, in the beginning, there was almost a feeling that you were sacrificing your children to the experiment of a new high school, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Ross gave Rabbi Mordechai Feuerstein, a co-founder of Maimonides, kudos for his efforts to keep the school going.
When the school was in “the shack” (portables) on Baillie Street, said Schwartzman, there were fewer than 60 kids and now there are more than 270. Back when she was helping bring KDHS into existence, she said she was confident this growth would happen, based on a survey that was conducted at Vancouver Talmud Torah, which would be the main feeder school into the high school. She was president of VTT at the time, and the survey of parents showed that about 50% of the kids from VTT would go to a Jewish high school if there were one.
Quality education was important to everyone, said Schwartzman, and one of the things the group behind KDHS did to ensure quality was to bring Perry Seidelman in as principal. Seidelman, who had some 30 years’ experience in teaching and administration at the time, had been contemplating retirement, but took on the principalship and held the position until 2008; he was succeeded by Klein.
In a video that featured Gordon and Leslie Diamond and their daughter Jill Diamond, as well as Class of 2023 students talking about how the school has positively impacted them, the Diamonds spoke of how proud they were of KDHS, its students, staff, and all the people who have given it its “personality” and contributed to its success. Calling the school “a labour of love for the Diamond Foundation,” Jill Diamond said, “And the most wonderful thing about King David is that it is teaching the Jewish values of tikkun olam, of chesed, of mitzvot and of tzedakah to the next generation of leaders of our community.”
Such has been the growth of the school that it added a modular unit last year, the building of which was funded by the Diamond Foundation. In her remarks with Guez, KDHS board co-president Diane Friedman spoke about how the addition is affectionately called the school’s “East Campus,” and thanked the foundation, as well as the donors who filled the modular with state-of-the art equipment, furniture and technology.
The evening came to a close with Klein and Seidelman. The former principal said he had worked at many schools before King David, and that he liked all of them – but he “loved King David.” He said he felt very proud as he looked around the room.
The gala also featured, under the direction of music teacher Johnny Seguin, the KDHS jazz band, who played at the cocktail reception – Luca Jeffery, Max Kimel, Jesse Millman and Nikki Wiseman – and performances throughout the night by singers Ella Ankenman, Kailey Bressler, Rachel Gerber, Mhairi Hemingson and Nikki Wiseman, with choreography credit given to Shai Rubin.
Gala committee members were Cyndi Ankenman, Dalia Bressler, Laura Feldman, Andrea Foxman, Nicole Ginsberg, Margaret Hemingson, Anna Herman, Ruth Jankelowitz, Joelly Simkin and Annie Simpson. Other volunteers were Lina Chernov, Kim Fisher, Jessica Forman, Simon Karsyente, Matilda Rosman Levsky, Melina Baum Singer, Gaenor Vaida, Jacqueline Wener and King David students Danielle Agulyansky, Eden Almog, Ali Fadida, Tamir Gini and Yuli Kabazo.