MONTREAL — The official 100th anniversary gala is not until April 6, but the gym at Jewish People’s and Peretz School (JPPS) told another story.
On Feb. 5, two months before the gala, on a date marking the 100th day of this school year, 400 kids bopped, bumped and boogied to wish their school a happy 100th in the school’s four official languages: English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish.
Coming down to the gym in two shifts, they scarfed down cupcakes adorned with the school colours (blue and white) next to centenary balloons in the same colours, donned silly sunglasses, and generally had a great time as educators serenaded them and students watched agape as they learned that iPads and Smart Boards didn’t always exist.
No indeed, noted longtime JPPS teachers Harriet Pardo and Barrie Siegel.
When Pardo attended the school – then the Jewish People’s School (JPS) until it merged in 1971 with the Peretz School – she only attended evening Jewish classes, “called ovnt shule,” she informed the youngsters.
Now, as she toted her granddaughter Gracie around a gymnasium floor that’s absorbed several generations of sweat and varnish, Pardo, who teaches grades 1 and 2, could convey what the folkschule really meant to her.
Everything, she said. “Now it will be [Gracie’s] turn to go.”
In a similar vein, Barrie Siegel, a teacher at JPPS since 1970 whose siblings and children also attended the school, spoke of times when kids actually had to audition – God forbid! – for the choir under the late, legendary music director, Yehuda Vineberg, or looked up at also-late, legendary educator director Nachum Wilchesky, awestruck by his imposing size and gravitas.
The lunchroom floor, Siegel recalled, “was on a tilt, so if someone dropped an apple, it would roll to the other side and come up all bumped and bruised.
“There were no lunch monitors then, just homemaker moms who came. And there were no hot lunches. No chicken teriyaki. The only hot lunch was if your mom put it into a Thermos.
“But you still get the same wonderful education from people who care about you. That kind of caring is still here.”
A slide show presented to the kids by volunteer Beth Tannenbaum also showed that things have not changed in the most important ways, but did change in many others ways.
The kids couldn’t believe what they saw and heard: that the first classes at the school, founded on Labor Zionist and Yiddishkeit principles, took place in a home, with school assemblies in the living room. There was one teacher, and tuition was 10 cents a week. At first, teachers were volunteers. (“That’s still the case,” cracked one seated nearby.)
There were two other JPPS locations prior to Westbury Avenue becoming its home in 1954, overseen by another iconic school figure, founder and principal Shloime Wiseman. Students published a school paper – Anybody know what a typewriter is?” Tannenbaum asked the assembly, and an impressively large majority raised their hands.
The girls giggled when they saw a photo of a girls’ basketball team in skirts.
But at the most basic level, the school has not changed, Tannenbaum said. “JPPS is still JPPS.”
The afternoon must have been bittersweet for Adina Matas, JPPS principal for more than 15 years, who is retiring at the end of the school year.
Matas led all the students in a rousing quadrilingual version of Happy Birthday, but the more emotive moment came when everyone sang the Yiddish JPPS song, Lomir zingen a lid for der Yiddishe schule, its simple melody and lyrics transcending time and generations.