The Halifax Joint Hebrew School is an afternoon Jewish school for both synagogues in Halifax.
In l957, the new Beth Israel Synagogue Building provided a new lease on life for the Baron de Hirsch Talmud Torah. With a specific educational wing, a youth lounge, a library and a social hall with a stage and a gym, it was now possible to have a school system and a social program that complemented each other. The Synagogue became a place where prayer, education and enjoyment could co-exist.
The curriculum of the Talmud Torah has been constantly revised over the years with the addition or substitution of subjects. Yet, it has never wavered from providing the knowledge and incentive for participation in every aspect of Jewish life:
- To guide the student in gaining knowledge of Jewish history, tradition, Hebrew language and an appreciation of Jewish living with the goal of combining knowledge with practice at all times;
- To enable every Jewish boy and girl to learn and appreciate the principles of Torah and its ethical ideals;
- To encourage the pupil to identify with their Jewish identity, includingdevotion to the Jewish people the world over, with the State of Israel and with the Synagogue.
- To call forth a sense of Jewish pride and self-respect by encouraging participation in Jewish communal and religious life by the performance of Mitzvot;
- To provide the child with an intelligent understanding of modern Jewish life in the Canadian setting;
- To inspire a love for Jewish learning to the end that the graduate will voluntarily wish to continue with Jewish education.
Our specific goals are to develop a Jewish personality identified with the Synagogue, community and a feeling of kinship with Jews the world over, and in particular, in Israel . A child at the end of seven years of Talmud Torah will have received an ability to participate in regular daily services, Sabbaths and Festivals. The student will also have the knowledge and capability to carry out the home observances such as Kiddush, grace after meals, candle lighting, etc., with a thirst to learn more.
A child, at the very minimum, should be able to read Hebrew, and be capable of writing in the Hebrew script. The child will have a basic knowledge of Chumash based on the study of the weekly Parsha and will have a knowledge and appreciation of Jewish history from its beginnings to the present by virtue of“Nach”, Bible learning and other sources. It should be understood, however, that a cooperative home with strong identification and attendance at the synagogue is necessary for the successful achievement of these goals.
Youth program of all kinds, social, athletic and artistic are sponsored by the Congregation. The long tenure of Cantor George Lieberman was outstanding as Youth Director and teacher. His successors, Yosi Groner, Marc Sevy and Yakov Ben-Amou added their own specific contributions. These Youth Directors directed their energies for outreach, both to youth and adults. They were ably complimented as teachers in their own right by their respective wives, Shoshana Groner, Rachel Sevy and Ruth Ben-Amou.
We have had outstanding teachers such as Yona Korn, Meir Mark, Evelyn Luner and Cantor Jeno Mittleman. Many members will recall teachers Harold Cohen, Herb Horwich and Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Rappaport. Sandra Wolman started her career in Jewish education as our Primary grade teacher. She now teaches at the Jewish School in Boston . They follow in the great teaching tradition of Rabbi Abraham Greenspan who “did it all for 35 years” and whom many recall with fondness. Rabbi Marvin Pritzker taught the older students for 16 years and inspired many to pursue higher levels of study and personal religious observance. Rabbi Saul Aranov brought a scholarly level to Jewish studies in the school and in the Congregation beyond anything we had experienced before.
Shoshana Groner, Rose Pritzker, Rachel Sevy and Ruth Ben-Amou taught our Bat Torah girls the duties of the Jewish woman.
We have sponsored Shabbatons for teenagers on our own, as well as with the aid of personnel sent to us by Yeshiva University and have sent some of our children to NCSY Shabbatons in Montréal, Toronto and Ottawa . All of these extra-curricular activities have served to add a new dimension to the Jewish education of our young.
In 1986, our Model Seder was broadcast nationally on the CBC television program “ Meeting Place ”. As a result of Rabbi Pritzker’s teaching, the students were so familiar with the Hebrew and the service that no special preparation was required by the students more than we do every year as Passover approaches.
We are proud of our young men who learn to lead the service. Many act as the “Junior Cantor” at the close of services each Sabbath and learn at Junior Congregation and in the classroom how public prayer is conducted. Many return after Bar Mitzvah to chant other Haftorah and continue to participate. Our girls learn to participate in the service well and at the Bat Torah celebration, they demonstrate their facility in and their knowledge of the Synagogue liturgy.
Bar Mitzvah boys attend the daily services before their Sabbath celebration. They are introduced to the vital center of the congregation and see for themselves that prayer is a duty and that each male from thirteen and up plays a part in the spiritual life of the community.
The Talmud Torah is administered by the Rabbi as Principal and a Board of Education serving as a committee of congregational members. Chairpersons have included Jack Novack, Lynda Suissa, Lisa Garman, Mark Ludman, Linda Raskin, Errol Gaum, Ray Ginsberg, Lois Block, Ira Abraham, Frank Medjuck, Ralph Loebenberg, Barrie Ross, Phil Arnold, Charles Oler, Jayson Greenblatt, Saul Offman, Sam S. Jacobson and Hy Borshy. The first formal Chairman of Education was Dr. Morris Jacobson, who designed the first curriculum, called the first meeting of the Parent Teacher’s Association and generally organized the first modern Hebrew School into its present format.
During the term of Charles Oler, who also had been a teacher in the school, a School Inspector was so impressed with the standards of instruction and curriculum that the Beth Israel Talmud Torah became the only afternoon Hebrew School in the world reported in the Encyclopedia Judaica for excellence.
In 2003, it was decided to combine our Talmud Torah with that of the local Conservative Synagogue for Grade Primary through Grade Two. The decision arose from recognizing the need to have a proper size class, as well as trying to unify the community on common issues. This program has since been expanded to include Grades Three and Four, with both sides agreeing on a mutual Curriculum, and each side having full veto power.
Understanding the need to “practice what you preach”, we have incorporated many parents and kids programs within our Hebrew School . They include handouts for family learning of the weekly Parsha, celebrations of Holidays such as Sukkot and Chanukah in the students’ homes, and a recent endeavor called the P.A.T. – Parents Are Teachers Initiative.
We are not so arrogant as to think we do enough. We constantly strive for more. While our formal program ends at Grade 8, we encourage our students to continue their education well beyond. Most importantly, from the day that a student enters the Talmud Torah, we teach that Judaism is a life-long venture wherever one finds themselves. We hope to create a student that can be uprooted from his comfortable Jewish home, exported anywhere in the world, and still lead the exact same Jewish lifestyle. If one can follow the prayer service in the Synagogue of the Baron de Hirsch Congregation of Halifax , one can follow the traditional service in any other Synagogue the world over. This has been our goal: to integrate our young people into Clal Yisrael, the larger Jewish Community. We pray that we may succeed.