TORONTO — Last year, the Toronto Heschel School replaced its annual fundraising gala with a lower-key idea that organizers say not only brought in more money than its predecessor, but created a buzz and enhanced the school’s sense of community.
Now in its second year, Table Talk consisted of 11 separate dinner parties in private homes, each with a guest speaker and a catered, kosher, gourmet, four-course dinner. Hosts donated the cost of the meals, and funds raised this year at the $150-a-plate event will be used for new science equipment for the school, which was founded in 1996 and runs from junior kindergarten to Grade 8.
“We wanted to reinvent the gala and think of something that would celebrate the community, be intimate, and would address the intellectual curiosity the parents share – and that would be fun,” event co-chair Michelle Shulman said.
“The speaker stays for dinner, and conversation is great.”
She said she has heard of similar fundraisers in the United States, but not locally.
Lainie Rapp, the mother of a senior kindergarten student, attended the March 25 dinner at the home of Lisa Richler and Yishai Wise, where author David Sax spoke about his book, Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen.
Rapp, a palliative care social worker whose husband, Gary Cilevitz, is an accountant, said the light-hearted topic was their number 1 choice, and that they looked forward to spending time with the hosts, whom they know from the school.
The menu, aside from the appetizers, did not feature deli food – much to Cilevitz’s dismay, his wife noted. However, she said, the balsamic vinaigrette chicken that was served as a main course was “fantastic.”
Some of the other dinners featured weightier presentations: Muslim author Tarek Fatah on his book The Jew is Not My Enemy, neuropsychiatrist Anthony Feinstein on “Journalists Under Fire,” Rabbi Joe Kanofsky on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr., and author Marina Nemat on her journey to Canada from Iran, where, as a teenager, she was imprisoned on false charges.
But Rapp said the talk about deli food, which included information about Jewish immigration from different countries and how those patterns influenced local deli trends, was “very stimulating.”
As well, she enjoyed meeting people she wouldn’t otherwise know. There were 13 at her table including parents of older children and one couple who have grandchildren at the school, she said.
Compared to large galas, “this is a much more intimate setting, and it really falls in sync with the whole Heschel philosophy of community building.”
But the best thing, Rapp said, was the “buzz” at the school the next morning. “If you’re talking about building community, this was the epitome. We were all running up and down the halls [asking] ‘Where did you go?’ ‘How long did you stay?’ ”
The event “really reflects who we are as a community,” Shulman said. “We’re not a neighbourhood school. We’re together because we share common values.”
This article appears in the April 5 print issue of The CJN