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Hebrew Academy in Montreal celebrates 50th anniversary

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Malca and Louis Drazin

Hebrew Academy parents, alumni, faculty and staff will celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary on June 21, at a gala dinner at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, Que.

Guests of honour will include Hebrew Academy builders Louis and Malca Drazin, who will be recognized with the Keter Shem Tov (Crown of a Good Name) Award, and Alvin and Lauren Suissa, who will receive the Nedivut Lev (Generosity of the Heart) Award.

Both Louis Drazin and Alvin Suissa are past presidents of Hebrew Academy. The Drazins’ grandchildren now attend the school, as do the Suissas’ children.

Hebrew Academy was founded in 1967, when two Orthodox day schools, Adath Israel and the Young Israel Elementary School, merged.

The Adath Israel School, situated on Ducharme Street in Outremont, was founded in 1941 and was the first Jewish day school in Montreal to graduate a Grade 11 class. The Young Israel School on Hillsdale Road in Côte-des-Neiges was founded in 1951 as an educational outgrowth of the Young Israel movement, under the guidance of Rabbi Mendel Lewittes.

Prior to the merger, the Young Israel School was in dire need of a high school for its children, and its elementary school had limited facilities. The Adath Israel School, meanwhile, had the physical facilities, but diminishing enrolment. Combining the resources and populations of both schools made good sense, and thus Hebrew Academy was born.

READ: MONTREAL’S HEBREW ACADEMY MARKS 50TH WITH SCHOOL-WIDE ‘MISHNATHON’

“We are so fortunate in Montreal to have the Hebrew Academy,” said Hebrew Academy past president Brenda Gewurz, who is co-chairing the gala along with her husband, Samuel.

“It is the only modern Orthodox school and is also so Zionist. Parents, alumni and all professionals are all so involved and dedicated to the school. This is an excellent indicator of a school with an excellent education for its students and amazing ruach (spirit).”

The migration of the Jewish population to the West End forced Hebrew Academy to look for new facilities. In 1979, it rented space on Mackle Road in Côte-St-Luc.

In 1984, a garderie was established to meet the needs of working parents.

In 1990, Hebrew Academy purchased the YM-YWHA’s building on Kellert Road and a new facility was completed in 1992. That same year, the school launched its Section Française, which extends to Grade 6.

Lauren and Alvin Suissa

“My all-time favourite memory was the culmination of several years of hard work, as our dream of moving into a new facility came to fruition,” said Linda Lehrer, who has served as Hebrew Academy’s executive director since 1987.

“The cherry on top was, of course, the hachnasat sefer Torah with all the parents, students and staff. We paraded from our old building to our present building on Kellert and brought in new sifrei Torah. Now, all these years later, it is so exciting to be part of another milestone as we celebrate the school’s 50th.”

Hebrew Academy was recognized as a “Community Learning Centre” by the federal government in 2006 and was accredited unconditionally by the Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools in 2017.

“We are extremely proud to have maintained our commitment to academic excellence and innovation, fostering intellectual curiosity and inspiring leadership over the past five decades,” said Hebrew Academy head of school Kalman Stein, who will begin his third year at the school in August.

“We are equally proud of our alumni’s warm associations with Hebrew Academy as their second home and their choice to send their children to the institution that played such a pivotal role in cultivating their own identities.”

Today, Hebrew Academy has 521 students in the elementary and high schools, plus 80 preschoolers in the Centre de la petite enfance. Plans are to expand next year by adding such amenities as a second gym, lounges and other upgrades.