Ottawa boasts a variety of Jewish supplementary school options at the elementary and high school level geared to families whose children attend public schools. Some of the schools have taught students for generations, while others were established more recently. Each serves a specific niche in the community with its own unique approach.
The Ottawa Talmud Torah Afternoon School (OTTAS), the oldest of the city’s Jewish supplementary schools, has been providing Ottawa families with a traditional curriculum for almost 90 years.
OTTAS students receive five hours of classes per week on Sundays and Tuesdays – the most hours of supplementary schools in the city. The classes are held in the Ottawa Jewish Community School building.
“Our goal is to offer the most comprehensive curriculum of any supplemental school, but it also goes beyond that,” said Rabbi David Rotenberg, the OTTAS principal. “We have a dynamic all-star teaching staff. They act as positive Jewish role models, make Judaism come to life for their students, and make them want to come to school.
“In addition, we’ve introduced a series of parent classes and family engagement programs, in order to bring learning beyond the classroom and engage families in their children’s learning. In all, a Talmud Torah education is more than just Hebrew school. It’s about making our rich heritage relevant to today’s modern world, and inspiring our students and families.”
As well as offering its core program for students in kindergarten through Grade 7, OTTAS now partners with Torah High to offer a Grade 8 option in which students meet once a week to study a wide variety of Jewish topics.
OTTAS also offers bar and bat mitzvah training as part of its curriculum.
Visit www.ottas.ca for more information.
The Ottawa Modern Jewish School (OMJS), which holds its classes in the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, takes pride in its community partnerships.
“For instance, Hillel Lodge is part of our curriculum,” said Principal Janet Kaiman. OMJS students visit the Lodge for recreational programs with the residents and “graduating Grade 7 students interview a resident and do a report on their life.”
In the ‘Being Jewish’ program, Grade 6 and 7 students explore what being Jewish means to them by experiencing the Jewish life cycle within the Ottawa Jewish community, she said. The program includes guest speakers from various agencies as well as field trips to Rideau Bakery, synagogues and Jewish Memorial Gardens.
OMJS describes itself as a “contemporary Hebrew school inclusive of all elements of Jewish society, a school which recognizes the principle of individual choice.”
OMJS, Kaiman explained, tries to “take from the ancient” and make Bible study relevant to today. “In addition to history, Hebrew language and Jewish holidays, we teach archaeology, and are always looking for innovative ways to improve our curriculum.” Yiddish units – including language, songs and culture – are offered several times per year.
Because the school was founded in 1954, many of today’s parents and teachers are OMJS graduates, said Kaiman. “We’re so proud that our grads stay connected.”
Visit www.omjs.ca for more information.
Star of David Hebrew School was established in 1976 to address the need for supplementary Jewish education for families in the eastern and southern parts of Ottawa. The school, whose classes take place at Congregation Machzikei Hadas, attracts students from across the city for its Grade 1 to 7 classes on Monday and Wednesday afternoons and kindergarten classes on Wednesday afternoons only.
“We have a full curriculum, with reading, writing, laws and customs, history, Israel and the Holocaust,” said principal and Grade 2 teacher Hennie Honigman. Students start reading and writing Hebrew right away.
The siddur is very important to the school.
“When students come out with knowledge of the siddur and davening, they can follow and do the services anywhere in the world. We just had a girl do the Torah reading at Agudath Israel, and people were blown away. It was unbelievable,” said Honigman.
Star of David students celebrate all Jewish holidays and Israel in the classroom with parents, siblings and grandparents invited to the programs.
Visit www.starofdavidhebrewschool.com for more information.
Chabad Hebrew School, whose classes take place at the Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad, offers classes from kindergarten to Grade 7 on Sunday mornings.
“My husband and I are really passionate about Jewish education and Jewish continuity,” said Dina Blum, who runs the school with Rabbi Menachem Blum. “Teaching about what you believe in strongly, and live by, really makes an impact on the children. We’re proud to be able to present authentic Judaism in a fun way for the children, and that has an effect on the families.”
The approach of Chabad Hebrew School is for the children to enjoy their time spent at Hebrew School so that they are left with positive feelings and fond memories of their Jewish education. The program blends songs, games, incentives, arts and crafts, dramatics, family celebrations and other activities.
Visit www.ottawatorahcentre.com for more information.
Children of both members and non-members are welcome at Temple Israel Religious School (TIRS), which offers classes from kindergarten through bar and bat mitzvah preparation, to high school and confirmation.
The junior and senior kindergarten programs on Sunday mornings include Hebrew language instruction, music and study of holidays and basic blessings.
For Grades 1 through 6, students attend a Sunday morning program that instils a commitment to a Jewish way of learning and living. Beginning in Grade 2 (optional) and Grade 3 (compulsory), students also attend TIRS on Wednesday afternoons for additional Hebrew studies.
The TIRS high school program for Grades 7 through 10 involves weekly meetings to study theology and philosophy, discuss important issues of the day, and explore ritual and custom relating to Jewish lifecycle. High school students are also required to participate in a volunteer project of their choice.
Grade 10 is conformation year leading to the Service of Confirmation on Shavuot.
Natalie Brender, chair of the Temple Israel Education Committee, said the school was looking forward to the arrival of the Reform congregation’s new spiritual leader, Rabbi Rob Morais, this summer.
“He has vast experience working with children and youth,” she said. “We’re expecting renewed vigour of the Temple school and Temple religious life.”
Visit www.templeisraelottawa.ca for more information.
Torah High Ottawa is an NCSY supplementary Jewish education program for students attending public high schools. Classes are held at the NCSY Centre in Centrepointe. (The final weeks of classes this year were held in a space in the same strip mall after the NCSY Centre was damaged in a fire on May 27. See this article).
According to NCSY Executive Director Gaby Scarowsky, there are approximately 950 Jewish teens in Ottawa attending public high schools.
“What kinds of opportunities exist for those teens? Where will these teens end up Jewishly, if nothing is provided for them during their most formative years? We wanted to fill that gap,” he said.
“Torah High is filling this massive need,” added Bram Bregman, now the Jewish Federation of Ottawa vice-president of community building. Bregman, Scarowsky’s predecessor at NCSY, co-founded Torah High Ottawa with Rabbi Yehuda Simes. “With a combination of in-class learning and out-of-class Jewish experiences, Torah High balances the needs of the modern Jewish public high school teen.”
Visit www.torahhighottawa.weebly.com for more information.