HFS as family

What does it mean to grow up in a school? Most of us would assume that it applies just to students, but the truth is that it happens to teachers as well. At last night’s beautiful Hebrew Foundation School ORT Campaign Launch, Andrew Stein (HFS class of 2012) and our very own Mme Marisol Tremblay each spoke about their connection to the school and its role in their respective lives and careers. For Andrew, now a premed student at Mcill, HFS inspired him to volunteer and help in the community, and prepared him to find success academically and take on student leadership positions. For Marisol, well, her words said it best:

« Tout comme Andrew, j’ai aussi fait mes débuts à HFS à l’âge de six ans lorsque j’accompagnais ma mère dans sa classe de première année. It was at that age that I used to roam the halls and admired the job of being a teacher. It is in these halls that I fell in love with the smell of books, the blackboards, the red pens and the stickers. It is in these halls that I learned what being a teacher really meant. It meant learning every day, you as much as the student, and it meant to work hard to achieve the ultimate goal… success in all spheres of life.

This might be cliche but for us teachers this school represents love and family. Through the years, teachers and students have faced challenges, heartbreaks, victories, successes… and we are all there for each other. We take care of each other and have created beautiful friendships. It is with this philosophy that everyday we teach and learn as a team. We not only support each other, we celebrate each other and we want our students to know how proud we are of them.

Tous les jours, je me considère chanceuse. Je me considère chanceuse d’être ici parmis vous ce soir. Je me considère chanceuse de pouvoir travailler avec des professeurs et des élèves aussi fantastiques mais surtout je me considère chanceuse de travailler pour une école qui aime sa communauté et qui désire le meilleur pour sa grande famille. HFS is a place of love and family. »

We could have not said it better ourselves.

With happiness and with goodness of heart

A Rosh Hashana Bracha: With happiness and with goodness of heart

This a Rosh Hashana blessing wrapped around a blog post:

Last weekend over Shabbat, I was part of a panel discussion on the Challenges of Jewish Education, alongside my colleagues from the city’s other Jewish Day Schools, held at the Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue in Cote St Luc.

It was a great panel, and the Q & A portion went on for over an hour, well past the food and dessert being served – people did not want to leave, asking question after question and sharing their thoughts and experiences with so much passion. Their questions and comments were wide-ranging, from Judaics curriculum to the use of cell phones in schools, from provincial funding to the struggle with day school affordability.  It reminded me of the beginning of the famous talk Sir Ken Robinson gave at the 2006 TED conference, in which he describes being at dinner parties when the topic turns to education, and he says (at the 01:33 mark):

« But if you ask about their education, they pin you to the wall, because it’s one of those things that goes deep with people, am I right? Like religion and money and other things. So I have a big interest in education, and I think we all do.« 

In my opening remarks, I began by quoting the last verse of  parshat Ki Tavo that was read on Shabbat, in which Moshe tells the Jewish people « And you shall observe the words of this covenant and fulfill them, in order that you will succeed in all that you do. » This verse, I explained, is essentially the encapsulation of the dream and promise of a Jewish Day School education, regardless of the type of school, from the most secular of Jewish schools to the most chareidi of yeshivot. Put simply, learn the traditions and teachings, put them into practice, and then you will be successful in life.

I believe every school sees themselves as fulfilling these holy and aspirational goals, and indeed, many do. However, as I added in my subsequent remarks on Shabbat, there is a qualifier to all of this, a secret ingredient to the Jewish education recipe , which coincidentally is also in the same parsha.  Moshe admonishes the people to remember that:

« … because you did not serve the Lord, your God, with happiness and with goodness of heart, when you had an abundance of everything. »

Over the 40 years in the desert, Am Yisrael, the Jewish People were given so much from God – manna from heaven, miraculous dry cleaning for their clothing (it’s true, look it up), protection from the elements day and night, and God’s presence throughout.  And yet, consistently, stubbornly, they fell down, they failed to recognize the good, and they struggled with the deepest of secrets, which was to serve Hashem with happiness and with gladness of heart. 

Consider this – we live in a time where, relative to so many others in the world, we are blessed with so much, and we use that abundance to try and give our children a great education and the best chance at a successful future.  So much so, that tens of thousands of families the world over invest in sending their children to Jewish Day Schools, families who spend their hard-earned money paying private school fees, all to give their children every advantage possible for success.  However, how many stories do we read about how stressed our system is, how many fundamental challenges our day schools face?  How many stories do we know of Jewish Day School families who, disillusioned, can’t wait for their kids to graduate out of elementary school or high school?  How many students do we know about in Jewish Day Schools, who, after finishing elementary school, or upon becoming bar or bat mitzvah, or on graduating high school, walk away from community, from tradition and practice, and from Jewish life, because their Jewish learning experiences ranged from pareve at best, to negative at worst?

There’s a famous expression that applies here: If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  If we are going to do this Jewish education thing, in this day and age, then let’s all make sure to do it right and do it b’simcha u’vetuv levav, with happiness and with goodness of heart.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that we be pollyannaish and pretend problems don’t exist.  On the contrary, let’s absolutely acknowledge the challenges we face, and work to make them better. 

However, let us also first recognize the immense good that exists, the opportunities that abound, the unmatched excellence of a strong Jewish Day School education, the passion and dedication of the teachers, the resilience and beauty of our students and children, the innovations and refinements to practice that are constantly being introduced.  Let us recognize the miracle that in 2019 there are more Jewish children studying Torah and doing Jewish today than at any point in our history.  And that this occurs in countries and societies relatively free of religious persecution or coercion, which means we as a people of faith do this as a conscious, positive choice, and not because we are circling the wagons.

So here is my Rosh Hashana blessing and charge for us all, the spiritual heirs and descendants of the Jewish people who spent 40 years in the desert:

Let’s invest in Jewish education b’simcha u’vetuv levav.

Let’s learn about our traditions and values b’simcha u’vetuv levav.

Let’s teach and inspire our students b’simcha u’vetuv levav.

Let’s partner together b’simcha u’vetuv levav.

Let’s build together b’simcha u’vetuv levav.

On behalf of the administration, staff and teaching faculty of Hebrew Foundation School, we want to wish you all a ktiva v’chatima tova, and a gut gebensht yohr.  On vous souhaite une Chana tova oumetouka, Kétiva vé’Hatima Tova à toutes et à tous, et une douce et heureuse année 5780!

 – Mar Abba, Head of School


On New Beginnings: A Message From Boris Gorbatyuk, Chair, HFS Board of Directors

Dear HFS Community,

I am so humbled to be able to address you as we are in the early stages of our school year.

Time flies so quickly. Even though our kids have only been back in school for less than three weeks, it feels like summer has long passed us by. I find myself already thinking about apple picking, the telltale sign that fall is just around the corner. Shockingly, some of us have (gulp) registered our kids for skiing already – yet another sign that we have rounded the corner from summer. But, while it is scary to think that summer is gone and the new school year is here, this transition is also a time to reflect, much the same way we do as we enter the month of Elul, which precedes Rosh Hashanah.  

It is a time to take stock, to reflect on the sacrifices we have made to get to this point, and look forward to the school year and the hopes and dreams that we carry for our children and our families. When I take stock, I can’t help but envision the incredible things that will come for my two children, the milestones that they will reach, and the values and learning that they will take with them from HFS and draw on to thrive in the next step of their academic journeys.

This past week, many of us were glued to the television, mesmerized by a 19 year old Canadian girl from a humble immigrant background, Bianca Andreescu, who took the tennis world by storm by winning the US Open. Was her road to this championship smooth? Not at all. Bianca had a major set-back this year, dealing with a serious shoulder injury that forced her to miss several months of competition. How did Bianca overcome these setbacks and ascend the highest peak in the tennis world (against the legendary Serena Williams, no less)?  

What became apparent in the aftermath of her win was that Bianca trusted the process that was put in front of her, a process that was methodically planned by her team to allow her to achieve success. She trusted her team and knew that they would work tirelessly with her to allow her to succeed. When she won a tournament in Indian Wells earlier in the year, Bianca, exhausted and frustrated in the final set of the finals, was heard telling her coach: “I want this so bad. I want this so bad. » Her coach listened, pumped her up, refocused her on the plan and Bianca executed with precision and positivity. With her team and their open communication, Bianca would prepare and adjust for each opponent, changing her tactic in preparation and during each match as well.  

Perhaps most importantly is that Bianca would spend countless hours visualizing success, not dwelling on the negative thoughts that surely must have crept in during practices and games. She imagined what it would be like to win the US Open and went so far as to write herself a $3.8M cheque as part of this positive visualization exercise. She believed in herself, the plan and the team. I was personally moved watching Bianca battle back from adversity even when she was on the precipice of losing a set or a match, and how she worked even harder to reverse negativity and re-focus on that vision.  

How does all this reflect on HFS?  At the start of the current school year, we saw our recent graduates stream into the highest levels of French and Math at Herzliah and Bialik. As well, we saw three HFS graduates win top awards at West Island College (in Math, French, and English) at their beginning year ceremony. Our HFS students do extremely well and our educational process works. Will it always be smooth? Will there be bumps along the road? Will there be moments when the plan needs to be readjusted and the tactics rethought? Absolutely, and that’s part of the process! Just like Bianca who was able to go to her team of coaches and trainers and adjust her tactic to the situation, as members of the HFS community, we are able to do that and engage with our HFS team to get the support that we need and allow our kids to maximize their potential. We can be proactive and engaged to work together for the best possible outcomes.

We all have moments when fears and negativity creep in, when setbacks are the only things that we can focus on. And it can be easy to shut it down and give up. It is in those moments where I think it’s exciting to look at our kids and who they are becoming, and look up and envision the role models who they can be and the community leaders that they will be. We are three weeks away from Rosh Hashanah and this 40 something-year-old man can’t help but learn from a 19 year-old teenager who showed the power of positivity, engagement, trust, envisioning success and fostering a culture that encompasses all of those key points. I know our wonderful new board of directors and your committed educational team share in these cultural values and I envision all of these wonderful aspirations as they come to fruition.

Shabbat Shalom. Welcome to our new families and welcome back home to everyone!

Boris Gorbatyuk