Hillel Ontario Condemns U of T BDS; U of T Replies

Dec. 3, 2020

On Nov. 27, Hillel Ontario issued the following statement:

“At its annual general meeting on Nov. 30, the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) sent a clear message to Jewish students: ‘You are not welcome here.’

“In a motion that reaffirms the Union’s commitment to the antisemitic BDS movement, the SCSU singled out and condemned a former executive for “displaying an Israeli flag,” and resolved not to partner with organizations that normalize Israel.

“The motion further resolved that future elected representatives and staff would be formally required to endorse BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.]

“The SCSU then rejected an amendment to the motion proposed by Jewish students that would prevent the Union from boycotting the Jewish clubs on campus.

“In response, Rob Nagus, Senior Director of Hillel UofT issued the following:

‘Last night’s conduct by the SCSU violated the University of Toronto’s Statement on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on creed, ethnic origin, and citizenship. Hillel has long voiced its serious concerns with the impacts of the BDS movement on the Scarborough Campus. This latest attempt to boycott and exclude Jewish students and organizations from campus life must be named and challenged.

Hillel is calling on the University of Toronto to demonstrate its commitment to the values reflected by its policies, including its recent Statement on Antisemitism and Racism, by issuing a condemnation and rejection of the SCSU’s motion, and taking the necessary steps required to ensure Jewish student life is protected on campus.’”

In response, the University of Toronto issued the following statement to the CJR:

“The University of Toronto is strongly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and has zero tolerance for hate speech, harassment, and discrimination in any form.  We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of hate and racial violence. 

“The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union is an autonomous student organization that acts independently from the University of Toronto. The SCSU first joined the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in 2013. At a recent AGM, they reaffirmed their commitment to this movement.

“All such autonomous organizations are required by the University’s policies to operate in an open, accessible and democratic manner, including a commitment to equity and to allowing a diversity of perspectives to be heard. The University does not approve or endorse activities or groups sponsored by SCSU.”

Liberal MP Affirms Friendship with Jewish Community

Nov. 12, 2020 


MONTREAL—One year after he was elected, Montreal-area Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi welcomed the opportunity to finally put to rest Conservative allegations that he is antisemitic and a proponent of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Sameer Zuberi
Photo credit: Bernard Thibodeau

“That’s completely false and wrong; it’s inconsistent with who I am and my record,” Zuberi told a videoconference hosted by Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom on Nov. 3. “…The Conservative attack is a red herring. If it were actually true, I would not be doing what I am doing now.”

On the eve of the contested Liberal nomination meeting in the Pierrefonds-Dollard riding in September 2019, the Conservative Party issued a press release describing Zuberi as having an “antisemitic past” and “promoted conspiracy theories” about 9/11.

The release also denounced Zuberi, who is Muslim, as a “radical activist” when he was a student leader at Concordia University in the early 2000s.

Zuberi, 41, who won the nomination over five other contenders, denied the allegations at the time, but went further in explaining why they were inaccurate and hurtful in response to a question during the virtual Temple event.

First, he emphasized that he comes from a mixed background. His father emigrated from Pakistan in the 1970s and his mother is a third-generation Canadian from Brockville, Ont.

An aunt converted to Judaism, and she, his uncle and their children – Zuberi’s cousins – observe kashruth and Shabbat. “I participated in that from a young age. My parents always reminded me that we have Christians and Jews in our family. Since the cradle, that has always been my world view and why I have worked so hard to create understanding among communities,” he said.

Zuberi, who was active in the Canadian Muslim Forum and worked as the diversity and engagement officer in McGill University’s faculty of medicine before running in the October 2019 federal election, said he has been devoted to bridge-building throughout his life.

Well before he considered entering politics, Zuberi said he attended a Shalom Hartman Institute program in Jerusalem to gain a deeper understanding of the Jewish experience. There, he “learned from rabbis, thought leaders and civil society in an unvarnished way.”

He said he “cares deeply for the Jewish community and respects the Jews of Canada and the world.”

Addressing the specific Conservative charges, which were never retracted, Zuberi said to characterize him as a “9/11 truther could not be further from the truth. I have constantly denounced terrorism and Osama bin Laden…I am on the record dozens of times.”

The Conservatives reproduced an exchange on Zuberi’s Facebook page from May 3, 2011, just after bin Laden was assassinated, to back up their allegation. Zuberi responded to a comment posted that whether bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11 was still “a matter of public debate,” but cautioned the commenter against subscribing to theories that confirmed their views.

Zuberi points out that on that day, he had a letter published in the Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette in which he wrote that “the death of Osama bin Laden is a welcome event.” The thrust of the letter was that, 10 years after 9/11, “it was time to turn a new page and move on to something else,” he explained.

As for the accusation that as a Concordia Student Union vice-president, he supported the suspension of the Jewish student club Hillel in late 2002 because it was accused of disseminating Israel Defense Forces recruitment materials, Zuberi said that, “at that time, I am on the record that Hillel should not be suspended. I dug up that statement and shared it publicly.”

The Temple’s Rabbi Lisa Grushcow’s association with Zuberi goes back to before he entered federal politics. She said they worked together on interfaith and intercultural projects, and collaborated during the fight against Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law. He has taken part in the Temple’s Muslim Awareness Week and other programming, she said.

“Sameer has consistently been a friend of our community,” she said.

Apple Cake and Pumpkin Challah Are Festive Fall Holiday Dishes

Oct. 9, 2020 


Shabbat Shalom, Chag Samayach, and Happy Thanksgiving. Welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. This weekend we celebrate Sukkot, Simchat Torah as well as Thanksgiving.

I always associate apples with Simchat Torah. The holiday evokes childhood memories of me marching in the synagogue social hall waving an Israeli flag topped with an apple.

In memory of those Simchat Torah celebrations, I have chosen a recipe for a healthy apple dessert. Apple-Licious Cake, from the late Norene Gilletz’s last book, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory.

Thanksgiving conjures images of sweet potatoes and pumpkins. I found a delicious sweet potato recipe in Simple, a popular cookbook by Israeli celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi. His Sweet Potato Mash with Lime Salsa is very festive, as is Pumpkin Challah. Both dishes would be good choices for Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and Thanksgiving.

The pumpkin challah is adapted from a Maple Kabo-Challah recipe I acquired from Building the Jewish& Cookbook, a monthly virtual cooking program offered through the Miles Nadal JCC.

Lauren’s Pumpkin Kabo Challah


6 large apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (Cortland, Spartan, or Honeycrisp
Sweetener equivalent to ¼ cup (60 ml) brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tsp (10 ml) ground cinnamon.


½ cup (125 ml) whole blanched almonds, or 1½ cup (125 ml) almond meal.
2 large eggs
2/3 cup (160 ml) sugar
1tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract 
¼ cup (60 ml) canola oil
½ cup (125 ml) unsweetened applesauce
1¼ cups (310 ml) whole wheat flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder 
½ tsp (2 ml) ground cinnamon 
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Spray a 7 × 11-inch (18 × 28-cm) glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Filling: In a large bowl, combine the apples with sweetener and cinnamon; mix well and set aside.

Batter: In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process almonds until finely ground, about 25–30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, oil, and applesauce to the food processor. Process for 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Don’t insert the pusher into the feed tube while processing. 

Add the ground almonds along with flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; process just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, spread about half the batter in the prepared pan. Spread the apple filling evenly over the batter. Top with the remaining batter and spread evenly. Some of the apples will peek through. 

Bake for 50–60 minutes, until golden brown.

Norene’s Notes:

Berry good variation: Replace half the apples with your favourite berries, for a total of 4–5 cups (1–1.25 L) fruit.

Nut allergies? Replace the almonds with either ½ cup (125 ml) wheat germ or whole wheat pastry flour.


2 lb 2 oz. (1 K) sweet potatoes, unpeeled and cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup/ (60 ml) olive oil, divided
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C)

Rub the potatoes with 1 tbsp of oil and season with ¼ tsp (2 ml) salt. Place the potatoes on a parchment-lined, baking sheet, cut side down, and roast for 30–35 minutes, until very soft.

Prepare the salsa: While the potatoes are roasting make the salsa. Put the remaining oil in a bowl. Add the basil, cilantro, garlic, lime zest, lime juice and a good pinch of salt. Stir to combine. 

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins or scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Mash the flesh together with 1/8 tsp salt and plenty of black pepper until smooth.

Transfer the mashed potato to a platter. Create divots in the surface and spoon the salsa evenly over it. Serve hot as a side dish.


The Miles Nadal JCC is offering virtual cooking classes. Lauren Schreiber-Sasaki, a Jewish life programmer at MNJCC, runs Jewish&, programs geared to multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic members of the Jewish community. “Jewish& celebrates Jewish diversity,” she said.

COVID restricted in-person programming, so Schreiber-Sasaki said she came up with “Building The Jewish& Cookbook,” a monthly online cooking program that brings the Jewish& group together along with other interested participants.

“Building The Jewish& Cookbook” focuses on recipes that blend various traditions and cultures. I signed up for the Maple Kabo-Challah class led by Carmel Tanaka, a community engagement professional based in Vancouver.

This unusual Japanese-style challah incorporates kabocha, a Japanese pumpkin (canned pumpkin purée can be substituted). Her recipe reflects her Jewish and Japanese heritage. Her mother is Israeli and her father is Canadian of Japanese heritage.

Tanaka calls herself Jewpanese and has even started a monthly virtual event with others of similar heritage. She is also the founder of JQT Vancouver, a Jewish-queer-trans nonprofit.

Tanaka said she learned to make challah when she worked at Hillel. She was taught the basic recipe by the late Robbie McConnell of the Montreal Gazette. His recipe is the foundation for her maple kabo-challah.

The next episode of “Building The Jewish& Cookbook” will be held on Nov. 8 and will feature Montrealer Kat Romanow. She is known for her Wandering-Chew food tours of Montreal’s old Jewish neighbourhoods. 

To register: https://www.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/2864377


Braided Kabo Challah

1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm water, divided
1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar 
1 tbsp (15 ml) instant yeast (2 packages) 
¼ cup (60 ml) honey or maple syrup
¼ cup (60 ml) neutral-flavoured oil (i.e. corn, grape seed, etc.)
1 cup (250 ml) kabocha* (prepared in advance)
4 eggs, divided
1 tbsp (15 ml) kosher salt
4–4.5 cups (1 L) unbleached all-purpose flour
Additional flour if necessary.
1 egg yolk mixed with water for egg wash.
Poppy seeds, black or white sesame seeds, preferably toasted
Maldon sea salt flakes (optional)
*NB substitute pumpkin purée for kabocha 

Prepare the kabocha:

Oil for brushing 

Cut the kabocha in half. Scoop out the seeds. Brush the kabocha with oil.

Bake at 350°F (180°C) until the kabocha is soft so you can poke your fork through easily and the edges begin to caramelize. Mash and let cool. This step can be done ahead.

Prepare the Pumpkin Purée:

Place a cheesecloth over a container (an elastic band can secure the cheesecloth). Place a scoop of canned pumpkin purée on the cheese cloth and let the liquid drain into the container. Continue until you have 1 cup of drained pumpkin purée. Discard the liquid. This step can be done ahead

To Make the Challah:

In a small bowl combine the kabocha or the pumpkin purée with 1 lightly beaten egg and set aside.

In a large bowl of a stand mixer dissolve the sugar in ½ cup (125 ml) warm water. Sprinkle the yeast in the water and let stand 8–10 minutes until foamy. 

Once the yeast is activated add the remaining water, oil, honey or maple syrup, salt and mix well.

Roughly beat the eggs in a small bowl and add to the mixing bowl. Incorporate all the ingredients well. Add the kabocha or pumpkin purée and mix well.

Add the flour by cupfuls to the egg and pumpkin mixture and incorporate. Mix until the dough is shaggy and still a little moist, adding small amounts of flour or water if necessary. A dough hook can be used.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should not be sticky. Place the dough in a large greased bowl, turn to make sure all the surfaces are greased. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean damp towel and let rise in a warm place. After 1 hour, punch down the dough to remove the air pockets. Let the dough rise for another hour. 

Punch the dough in the bowl to remove any additional air pockets. Turn the dough out onto to a floured surface or a sheet of parchment paper. Knead for 2 minutes before shaping.

To shape: 

Traditional braided challah: Divide the dough in half. Divide each half into 3 equal pieces. Roll the pieces into 3 long strands. Braid them loosely tucking the ends under. Repeat with the remaining dough to form a second loaf. 

Pumpkin-shaped challah: Divide the dough in 4 equal balls. Using a long thread or butcher twine tie each ball in a way that the ball is divided into 6–8 parts.

Do not tie the balls too tightly as they will continue to rise during the second proofing and baking.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (160°C) Cover the loaves with a damp cloth and leave them to rise for 30 minutes.

Transfer the bread to two parchment-lined baking sheets. When the bread has risen, mix a few drops of water to the reserved egg yolk and brush the wash onto the entire surface of the loaves or balls.

Sprinkle on the poppy or sesame seeds and the Maldon sea salt flakes if using. Then slide the bread into the preheated oven. Bake for 25–40 minutes. Halfway through the baking, rotate the trays to get even baking on all sides.

Le Chabad et le Centre Hillel à l’Université de Montréal (UdeM) : rivalité ou complémentarité ?

Aug. 26, 2020 – Par ELIAS LEVY, Montréal

Comment le Centre Chabad et le Centre Hillel envisagent-ils la rentrée universitaire 2020-2021 à l’Université de Montréal (UdeM) ? Appréhendent-ils ce retour en classe qui se déroulera cette année sous le sceau de l’exceptionnalité ?

Le Centre Hillel a été pendant trente ans le principal foyer et lieu de rencontre des étudiants juifs francophones de Montréal.

Cette institution s’est notoirement distinguée par son dynamisme, son souci permanent de défendre la cause d’Israël sur les campus universitaires francophones de Montréal et la qualité de ses programmes culturels et sociorécréatifs.

Le Centre Hillel a fermé ses portes en 2014.

La bâtisse qui l’a abrité pendant trois décennies, sise au 5325, rue Gatineau (au coin de la rue Jean-Brillant), était depuis 1984 la propriété de la Fédération CJA.

Le Centre Chabad de l’Université de l’UdeM, fondé en 2014 par le Rabbin Shlomo Banon et son épouse, Matti, a acquis celle-ci en septembre 2019 pour la somme de 605 000$. Un prix bien en dessous de sa valeur monétaire réelle, estimée à environ 900 000$, dans un marché immobilier en pleine effervescence.

À l’instar du Centre Hillel, le Centre Chabad est reconnu aussi comme un groupe affilié à l’UdeM.

Il a entrepris récemment une campagne de financement. Objectif : 400 000$, qui serviront à défrayer les coûts de rénovation d’une bâtisse vétuste dont la structure est en très mauvais état.

Des rénovations majeures sont urgentes: la toiture en déliquescence a été réparée, l’aménagement intérieur requiert d’importants travaux de construction, six dortoirs, qui hébergeront des étudiants, seront aménagés…

« La Fédération CJA de Montréal a été très réceptive à notre ardent souhait d’acquérir l’immeuble qui a abrité jadis le Centre Hillel. Cette institution fédérative a compris l’importance de recréer un foyer pour les étudiants juifs de l’UdeM situé à proximité de cette institution universitaire. Nous considérons notre engagement dans cette noble cause communautaire comme une Mitzvah. Beaucoup d’étudiants juifs de l’UdeM, particulièrement ceux venant de l’étranger, se sentent souvent seuls. Le Centre Chabad est pour eux un foyer et un repère identitaire fort. Notre philosophie est basée sur l’adage « A home away from home » (« Une maison loin de la maison »). Nous voulons que les étudiants de l’étranger que nous accueillons se sentent comme chez eux », explique en entrevue le Rabbin Shlomo Banon, fondateur et directeur du Centre Chabad de l’UdeM.

En pleine pandémie de la COVID-19, le retour en classe pose un sérieux casse-tête aux administrateurs des écoles, des cégeps et des universités. Les différentes facultés de l’UdeM ont prévu un enseignement hybride : quelques cours seulement seront donnés en classe, la majorité seront dispensés en ligne.

Cette réalité incontournable ne risque-t-elle pas d’avoir cet automne une incidence négative sur la fréquentation du Centre Chabad de l’UdeM?

« Au contraire. La pire chose pour la santé mentale d’un étudiant est de passer la journée entière chez lui. Nous l’avons vu récemment. Le confinement a provoqué de grands ravages, particulièrement au niveau émotionnel et psychologique. Le Centre Chabad de l’UdeM sera une vraie bouffée d’oxygène pour des étudiants astreints à suivre leurs cours universitaires depuis leur domicile. Nous allons aménager l’espace de nos lieux en appliquant d’une manière pointilleuse toutes les directives émises par les autorités de santé publique du Québec : mesures d’hygiène, distanciation sociale de deux mètres… Nous serons en mesure d’accueillir quotidiennement 40 à 60 étudiants tout en respectant rigoureusement les mesures sanitaires recommandées. Ces jeunes pourront étudier dans un cadre sécuritaire, chaleureux et convivial tout en bénéficiant de repas savoureux casher proposés par notre cafétéria et d’un réseau Wifi superpuissant », précise le Rabbin Shlomo Banon.

Combien d’étudiants juifs fréquentent l’UdeM?

« D’après les données établies en 2018 par le Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (CIJA): 850. Un bon nombre d’entre eux sont des étudiants étrangers majoritairement originaires de France. Il y a aussi des Belges, des Suisses et des Marocains. Mais chaque année, il y a de plus en plus d’étudiants ashkénazes anglophones qui poursuivent leurs études dans les facultés de droit et de médecine de l’UdeM. J’estime que cette année environ 1000 étudiants juifs fréquenteront cette université francophone », souligne le Rabbin Shlomo Banon.

Le Centre Hillel est-il toujours actif sur le campus de l’UdeM?

« Absolument. Bien que la branche du Centre Hillel fasse désormais partie intégrante du Hillel Center localisé au centre-ville de Montréal, nous continuons à être présents dans les principaux campus francophones, et particulièrement à l’UdeM. Force est de reconnaître que le début de cette nouvelle année universitaire s’annonce un peu plus compliquée, la majorité des cours devant être dispensés en ligne. En temps normal, nous tenons des tables d’information et organisons des conférences sur le campus. Cependant, nous n’allons pas chômer pour autant. Nous comptons offrir des activités virtuelles, par exemple une rencontre chaque semaine avec un invité de marque », nous a dit Sol Felsztyna, étudiante en éducation à l’UdeM et coprésidente du Centre Hillel dans cette université.

Y a-t-il une rivalité entre le Chabad et le Centre Hillel à l’UdeM?

« Pas du tout. Il n’y a aucune rivalité mais une complémentarité, répond sur un ton rassurant Jordan Ohana, étudiant en comptabilité à l’École des HEC et coprésident du Centre Hillel de l’UdeM. Le Centre Chabad dessert essentiellement les étudiants juifs francophones de l’étranger poursuivant leurs études à l’UdeM. Il leur offre divers services, notamment religieux et sociaux. Nous souhaitons collaborer étroitement avec le Chabad afin de proposer des activités conjointes aux étudiants juifs de l’UdeM. L’union de nos forces vives sera certainement un grand atout pour nos deux institutions. »

La défense d’Israël sur le campus de l’UdeM est-elle une priorité pour le Chabad et le Centre Hillel?

Alexandre Ohayon, étudiant en économie à l’UdeM et président de la branche du Chabad dans cette université, Sol Felsztyna et Jordan Ohana, coprésidents du Centre Hillel de l’UdeM, sont foncièrement d’accord sur un point : les aspects les plus hideux du conflit israélo-palestinien n’ont pas été importés sur le campus de l’UdeM. Les relations entre étudiants juifs et musulmans dans cette université sont respectueuses et harmonieuses. L’atmosphère est tout autre que celle qui règne dans les campus de l’Université Concordia et de l’Université McGill. Les frictions sont très rares, même pendant la Semaine de l’apartheid israélien organisée annuellement par les étudiants propalestiniens.

« Le Chabad de l’UdeM est très sensible à la question de l’antisémitisme et du BDS, campagne de boycott, de désinvestissements économiques et de sanctions prônés par les détracteurs d’Israël. Nous voulons éviter à tout prix les confrontations. La vocation du Centre Chabad est essentiellement spirituelle. Mais nous sommes pro-Israël et contre le BDS à 1000%. Nous tablons plutôt sur un dialogue constructif. Nous sensibilisons les étudiants juifs à la question de l’antisémitisme et de l’antisionisme. Nous les encourageons à répondre aux critiques d’Israël avec des arguments fondés et sensés rappelant la légitimité de l’État juif et la justesse de sa cause plutôt qu’en brandissant des drapeaux d’Israël. Nous militons en faveur d’Israël d’une manière intelligente et pacifique. »

Sol Felsztyna abonde dans le même sens.

« Il n’a jamais été question de capituler face à la propagande palestinienne. Par contre, nous nous escrimons à rappeler aux étudiants non-juifs, susceptibles d’être séduits par la rhétorique propalestinienne trompeuse, qu’Israël ne se limite pas à une armée et à des soldats combattant des terroristes palestiniens. Israël, c’est aussi une démocratie vibrante, une société très créative, une économie très performante, portée par le high-tech, une littérature et un cinéma qui rayonnent dans le monde entier… Nous voulons promouvoir dans les campus une image positive, et non réactive, d’Israël. Une image autre que politique ou militaire de ce petit pays remarquable: ses réalisations gigantesques dans les domaines des sciences, de la médecine, de l’agriculture, des arts, de la littérature, du cinéma… Les étudiants non-juifs apprécient beaucoup plus ces facettes, malheureusement fort méconnues, d’Israël. »

Elias Levy
Elias Levy

Jewish Day Schools Face Array of Issues as They Re-open

Aug. 21, 2020 – By LILA SARICK

Jewish day schools are reopening across the country next month after having been closed since March due to the coronavirus. But it is clear the schools will look very different, as they prepare for higher enrolments, more requests for financial assistance, and higher expenses to ready classrooms for new health regulations.

In Toronto, day school enrolment is up slightly for the first time since 2003, said Daniel Held, executive director of the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education.

For 2020, 7,198 students are enrolled, an increase from last year’s enrolment of 7,007.

Held said the increased enrolment can be attributed to the day schools’ efficient rollout of online learning last spring, when they were forced to close with little notice, and that day schools are able to offer smaller class sizes than their public counterparts this fall.

“Because schools were able to perform so well, not only can they retain students, but they’re growing,” he said.

But while increasing enrolment is a positive sign for day schools, more students than ever need financial assistance to pay tuition.

This year, 300 students who had paid in full in previous years required financial assistance, while those who were already receiving aid required 15 percent more money, Held said. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto intends to allocate $19 million for subsidies, up from $10 million last year, he noted.

Changes driven by COVID are evident at TanenbaumCHAT, Toronto’s largest Jewish high school. Students will attend school in person on alternate days to allow for physical distancing, and participate the rest of the time online, said head of school Jonathan Levy.

Reopening has come with increased costs. The school has already spent more than $10,000 on Plexiglas dividers, sanitizer and cleaning supplies, and PPE (personal protection equipment), and that’s before the school year has even started, Levy said.

Enrolment is up at TanenbaumCHAT, with 1,100 students committed, an increase from 1,014 last year.

A poll of parents earlier this summer showed 80 percent would send their children to school in person and not study solely online.

“Overwhelmingly, families would like their children to be in school,” Levy said. “We’re confident we can provide our CHAT experience, but in a different way this year. I think kids will be thrilled to see their friends again, just from six feet apart.”

While many parents are concerned about their children returning to school, they are committed to the reopening.

“I’m not going to say it doesn’t make me nervous,” said one parent who has three children returning to Associated Hebrew Schools in Toronto. “We feel the school is being careful and trying to do their best and making decisions in a thoughtful way.”

But Rachel Marmer’s children won’t be joining their classmates this fall. “We love our day school and want to go back so badly, it was a heart-wrenching decision” not to enroll in school, Marmer said.

Marmer, who has four children, is setting up a small group – a learning pod – for her two school-aged children. She figures they’ll be less exposed to the virus than in a larger school setting.

Supervising her children’s remote learning earlier this year was a full-time job and did not work well for her family, she said.

“With two babies at home and having a job, I’m spread too thin. They (schools) could close again at a moment’s notice and I would be stuck with distance learning again.”

Instead, she found a retired principal to design a curriculum and post it on Facebook for a few families to join her. The response was overwhelming, and she is now overseeing a rapidly growing movement of parents looking to set up their own learning pods.

At Winnipeg’s Gray Academy of Jewish Education, head of school Lori Binder acknowledged that plans can change quickly. In the spring, the school quickly rolled out a full remote learning program, called Gray Away.

Winnipeg Gray Academy
Winnipeg Gray Academy

“We are open and prepared for all scenarios,” Binder said. “The province at any time can change the protocols so it’s just developing a very, very flexible mindset.”

She expected that enrolment would remain the same, with 490 students, or grow slightly. With school set to reopen in a few weeks, she is getting numerous inquiries, especially since Manitoba public schools will have larger classes and high school students will not spend every day in class.

Gray Academy, meanwhile will offer instruction five days a week, but with some modifications, said Binder. The school’s size and layout will allow groups of students to be cohorts, as the province requires. Still, Gray has incurred expenses getting ready to open. It ordered 1,000 decals to go under desks to mark the spots for distancing.

At Vancouver’s King David High School, Russ Klein is also keeping an open mind, aware that the school’s plans could change quickly again. Enrolment is steady, with 230 students expected to arrive on the first day of class.

“Everything feels different,” Klein said, starting with signs on the school’s front door reminding people to wear masks and wash their hands regularly. Students will be grouped in cohorts depending on their grade, and will do most activities, from academics to sports, together.

Operating costs will increase by $50,000-$100,000, Klein estimates, with a large chunk of that for extra custodial services. The province has contributed a portion of those costs, he said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the school reached out to families to see who might need financial assistance.

“We saw an immediate uptick,” he said. “About 30 families reached out immediately.” Requests for tuition assistance have also increased, although he hasn’t tallied it yet. “We are giving much more aid than normal,” he said.

For now though, the school is in stable financial situation, having received extra funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and its own donors.

While some families are nervous about school reopening, especially if they have an immuno-compromised family member, Klein says he hopes they will be reassured by the precautions the school is taking.

“The vast majority will come because they want to come. We’re really lucky, we’re in a warm, caring community.”