It has been said that education is “the foundation for our future. It is empowerment to make choices and emboldens the youth to chase their dreams.”
A long time ago, our son was in kindergarten at Hillel Academy (now the Ottawa Jewish Community School or OJCS). Jacob came home one day and asked my wife Melanie and me why we didn’t “have Shabbat in the dining room, with kiddush and challah and a white tablecloth?” That began a tradition in our family, which persists to this day. Our children knew that friends were welcome to join our table, and going out awaited not only the end of the meal, but the end of the longest, most relaxing meal of the week. It was when we all caught up, when we laughed, when we were truly a family.
Our daughter Laya followed Jacob into Hillel. On a recent Shabbat, when she and a friend were in town from Toronto, Melanie hauled out the challah cover Laya had made in Grade 1, just as we do with other things made for Pesach, Chanukah and other holidays.
When they went off to public high school, as I did after Hillel, both remarked that entering a larger world made them feel more Jewish than they did when they were in “Jewish immersion.” Hillel had given them a sense of who they were, and made them value their heritage in the broader world.
But more than that, it taught them well. Both have succeeded academically, in part because of the foundation they got at what is now OJCS. So have their friends, just as mine did long before. My class included future lawyers, doctors, physicists and, quite literally, a rocket scientist. At a time when less French was taught at OJCS, our daughter went into accelerated French. Both kids left the school knowing what doing homework was, and how to work in school. They, too, can list both accomplished and nascent professionals and scientists among their OJCS peers.
It’s still true today. We can be proud of the education given by the teachers of OJCS. Kids graduate from the school, and then over-represent at honour roll ceremonies across the city. They are the next generation of professionals and scientists, and they will succeed in life, while knowing who they are and where they come from. OJCS is the foundation of our community’s future, and it will empower our kids to make Jewish choices and to chase their dreams.
I am honoured to be the incoming president of OJCS, and to follow Aaron Smith, who has been in the role for three years. In many ways, I will inherit the fruit of his labour, most excitingly in the person of our new Head of School Jon Mitzmacher, EdD. Our new American import took his seat at school on the Fourth of July, and has hit the ground running.
However, it’s not all rosy. Enrolment is not where we need it to be and the finances are challenging. But the foundation is good, and we will have a new board ready to roll up their sleeves and work to provide OJCS what it needs to succeed. We could use your help on committees and volunteering to help us get things done. But most of all, we need you to get out there and tell your friends – we are already giving kids a great education, and it will only get better!
Michael Polowin is the incoming president of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Visit www.theojcs.ca for information about the school and how you can volunteer or get involved on committees.