Students look to the past for Learnathon
TORONTO — The students at Eitz Chaim Day School in Toronto will keep a decades-long tradition alive as they prepare for a fundraising initiative called the Learnathon.
“This year, we’re going to be raising money for UJA [Federation of Greater Toronto], and we’re doing it in memory of children who were killed in the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Isser Pliner, dean of Eitz Chaim Schools.
Rabbi Pliner explained that on Oct. 24, students will begin canvassing the community to be sponsored for a learning marathon that will be held Nov. 12 at the schools.
“The Learnathon that Eitz Chaim runs has probably been going on for more than 30 years. It was really Eitz Chaim’s response to the UJA Walkathon. Since Eitz Chaim has school on Sunday [when the walkathon is held], our administration suggested that we would have the kids learn instead,” he said.
About 400 students from grades 5 to 8 at all three campuses are participating in this initiative.
The Holocaust theme was chosen this year to try to make the project more meaningful to the students, Rabbi Pliner said.
“The program has kind of dwindled over the years, and I think what has been lacking was perhaps a lack of relevance,” he said.
“UJA should be very relevant, and we try our best to promote them as much as we can, but it’s hard to get excited about an organization. So you need to get the kids excited about something. If there is a tragedy that is happening in the world, the kids can come out and raise money for it.”
Last year, the children raised funds in support of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and in 2006, students collected donations for United Hazalah of Israel, an independent, volunteer emergency medical services organization.
“They had to replace a lot of their equipment following the 2006 Lebanon incursion, and we were able to rally around raising money to buy things that were necessary,” Rabbi Pliner recalled.
He said this year, to honour the child victims of the Holocaust, each student will receive a short biography of a child who was killed.
“The students will learn a little about a child, but they will also be learning about different aspects of the Holocaust and aspects of the Torah and Tanach that are associated with events like the Holocaust,” the rabbi said.
“We have names of those children, and we’re going to use them as our focus. It’s important to give kids focus.”
The Learnathon will also feature guest educators. Rabbi Shmuel Klein, the director of publications and the head of the Holocaust studies program at Torah Umesorah, an organization that promotes Torah-based education, will be coming from New York to address the students.
“He used to be one of the principals here at Eitz Chaim and a teacher… When he was here, he was very instrumental in developing our whole Holocaust programing,” he said.
“We hope he’ll charge up the crowd in educating the kids.”