MONTREAL — Every Wednesday afternoon, about 15 students at Royal West Academy in Montreal West spend their lunch hour participating in an extracurricular activity that brings them closer to their Jewish heritage and identity.
Royal West Academy’s Jewish Club was established five years ago, and is currently under the direction of Carolyn Gehr, a math teacher at this English Montreal School Board school, and Rabbi Dovid Perlstein, who is affiliated with Chai Chabad and runs similar Jewish clubs at Royal Vale High School in Notre Dame de Grâce and Westmount High School.
“Fifteen per cent of the school’s student population is Jewish,” said Gehr. “Every week, the Jewish Club gathers to discuss topical matters, current events, Jewish customs and holidays and Jewish ethics and how Jews value life.”
“We also educate students, and give them a little something that they might not have known before, so that it can help them connect to their Jewish identity,” added Rabbi Perlstein.
At a recent gathering of the Jewish Club, Rabbi Perlstein led a brief discussion on the history and significance of the Jewish holiday of Purim. It was followed by a game of Family Feud in which the students were tested on their knowledge of Yiddish words and expressions, Jewish holidays and food, as well as biblical figures and events.
That week’s meeting concluded with a kosher pizza lunch.
“I enjoy attending the weekly Jewish Club meetings. It brings us all together and helps me connect with my Jewish roots,” said Matthew Phillips, a Grade 11 student.
Grade 10 student Jeremy Usheroff commented, “What is amazing is that not only Jewish students participate but many non-Jewish students as well… The fact that a public school offers this inclusive program supports the idea that all students, regardless of their religious background, can partake and benefit from acquiring knowledge of another religion.”
The Royal West Academy Jewish Club received a Promise Grant from Federation CJA’s GEN J, which awards grants to innovative, creative or inclusive programming that helps to promote Jewish connections, as well as programs that reach out to Jewish teenagers who attend non-Jewish high schools.