What began in 1993 as a post-retirement volunteer project has blossomed into a 21-year labour of
love for Solomon Schechter Academy prinicipal emeritus Rosa Finestone, co-ordinator of adult education studies at the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre’s (BJEC) David Weissman Institute.
When Finestone announced her retirement as principal of Solomon Schechter in August 1993, it was at the suggestion of her late husband, David Finestone, who was a chartered accountant.
“David had no intention of retiring, but he thought it would be fun for us to travel and enjoy more time doing things together,” Finestone said, reflecting on plans prior to her husband’s untimely death two months later. At that point, Finestone was still going into the school to brief her successor.
In November, Finestone received a call from the BJEC executive director asking if she would help as a volunteer, to co-ordinate Melton courses for adults from Hebrew University that the centre was about to implement.
The late philanthropist David Weissman had earmarked funds specifically for adult education that
supported the education centre’s endeavour.
Finestone took over in December 1993 and never left. Several years ago, when the Melton project was no longer viable, the program continued under the banner of the David Weissman
Institute of BJEC.
“Now, when I look back over the past two decades, I think about all the people I have met that represent so many generations. When I first started, some would say they remember me from Solomon Schechter, but now I have made so many connections through the programs at BJEC.”
Finestone’s parents were both from eastern Europe but met in Montreal. Her father, Ben Zion Sussman, had studied at the seminary in Warsaw but secured a teaching post in Bucharest. Recognized for his teaching prowess, he was invited by the Shaar Hashomayim to settle in
Montreal and prepare congregants’ sons for bar mitzvah. Later, he became a teacher/administrator at the Peretz School. Born and educated in Montreal, Rosa Sussman (Finestone) attended Peretz School, Baron Byng High School and McGill University.
After earning an arts degree, she did post-graduate studies in education and taught for the Protestant School of Greater Montreal.
While teaching in the secular schoolsystem, she decided to brush up on her Hebrew and registered for Hebrew classes at a Jewish organization, where she met her future husband.
David Finestone often dropped in to oversee operations on a volunteer basis.
“David always took an active interest in the Jewish community,” Finestone said. “He was one of the founders of Camp Massad.” The couple were married in 1954.
After a few years of full-time teaching, Finestone’s husband told her of a part-time teaching opportunity
at the Shaare Zion, whose school was the precursor of what became the Solomon Schechter Academy of Montreal in 1967. In the late ’60s, Finestone was promoted to assistant to the principal, and in 1970, she was appointed principal.
Despite her busy schedule as the mother of three children and a school principal, she made time
for community work. In the 1970s, she was one of the first women to be elected to the national board of the then-Canadian Jewish Congress.
Her current association with BJEC enables her to thrive in a milieu that combines her passion for education and her love of the Jewish community.
As principal emeritus and a member of the Solomon Schechter board, Finestone takes her role at
the school very seriously and attends conferences and meetings at BJEC to keep abreast of innovations in the community.
Since the David Weissman Institute presents programs with new content each semester, Finestone meets students who return every year. “As adults, we gain a different perspective on biblical topics or subjects related to the Talmud or Midrash than when we studied them at a young age,” she observed.
“This is an opportunity to study with some of the best faculty in Montreal.”
The fall program takes place at BJEC, 1 Carré Cummings, 5th floor, on Wednesdays, Oct. 1, 22 and 29, with Jewish author and scholar Alice Lehrer from 2:15-3:30 p.m., as well as with Rabbi Michael Whitman, spiritual leader of Congregation Adath Israel, on Wednesdays, Nov. 5, 12, and 19, from 2:15-3:30 p.m. Lehrer will discuss “Jewish Responses to Good and Evil,” while Rabbi Whitman will
delve into “The Book of Jonah.”
Registrants can enrol in one or both courses. For information, phone Helene Kaufman at 514-345-2610, ext. 3355. Fees are nominal and no prerequisites are required.