Home Culture Jewish Learning Donation to Leo Baeck Day School boosts social justice education

Donation to Leo Baeck Day School boosts social justice education

Leo Baeck students HOLY BLOSSOM PHOTO
Leo Baeck students HOLY BLOSSOM PHOTO

An unprecedented gift to the Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto promises to be a “major game-changer” in the way social justice in taught in schools, says head of school Eric Petersiel.

The bequest in the will of Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, rabbi emeritus of Toronto’s Temple Emanu-El, of “over a million dollars” will allow the Reform day school to write, develop and share curriculum on social justice, Petersiel said.


Rabbi Bielfeld’s “vision is that we will be able to spread social justice education through Jewish eyes, throughout the school system in Canada,” Petersiel said.

From left, Eric Petersiel, head of school, Anna Dan, Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld and Leslie Dan at the announcement of the Leo Baeck Tikkun Project KEVIN DIAMOND PHOTO

The gift, which will provide seed funding for the Leo Baeck Tikkun Project, was announced May 24 at a reception hosted by Leslie and Anna Dan, longtime supporters of the school, the only Reform Jewish day school in Canada, and with 850 students on two campuses, the largest in North America.

The fund, will among other things, be used to hire an educator who will write social justice curriculum that will be tied to Ontario education ministry standards.

“There has always been a strong social justice component [in the school], but it’s always been very hard to tie it to curriculum in a meaningful way that would allow it to spread beyond the walls of the school,” Petersiel said.

The school receives about 300 requests a year from various charities asking the school to raise funds.

“What this [gift] says is that’s not good enough. If we don’t teach our kids the Jewish ‘why’ of our responsibility to the world and do it through their actual education then it won’t change the way they view the world and their responsibility for it.”

The school is designated as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, and Petersiel hopes this will enable it to share curriculum with other Jewish schools as well as independent and public schools.

The endowment is the largest donation the school has received in its 42-year history and its first endowment and bequest, he said.

Rabbi Bielfeld, who was instrumental in founding the school, has been active in social justice initiatives throughout his career. In 2012, he was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

He has been deeply involved in the campaign to end child poverty and a recent initiative that involved students at Leo Baeck, led him to realize the importance of including children.

“All of us [involved in the campaign] came away with a different understanding of the role young people can play if they are properly motivated and educated,” he said.


He envisions the curriculum being developed and tested over 10 years, to learn how best to incorporate Jewish texts and values into social justice education. The school is the ideal place for this experiment, he said.

“Since the program is aimed at the integration of social justice, social change and philanthropy, that has to be discovered in a real-world school setting. I can’t think of any school that is better equipped to handle that mandate than the Leo Baeck school, which was originally established as a liberal Jewish day school.”

Micki Mizrahi, a member of the school’s board and chair of the development committee, says the endowment will give Leo Baeck the opportunity to “do exciting programming that goes beyond the everyday operation of our school.

“Every grade has special projects, but we haven’t been able to put the time and resources to really integrate tikkun olam into the curriculum. This gift is going to allow us to do just that,” she said. “We’re hoping this endowment will change the landscape of philanthropy of our school.”

  • fabrent

    Interesting that in the photo, the boys are in front while the girls are clustered in the back.

    • BR

      Really fabrent – that is your comment to an article about an amazing gift intended to make our world better and teach our children what charity and giving and community is really about and why it is important. What was the point of that? Not sure what is up with you and DJ and why you feel you need to infuse negativity into something so generous and positive. Do you really honestly think they staged the photo to have boys in the front. Really, was that the intention. I have two girls that have gone through LB North and have become incredibly empowered by the experience – what you say and your comment has no validity and makes no sense. Shame on you too for harshing such a positive message and vibe which such negativity. “Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup. Only love can fill, only love … Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand. Says, “Don’t you see?””

  • DJ

    Seriously, a Jewish day school needs to spend money and hire a curriculum specialist to create a programme about social justice? What exactly is this Jewish day “school” teaching currently? No wonder the north campus is languishing. 10 years to implement? “Experirment”. We have thousands of years of proven curriculum. It’s called the Torah. Drink up Eric. Pathetic.

    • BR

      Both of my kids have gone/are currently going through LB North and it has been a remarkable experience for all of us – with such a dedicated and wonderful group of teachers who put their heart and soul into all they do to create children who flourish with humanity. DJ, not sure why you need to be so negative about this. There is nothing to be negative about. Its a wonderful gift with a wonderful intention that can only do good for our world. G_d forbid we never progress and experiment and explore new ways of teaching – that is such an archaic way of thinking that makes no sense in our world and is so NOT what the Torah teaches. There is nothing bad here. Given your sad comment on this article, infused with such negativity and distaste, and such attitude it only points to why we need this so badly. Obviously your thousand year curriculum didn’t do much good for you and you quite honestly set a sad example. Shame on you. Seriously. What was the point of that comment. It was a gift. If you don’t want it, don’t take it and keep your negative, nasty and harsh comments to yourself. The world would be better for it. Honestly, I don’t get people sometimes.

      • DJ

        Ad hominem attacks are the lowest form of retort. I believe I can share my opinions. If you don’t like it don’t read them but don’t insult me. Methinks thou protest too much.

        • BR

          You have every right to share your opinions. As I have mine. There are ways to go about things. Ways that are not spewing negativity and finger pointing. Methinks you are just a nasty negative dude. That is why it was a personal message to you, not about your position or opinion. Now I understand why people like Trump actually get a following. Crazy scary world. Peace out.

          • DJ

            I don’t support Trump. You know nothing about me or my beliefs. Leo Baeck is a terrible school as evidenced by its declining enrolment. Many of my peers have pulled their children out of that place and the north campus will close as a result. You obviously work for the school given your shameless verbiage about its false praises and platitudes.


          • BR

            Like I said. Nasty negative dude. So sad really – but that’s the way the world is I guess.

  • BR

    This is an outstanding gift to the current and future students of not only Leo Baeck but to all students that will benefit from the work that will go into developing this curriculum. Absolutely wonderful! A real gift to the world. Leo Baeck and all involved should be so proud to be leading this. Well done!