The new $30-million Herzliah High School was hailed as a reinvigoration of Jewish education and an investment in the future of the Montreal Jewish community at its official opening.
More than 300 school, community and civic representatives gathered for the Aug. 14 inauguration of the deluxe school located next to the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, two years after the ambitious project’s groundbreaking.
A first-class school that’s situated on the Montreal Jewish Community Campus and appeals to a cross-section of the community has been discussed for at least a decade.
As Yair Szlak, the CEO of Federation CJA, said in a video message, the new facility should help boost enrolment in the Jewish day school system.
Herzliah, which has English and French sections, has the capacity to accommodate 100 more students than the approximately 450 who were enrolled in the 2017-18 school year.
Its Talmud Torah roots go back to 1896. Historically, the school had a religiously traditional, Zionist orientation, with a strong emphasis on secular studies. In recent years, it has embraced the diversity of today’s community.
“Herzliah is a meeting place for all aspects of the community,” said Gary Polachek, a major supporter. “It’s essential that we get achdut (unity) right.”
In recognition of the Azrieli Foundation’s seminal $15-million donation to the project in 2016, Herzliah and its elementary Talmud Torah were renamed Les écoles Azrieli Schools. Talmud Torah remains on nearby St-Kevin Avenue, where the high school had also been.
“This is a real statement of confidence in the future of this community,” said the foundation’s chair and CEO, Naomi Azrieli, who graduated from Herzliah in 1982. “This community is here to stay.”
Herzliah is on the Sylvan Adams Campus, which was named in recognition of his $15-million contribution to the $20-million endowment established as part of the project. The Goodman family is also a lead donor.
“We are striving to make Herzliah not just the best Jewish high school in Montreal, but the best high school – full stop,” said Adams.
The school, whose main entrance is on Mountain Sights Avenue, boasts 130,000 sq. ft (12,000 sq. m) of usable space and was built on the Y’s former parking lot. The construction, which was in the hands of Benjamin Sternthal of the real estate development firm Kodem, was a complex engineering feat because much of the structure is right above the Y’s underground garage.
Although there is no schoolyard or playing field, the new school boasts a rooftop terrace and garden with a spectacular panoramic view of the city.
The terrace surrounds an edifice housing a beit midrash with floor-to-ceiling windows, where morning services will be held. Right behind the ark is a breathtaking view of St-Joseph’s Oratory and the Westmount summit. There’s also an art room and offices.
Another unusual feature of the school, which was designed by Neuf Architectes, the same firm that did the CHUM super-hospital, is a central amphitheatre-style area on the ground floor. It will be used for informal gatherings and special events. Moveable walls allow the space to be enlarged or contracted. Adjoining it are the library and cafeteria, which opens onto a landscaped patio.
The new building also boasts the latest in educational technology, including: a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) centre; a professional-size gym with a bouldering wall; spacious science and computer labs; and large classrooms equipped with interlocking desks that can be configured as desired.
The HVAC, lighting and state-of-the-art security systems are fully automated.
The building’s exterior corners are indented, rather than sharp, and announce Herzliah’s four “pillars”: academic excellence, Jewish ethics, arts and athletics, and community connection.
This is a real statement of confidence in the future of this community.
– Naomi Azrieli
A defining element, according to building committee chair Monica Mendel Bensoussan, is the elevated passageway that connects Herzliah to the Y and the rest of the campus beyond.
The architects strived to harmonize the new building’s look with that of the Y, which dates back to the 1950s.
The Jewish community campus now encompasses Herzliah, the Y, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, Cummings House, the Jewish Public Library and the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors.
“From the inception, this was about more than a high school building,” said Mendel Bensoussan. Students will have ready access to the campus and its agencies will benefit from the presence of more young people.
Being on the campus will “infuse students with the spirit, energy and passion of an already vibrant Jewish community,” encouraging them to become the leaders of tomorrow, she said.
Jonathan Goodman said that Jewish continuity was a prime motivation for his family’s donation. After the influence of the home, Jewish high school attendance is the most important factor in preventing intermarriage, he said.
Adams, who made aliyah in 2015, put it simply: “If we want to have Jewish grandchildren, we have to have Jewish schools that are accessible and attractive.”
For him, that means promoting Jewish identity and providing a “well-rounded education” that includes the arts and athletics, as well as science.
Concerns about increased traffic in this densely populated neighbourhood were resolved by underground parking, an off-street bay for school buses and several car drop-off points.