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Friday, July 25, 2014

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Calgary newcomers get three-year break on day school tuition

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Rabbi Yisroel Miller

While many Jewish families understand the benefits of sending their kids to Hebrew day school, some simply can’t afford, or come to terms with, the hefty price tag.

With annual tuition fees averaging more than $13,000 at Toronto schools, parents who choose a Jewish education for their children are often forced to make financial sacrifices.

Rabbi Yisroel Miller, leader of the House of Jacob Mikveh Israel, an Orthodox congregation in Calgary, understands this challenge and has come up with an offer that some might find hard to refuse.

Jewish families who decide to move to Calgary are entitled to three years of free tuition at his congregation’s day school. The program was launched last year with recurring ads in The CJN.

The Boston-born Rabbi Miller sees it as a win-win offer.

“We know what rising tuitions are like in larger cities, so we’ve made an offer that if someone would like to move to Calgary, it’s worth it for us to subsidize the tuition for the first three years in order to give them a chance to see if we’re for them,” he said.

Rabbi Miller, who was spiritual leader of Pittsburgh’s Congregation Poale Zedeck for 24 years before joining House of Jacob Mikveh Israel in 2009, explained that since Calgary is Canada’s fastest-growing city, he saw an opportunity to increase its Jewish population as well.

Calgary is home to a Jewish community of about 8,500.

The community is served by a Chabad congregation, his own Orthodox shul, a Conservative synagogue, and one Reform temple.

There are also Jewish social service organizations, a Jewish community centre and two Jewish day schools, one of which is housed in the House of Jacob.

The shul’s day school serves students from preschool to Grade 9, and tuition runs about $8,000 per year.

Rabbi Miller said that since he moved to Calgary in 2009, the school’s student population jumped from 34 students to 57.

“We’d like to grow even more… and show them what we have to offer,” said Rabbi Miller, a father of 11 children and grandfather of 25 (and counting).

Rabbi Miller said that in the short time he’s been living in Calgary, his congregation has grown significantly.

 “Like every synagogue, you have people who come three times a year, and then you have your regulars. When we came 2-1/2 years ago, we had one young family – not counting teachers and rabbis – that came to shul every week. Now we have seven,” he said, adding that his congregation has roughly 140 families.

Rabbi Miller boasted that his community is a welcoming one.

“Here, people don’t necessarily fit into one box. In larger cities, you can find a synagogue where everyone is just like you. We have people who are not as observant by conventional standards, we have people who are on their way, people who are modern Orthodox, people who are ultra-Orthodox, and it’s a family,” he said.

“We feel we have something really important here and we want other people to know about it.”

The Rabbi said he has ambitions to build an eruv, an enclosure that allows shomer Shabbat Jews to transfer objects from one place to another on Shabbat, which would otherwise be prohibited.

“We’re trying to build something here.”

The campaign to lure Jewish families to Calgary with the promise of free tuition has already resulted in one family from Montreal moving to Calgary, he said.

A few more families have also inquired about the offer.

“If someone moves here, they won’t have to worry about making a Shabbat meal for the first six months. We set them up with families,” Rabbi Miller said.

“We provide a sense of being a part of a spiritual community. It’s not just a shul – you belong here. My ideal is that everybody should visit Calgary, fall in love with the place, and if they can move here, great. If not, they can love us from afar.”

For more information, contact Rabbi Miller at homji@telus.net, or call 403-259-3230.

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