Late in the night on May 26, 2015, the NCSY Centre at Centrepointe Plaza – home to NCSY’s Torah High – was looted and destroyed in a mischievously set fire. The event left NCSY Ottawa Executive Director Gaby Scarowsky feeling uncertain about what the future would bring.
The storefront space is a vital part of NCSY programming, which, according to Scarowsky, engages at least 200 Ottawa Jewish teens per year through its outreach programs, including Torah High.
While the remaining two weeks of Torah High classes last year were given in a vacant space in the same strip mall, Scarowsky said that, at the time, he had no idea what was going to happen next.
However, the community quickly stepped forward to help. The Jewish Federation of Ottawa established the NCSY Centre Fire Relief Fund, which raised more than $6,000 and helped NCSY rebuild the facility in a way that better meets Torah High’s needs.
“After the fire, we discovered that we could change the layout of the facility. So we went from a one classroom facility to two classrooms. Not only did it double our capacity, but we added an entire kitchen,” Scarowsky said.
Torah High would go on to incorporate the kitchen into its programming throughout the year, most notably using it to prepare a Shabbat dinner with the students, something that was not possible with the previous facility.
On top of the kitchen and classroom expansion, Scarowsky updated the technology, adding a PlayStation 4 and a larger TV, as well as configuring the tables and furniture to better fit the room.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” he said.
“It’s a good lesson in life that sometimes when you’re going through difficult times, you don’t see how you’re going to come out of it, but it all works out in the end … I can’t tell you the number of people who reached out to us to offer help … the communal support was overwhelming. That momentary emotional feeling of devastation and sadness was immediately replaced by a feeling of loving kindness and community, and it was just an incredible experience.”
Despite the much improved facility, Scarowsky said that of course he would have preferred the fire had not happened.
In order to prevent future break-ins, Scarowsky has upped security at the NCSY Centre, including the installation of an alarm that’s hardwired directly to the city’s first responders.
This coming year, Scarowsky is looking forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of Torah High, which had 111 students enrolled during the last school year, an all-time high.
Torah High actually had its 10th anniversary, but, due to the fire, it had to be put off in order to rebuild the facility and focus on the immediate future.
“We’re going to celebrate what our alumni have accomplished and show the community the impact of our programming as well as celebrate all of the people who have been involved and who have taken Torah High to where it is today,” he said. “This will hopefully show the community how their partnership with us has gone and showcase the fruits of our labour … which is building a Jewish tomorrow.”