The sukkot in backyards and on balconies had not yet been dismantled when two contrasting, yet highly significant community events took place in the GTA.
On Oct. 15, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto broke ground on the expansion of the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre on Bathurst Street just north of Sheppard Avenue. The much-used and much-loved Bathurst JCC had been torn down eight years earlier. Community officials estimate the cost of the expansion will be more than $70 million.
At the ceremonial groundbreaking, UJA Federation chair Bruce Leboff said he is proud to be part of a community that understands the importance of a Jewish community centre. “The programs and facilities that will be available on this remarkable campus will not only strengthen minds and bodies, but the community as a whole.”
Three days later, Associated Hebrew Schools (AHS), the venerable queen of Jewish education in the Toronto area, announced it would close its northern campus in Vaughan. Commencing September 2019, the school will consolidate its elementary school with its middle school in Toronto on Finch Avenue.
School officials noted that young families were experiencing great difficulty in paying the cost of educating their children. This appears to be especially true in York Region, north of Toronto, as the recent sale of Leo Baeck’s northern campus and the closure of the northern branch of TanenbaumCHAT appear to confirm.
Sidura Ludwig, a parent of three children at AHS and the head of the school’s parent ambassadors program, said it’s difficult to get young families to even look at the school, where tuition is about $16,000 a year for kindergarten students. “It’s no longer a wake-up call. It’s a really loud shaking alarm to the greater community and to (UJA) Federation – the system of day school education is not working up here.”
What message calls to us from these two major announcements? Side by side in their chronology and in their content, they veritably shout at us: “Where is the GTA’s Jewish community headed? What are the community’s priorities? What will become of us as an active, connected, caring and philanthropic Jewish community in the next couple of decades?”
We understand and respect, as UJA Federation officials noted last year, that the Prosserman centre expansion is “the fulfilment of a commitment to the Toronto Jewish community to build a world-class community centre.”
But what of an earlier, longer-standing commitment to the Toronto Jewish community? Should it not be fulfilled as well?
In 1996, the Commission on Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto presented its final report to the UJA’s board of directors. Unequivocally, the report stated: “Jewish education should be the overriding communal priority to achieve identity and continuity. It is the responsibility of the federation to marshal resources so that the best Jewish education is obtainable and accessible to all who wish to avail themselves of this opportunity.” (Emphasis added.)
The commissioners urged the board to develop “new sources of revenues directed at Jewish education,” because even 21 years ago they recognized that “resources from the UJA campaign were insufficient for all of the legitimate needs of the community.”
To emphasize the point, the commissioners added: “We will only have succeeded in our work (in relation to Jewish education in the GTA) if the community and its leaders subscribe to the belief that high-quality, accessible Jewish education is central to ensuring Jewish continuity for Toronto.”
Last month’s announcements suggest that the commissioners in 1996, alas, did not succeed in their work. UJA Federation’s laudable mission is, in part, “to preserve and strengthen the quality of Jewish life in Greater Toronto.” Yet how can this mission, this commitment to the Toronto Jewish community, be fulfilled without an accessible and flourishing system of Jewish education?