Celebrating 75 years of the Ottawa Jewish Community School

Over the last 75 years, the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS), formerly Hillel Academy, has been an institution in our community and a symbol of outstanding secular and Jewish education. Since its founding, OJCS has followed their core Jewish values of Tzedakah (justice) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and looks forward to providing a pluralistic Jewish education for many years to come. 

As testimony of the lasting and enduring impact of an OJCS education and of being an OJCS family, chair of their board Joanne Gorenstein, shared her experiences with the school and why she is a vocal proponent of OJCS.

EB: Tell me about your relationship to OJCS?

JG: I grew up in Ottawa. I am an alumna, a current parent, and I've been a board member for many years. Currently, I’m finishing my first year as board chair.

I graduated from OJCS in 1988 and was one of the first classes to be in the building at the current school location. My family was always very committed to Jewish education and Jewish engagement. In addition to sending all my siblings to OJCS as well, my mom ran the Bingo and the Parent-Teacher Association. OJCS is close to my heart and I’m honoured to be able to work toward promoting a vibrant future.

EB: What is your fondest memory of the school?

JG: I don’t think I have a fondest memory, but I do have an enduring appreciation for what I gained from OJCS, especially my life-long friends. Many of the children I met in kindergarten are still my best friends today.  Even those I don’t speak with often know that if they need anything, I’ll be there for them, and I know that they will be there for me too. That is a special gift that I don’t think would have happened in public school. 

In addition, I learned how to learn at OJCS. Currently, I work as a chartered accountant and my OJCS education taught me important study skills that I used throughout my education and still use today. 

I’ll admit, things are bittersweet right now. My son will be graduating Grade 8 this year so my parenting journey with OJCS will end. While I’m thrilled to watch him continue to grow and to use the knowledge he gained at OJCS in future study, I’ve enjoyed having that deeply personal investment and will miss it. However, I’m looking forward to continuing to support current families.

EB: What do you want the community to know about OJCS?

JG: The relationships endure!

When my siblings had their B’nai Mitzvah, I was allowed to invite one friend to the party. Without hesitation I knew I wanted to invite my OJCS kindergarten teacher Mrs. Rosenberg. My parents were true to their word and invited Mrs. Rosenberg and her husband to the B’nai Mitzvah, and I still have a picture of me dancing with her at the party. That’s how deeply connected I was to the school and its staff. They are family. 

In addition, the teachers care deeply about the students. They can tell when something is bothering a student and want to help. Graduates are always coming back to visit. It’s a testament to those relationships.

EB: What makes OJCS an asset to the community?

JG: OJCS starts a person’s Jewish journey. It gives them a strong foundation in Hebrew, Jewish values, and study skills. It teaches students about Jewish pride and is always bringing up the next generation of Jewish leaders. OJCS can do this because they are a part of the community and on the Jewish campus. The students regularly visit Hillel Lodge, have holiday celebrations with Tamir, visit AJA50+’s Creative Connections at the Soloway JCC, and take advantage of the diversity of our community through the vibrancy of the campus.

In addition, being a part of a larger Jewish community is invaluable. The support of the Jewish Federation, the board of OJCS, the parent volunteers, and all the partners complete the circle of community and help the students know they are part of something larger than just the school.

EB: What can the community expect from OJCS in this celebratory year?

JG: OJCS is planning four events during the spring and fall. Each event honours or highlights a particular segment of the OJCS community and celebrates them. 

First, we had a BBQ on Lag B’omer for all the current parents, students, and families. Next, we had an event celebrating our teachers, past and present. Everyone who ever taught at the school was invited. In the fall, we will have an alumni weekend and then the gala event for the whole community.

On October 30, we hope to have 900 community members at the Infinity Centre. We are excited to have the comedian Modi coming to perform. It is going to be a fantastic evening!

To learn more about OJCS visit their website.