WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education is calling on alumni of Winnipeg’s parochial Jewish school system to come together on March 30 to celebrate 100 years of Jewish education in the city.
Sharon Delbridge and Nona Leibl, co-chairs of a gala celebrating 100 years of Jewish education in Winnipeg.
The gala evening at the Fairmont Hotel includes dinner, dancing, a live auction and entertainment by alumni, with the performers still to be determined.
“We would also like to encourage alumni to lend us their memorabilia and artifacts,” says Nona Leibl, who is co-chairing the event with lifelong friend and Talmud Torah classmate, Sharon Delbridge. Delbridge’s mother, Rochelle Fink, was a principal in the Jewish school system at Ramah for many years. Leibl and Delbridge say that they hope to have 450 to 500 alumni in attendance at the gala.
The two women and their committee plan to have an area at the gala for school memorabilia and archives. As well, plaques on display will list all the past teachers and administrators.
“A lot of our alumni formed strong bonds with their classmates and have stayed in touch with each other,” Leibl says.
Jewish education in Winnipeg goes back to 1902, when a Jewish studies program was established in one of the north Winnipeg public schools. It was in 1907, however, when Rabbi Israel Kahanovitch, Winnipeg’s chief rabbi, inaugurated the Winnipeg Hebrew Free School – Talmud Torah in its own building in the city’s north end, where the majority of the city’s Jewish community resided. In 1912, the school moved to a larger location nearby.
Over the next couple of decades, a growing number of Jewish schools opened to educate the fast-growing Jewish population in the city, including the I.L. Peretz School, the Folk School and the Arbeiter Ring. In the interwar years and the immediate postwar years, secular Yiddish education dominated Jewish education in Winnipeg. The Peretz and Folk Schools merged in the 1930s to form the I.L. Peretz Folk School. Among the school’s innovations were the introduction of kindergarten classes and an elementary day school program. Evening classes continued for older students up to Grade 12.
The Talmud Torah only started to grow in prominence after World War II, when Rabbi Avbraham Kravitz became the new principal. Under his leadership, a Jewish high school day program was also developed. Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate opened in 1959, offering regular high school classes that included Jewish studies and Hebrew language classes.
In the 1950s, Winnipeg’s Jewish population. which peaked at about 19,000, began shifting to the more affluent south Winnipeg, which had been unofficially barred to Jewish residents until after the war. In response, the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, relocated in south Winnipeg in 1949, opened a school. However, with an ever larger number of Jewish families “moving south,” a much larger school was needed. Ramah Elementary School opened its doors in 1959.
The growing south Winnipeg Jewish population, combined with an overall decline in the city’s Jewish population, led to a corresponding decrease in the number of Jewish students enrolled in the north end schools. Thus in 1981, the longtime rival Talmud Torah and Peretz Schools merged into one under the aegis of the new Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education. Ramah and Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate were also brought under the central control of the new board.
In 1997, the north end Jewish school was closed and merged with Ramah in a new school – the junior kindergarten to Grade 12 Gray Academy of Jewish Education – located in south Winnipeg in the newly opened Asper Jewish Community Campus. Just under 600 students are enrolled in the school this year. Smaller numbers of Jewish students also attend two public school Hebrew bilingual programs and an independent more religiously oriented elementary and junior high school program.
The gala is being co-sponsored by the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education, the Parent Advisory Committee and the Alumni Committee. Funds raised during the evening will be used to buy new laptop computers, LCD projectors and software for the school and to provide more professional training for staff.
For more information, visit www.grayacademy.ca.