Ottawa-area schools welcome Jewish culture

Amid the increasing challenges of antisemitism, we are pleased to highlight the experiences of inclusion taking place in our public, Catholic and secular private schools. Throughout the National Capital Region, parents, caregivers, and administrators are being invited to share insights into Judaism with their respective classes. These initiatives are a wonderful means of fostering greater awareness, tolerance, and understanding.

Let’s meet and hear from those on the front line of this work.

Myriane Beland is a mother of four, who lives in Gatineau.

My children attend L’École Montessori de l’Outaouais (EMO) and they have been very welcoming to our Jewish culture and traditions. I give at least one presentation per year in my kids’ classes. Over the years this has included Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, and Shabbat. Estelle and Nolin (my oldest two kids) are thrilled to participate in educating their classmates and they help lead the sessions. 

In addition, Estelle and Nolin’s teachers are careful to respect our beliefs and traditions during the winter holiday time. Estelle’s English teacher even gave her a beautiful Chanukah book and dreidel last year. Their open mindedness is very appreciated. L’EMO’s religion classes are very comprehensive, and all kids learn about all religions. My kids are very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about other cultures. We love the well roundedness of this approach.

Emily Litvack and Ben Baril have two children and live in Ottawa South.

My husband, Ben Baril, and I have been invited to a few schools to share Jewish holidays with younger students (K-2). Specifically, we have been invited to Hopewell Public School to share Jewish traditions around the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, and Passover. We’ve led interactive workshops involving games, stories and songs centred around the holidays and demonstrated ritual items, such as a shofar, seder plate, and chanukiah with the students. The workshops have been well received with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from the students and teachers. The teachers in the Primary Division of Hopewell have also been reading PJ Library books and having them in their classroom libraries for students to explore. 

In addition, I have led Genvironment S'viva Sababa environmental education programs at some of the Catholic schools. Building bridges around the common value of environmental stewardship, these workshops demonstrate Jewish traditions and values through an environmental lens. Young students are led in interactive, hands-on workshops that teach them about such values as tza'ar ba'alei chayim (taking care of animals), ba'al taschit (preserving and not wasting resources) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). Students are then asked to compare and contrast with their own holidays, traditions, and values. 

The workshops are impactful in building connections across cultures and religions. At a recent workshop at St. Gemma's School, one young student shared that while she celebrates the Christian Sabbath on Sunday, she would like to also not use electricity on that day to help the planet. One of the teachers made a connection between the Jewish value of taking care of animals and the work of the animal-loving saint, Saint Francis of Assisi. Seeing such powerful interfaith understanding, empathy, and acceptance around common faith-based values is truly heartening and provides hope.

Michelle Hutchinson is the mother of a student at Aspire Academy.

First, I'll mention that all Jewish-related programming is left to the parents. We communicate directly with the staff who work with our children and provide resources that they then use with our children and their classmates. For example, in younger grades, I have provided age-appropriate books for story time that the staff would read to the class. When notified of holidays, the individual teachers can address the holiday with the class, and chose to include a related craft, or allocate some free time to do Jewish activities. Parents are welcome to come and give presentations and/or supply materials to bring the holiday to life for their child’s class i.e. a chanukiah and Chanukah decorations for the room or a sukkah where the children can sit and read or spend time in.

Jessica Sutherland is a teacher at Manor Park Public School.

With the encouragement of Manor Park vice-principal, April Sorenson, in 2023, I organized a gathering in our foyer in celebration of Rosh Hashanah. In the past, both April Sorenson and our principal, Richie Dosanjh have supported endeavours to celebrate multiculturalism in our school. This includes displays for Indigenous Heritage month, Islamic Heritage Month, and East Asian/Asian Heritage month.

Students, colleagues, as well as a parent from the Manor Park Jewish community, came to the foyer to wish each other a Shana Tova, eat apples and honey, and talk about the significance of the symbolic food. The backdrop of the meeting was a Rosh Hashanah display, which was created alongside two of my non-Jewish colleagues. The students who attended were excited to connect with other Jewish students at school, as well as teach their fellow students and friends about their culture and traditions. Our hope is that this is the beginning of celebrating all cultures and holidays in our school community.

Jessica Strauss and Rabbi Dara Lithwick are parents of students at Rockcliffe Park Public School.

Rockcliffe Park Public School is home to many Jewish kids. Rabbi Dara and I have been regulars in sharing Jewish traditions and values with the students in our kids’ grades. We recently gave a presentation to four Grade 3 classes on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. This interactive session helped the kids to understand the differences between a lunar and solar calendar, how to consider when to start counting the years, and how to say the hardest words: I’m sorry. 

It’s fascinating to be part of a classroom and to see the kids learn more sophisticated concepts each year. We look forward to a return visit around Chanukah for the Grade 1 classes. 

Our work with teachers and school administration is informal and on an ad hoc basis. We find that RPPS is extremely open and welcoming. We have received excellent feedback from teachers and students about how our conversations together shape future learning on values and community building. 

If you are a parent participating in bringing Jewish life to your child’s school, please let us know. In addition, do you have plans to work with your child’s school to support advocacy, Jewish pride, and student safety given the war in Israel?

Please email Jodi Green at to share your initiative.