TORONTO — Bnei Akiva Schools will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a dinner May 8 at Terrace Banquet Hall.
The religious Zionist school, which has 200 students and almost 1,600 alumni, consists of Yeshivat Or Chaim, its high school for boys, and Ulpanot Orot, the counterpart for female students.
Community leader Saul Koschitzky was the driving force behind the creation of Or Chaim. According to a history of the school written by Suzanne Wintrob for the anniversary program booklet, he and his wife Mira were dissatisfied with the high school options available for modern Orthodox families at the time: either a co-ed Jewish high school, or a dormitory-style yeshiva. Their son David, now chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, was about to start high school at the time.
Saul Koschitzky recalls in the article, “Our goal was not to create rabbis, but ba’al ha’batim who go to university, who stand on their own feet, and who have responsibility for klal Yisrael.”
Or Chaim opened in 1973 with 29 students in Grades 10, 11 and 12. Two years later, the school moved to its current location on Almore Avenue, which was expanded in 2006.
Ulpana opened in 1974 in a house in Thornhill, Ont., with 23 students. Its development was also spurred by parents who wanted an alternative for their daughters. Ulpana has been in its current location on Canyon Avenue since 1976.
Michael Lax – who is chair of the school’s board and with his wife Marsha is being honoured at the dinner as a distinguished community leader – told The CJN the school “has a major role to play in the community.”
He mentioned, as examples, alumni Rabbi Rafi Lipner, founder of The House, a centre for young Jewish adults, and Rabbi Aaron Greenberg, JLIC director with Hillel of Greater Toronto, who both work with young adults in the broader Jewish community. Also, Lax noted, many alumni are involved in UJA.
About 25 per cent of graduates make aliyah, Lax added. As well, every year, three or four alumni of Or Chaim enter the IDF.
The school will enter a new era in September, when Rabbi Seth Grauer becomes Rosh Yeshiva/head of school.
Rabbi Grauer, who is currently assistant principal at Yeshiva University High School for Girls and associate rabbi at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan, is quoted in the dinner booklet as saying, “The feeling throughout the building is special.
“It will be my challenge to maintain that environment while also partnering with administrators and teachers to raise the level of professionalism and academic excellence and achievement… As we embark on our next 40 years, I look forward to helping Yeshivat Or Chaim and Ulpanat Orot become stronger educational institutions and true models of excellence for Jewish day schools all across North America.”