Ottawa Talmud Torah Afternoon School (OTTAS), which launched a new initiative with Congregation Machzikei Hadas for this current school year, is growing again and launching a similar initiative with Kehillat Beth Israel for the upcoming school year.
“Our growth was truly a team effort that would not have been possible without all of the hard work of our teachers and board members,” said OTTAS Director Eliana Mandel-Carsen.
“The opportunity to collaborate creates an even better program, and I’m very excited about it,” said Rabbi Eytan Kenter of Kehillat Beth Israel, who will be doing some teaching and is involved in the curriculum development as well.
“Too often everyone tries to do their own thing,” said Rabbi Kenter, who describes the joint project as “a wonderful partnership.”
OTTAS describes itself as a pluralistic and inclusive Jewish supplementary school for children in junior kindergarten to Grade 7. Talmud Torah welcomes all Jewish children, regardless of background, affiliation or how often they engage in activities associated Judaism.
Classes are now held Sundays at Machzikei Hadas, Tuesdays at the Ottawa Jewish Community School and Thursdays at Knoxdale Public School. Tuesday classes will move to Kehillat Beth Israel for the 2017-2018 school year.
“This past year has been fantastic,” said Mandel-Carsen. “At the end of last year, we had 17 students. Now we have 55 students, which is pretty amazing. We’ve all been working very, very, hard. We are developing a well-rounded, spiral curriculum so that students get different themes each year … For instance, they will be learning about Shabbat in many different ways. We are really trying to offer hands-on learning experiences, not just learning out a book.”
Ottawa’s Shinshinim, Canaf Ahituv and Noga Weiss, the two young Israelis who deferred their Israeli army service for one year to act as ambassadors of their country in the community, have also played a part at Talmud Torah.
“This year has been the first year for the Israeli Shinshinim,” said Mandel-Carsen. “They have been so helpful in integrating Israeli culture, Jewish identity and Jewish celebrations as part of our program.”
The Shinshinim program is fully supported by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
As part of the OTTAS program, Rabbi Scher teaches bar and bat mitzvah lessons and Torah reading to both girls and boys on Tuesdays, and a bar and bat mitzvah leadership program every second Sunday for students in Grades 6 and 7. The leadership program is “a study of what it means to become an adult and ultimately a leader in the Jewish community and in the community at large.”
“It’s been wonderful to have a community school, a place to send children in our network and congregation who are looking for a supplemental school,” said Rabbi Scher.