Edmonton Talmud Torah Society: A successful 2022-23 year in Review

Edmonton Talmud Torah Kindergarten students and their Grade 6 buddies attended the Grade 1 siddur celebration. Photo supplied.

By Natalie Soroka, TT Society

(Edmonton) – It’s been a busy year for us, and we wanted to share with you all that we have achieved, beginning with the Summer of 2022, when the Society’s board of directors began its activities. They met several times throughout the summer, including a two-day orientation for new board members. The Society also paid for teachers to take iTaLAM (Hebrew language and Jewish heritage) PD sessions both over the summer and into the new school year.

During the month of September, the Society purchased new resources to assist Hebrew Language Arts teacher Bianna Kuksin in developing a curriculum suitable for kindergarten children. The Don & Myrna Silverberg Lunchroom opened to TT students, thanks to a generous donation by Myrna and Don z”l, where Grades 1 to 6 students eat lunch together and recite Birkat Hamazon  ברכת המזון (grace after meals). Families attended and enjoyed TT Early Learning Centre’s welcome event. TT Society’s new website was launched, with the Communication Committee’s focus on advertising and recruitment to increase enrollment. The Education Committee continued work on increasing the focus on Hebrew in Kindergarten, with the comprehensive and robust iTaLAM program being used schoolwide.

As well in September, the Society funded Hebrew support for the school year, so that Bianna Kuksin could provide support to teachers and students, and Ben Ragosin could work with students benefiting from an increased challenge in Hebrew. The Early Learning Centre (ELC) Committee continued to support the TTELC in its new parent-engagement strategies, policy and procedure development, database enhancement, and Judaic and Hebrew study advancement. AJP@TT (Ancillary Judaic Program) began its 3rd year with morning Tefila תפילה (prayer) and after-school Judaic programming.

Throughout the month of October, the Education Committee participated in discussions with Principal Darin Johnson and teachers to explore teaching methods, resources, activities, and best practices used when teaching Hebrew. The committee had one-on-one meetings with Judaic Studies (JS)/Hebrew language Arts (HLA) teachers to discuss the continued implementation of the school-wide Hebrew language iTaLAM program. Students participated in the Chag Tishrei Assembly (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah), where each grade performed a song representing the holidays.

In November, the Society purchased approximately $3,000 worth of Hebrew books for the library from Israel with the assistance of Karen Hering. The Security Committee continued its work on a strategic plan for the long-term security concerns of the Talmud Torah site, in alignment with the Society’s overall Strategic Plan. The TT Early Learning Committee restructured the leadership of the ELC to better serve children, educators, and parents. Grade 6 students attended the No Stone Left Alone ceremony at Edmonton’s Jewish cemetery and placed poppies on the headstones of Jewish veterans.

Beginning in December, the Society’s Judaic Consultant, Nurit Reshef, led a teacher discussion on teaching tefilot to the children.  Topics included the vision for prayers at TT, determining the goals and learning outcomes for this subject, and highlighting when and how the prayers are taught. The TT student choir performed at the Legislature on December 18 for the annual Hanukkah lighting, and on December 19, CTV Morning News visited TT to record the choir and get a glimpse of our holiday celebrations. Grade 5 students led the Hanukkah assembly where students performed Hanukkah songs and skits, and families beamed with pride. In December, the Society also hired Director, Sacha Brodie, and Lead Educator, Jennie Leonard, to work in the TT Early Learning Centre. The centre ran a Hanukkah event for its families, with a wonderful turnout, great activities, and delicious food.

In the month of January, the Education Committee began developing a detailed document containing the specific vocabulary, grammar, linguistic elements, and themes taught in grades K-2.  The intent is to ensure continuity between these grades, as well as identify the expectations for what is taught in Hebrew at each specific grade. In addition, the Education Committee continued discussions with teachers related to prayers and explored a variety of resources, methods, and ideas on how to make prayers a positive and meaningful experience for students. The committee drafted a new Prayer Curriculum Draft (K-6), which includes the Curriculum’s Essential Understanding Statements, the Guiding Questions and associated Learning Outcomes.

February was a wonderfully busy month! Nurit Reshef (Judaic Consultant) recruited Hebrew speaking volunteers and set up a Hebrew enrichment program for high achievers and Hebrew speaking students.

Yifat Bear-Miller (Edmonton’s JNF Shlicha/Emissary) visited TT to provide programming to K-6 students centred around Israel and the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, and the Society funded the teacher-led Tu B’Shevat Seder for K-6 students. JNF Edmonton’s Director, Jay Cairns, worked with Grade 6 students, and provided a leadership opportunity to sell trees for Israel. The students really motivated families this year, which resulted in just about 248 trees for Israel in honour of Tu B’Shevat. Jay also provided tomato seeds and soil for each class so students could plant one for themselves.

Gr. 2 students had their Torah Ora celebration recently. They participated in Kabbalat Shabbat and received their Chumash from teachers Bianna Kuksin, Ari Sniderman, Marlee Soroka, and Principal Darin Johnson.

To round out the month of February, TT had an amazing drama production! Through collaborative efforts, Trickster Theatre was brought to Talmud Torah School. K-6 students participated in a week-long artist in residency program centred around seven Jewish values. With support from families and community members, as well as a generous grant from the Edmonton Jewish Community Charitable Foundation (EJCCF), the residency became a reality.

During the month of March, the Society provided funds for additional teacher support. This assistance largely focused on literacy and provided smaller groupings for part of the day in Division 1. The Society applied for and received a $1,000 grant from Jewish Federation of Edmonton to purchase new Siddurim that helped to offset the cost of $5,000 required to purchase a new school set. After three long years of modified Purim events, the students excitedly participated in both the Purim assembly and Purim carnival. Grade 5 students led the assembly, while Grade 6 students performed a Megillah skit. At the end of March, Kindergarten & Kinderarts hosted a collaborative and well-attended open house.

ELC staff and the Society met in April to discuss Hebrew/Judaic programming in the ELC.  Next fall, in addition to the regular Hebrew/Judaic programming, each ELC room will receive ongoing, targeted, theme -based Hebrew/Judaic content delivered by Hebrew speaking educators. The Communication Committee’s new brochure, Creating Brighter Minds Through Education, Community and Culture, was published in both web and print formats, and highlights the benefits and successes of TT. We had a wonderful mezuzah ceremony in April, where JNF Edmonton and Jay Cairns, Executive Director, gifted a new mezuzah to TT.

April also saw TT Out of School Care educators prepare a Passover Seder for their students. The ELC and K-6 teachers immersed students in the Passover story and symbolism. Students learned about and participated in meaningful discussions around Yom Hazikaron, while Grade 5 and 6 students performed at the Alberta Legislature in honour of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day). Grade 6 students led the Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s birthday) assembly, and students participated in an all-school blue and white parade and performed songs. Lastly, our TT choir performed at Jewish Federation of Edmonton’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration.

In May, our Grade 6 students participated in a Shabbaton weekend that included meaningful Judaic programming and fun bonding activities, while K-6 and TT Early Learning & Out of School Care students learned about and participated in a variety of Lag B’Omer activities.

The Grade 2 Torah Ora ceremony on June 9 was a lovely event led by teacher Bianna Kuksin. Students performed beautifully and were honoured to receive their very own Chumash (Torah prayer book). New board members were voted in at Talmud Torah Society’s Annual General Meeting on June 20. The 2023-24 board of directors will meet soon to vote in the Executive members, and will work throughout the summer to prepare programming and initiatives for the new school year. Teacher Robin Marcus organized the Grade 1 Siddur celebration on June 21, which showcased the prayers students have learned throughout the year. They were excited to receive their very own Siddur, and you could see the pride on students and families’ faces alike!

To round out the month of June, there will be the Grade 6 promotion ceremony with students looking forward to celebrating their elementary graduation. In addition, K-6 classes will come together in multi-aged groups to compete in the annual Maccabi Games/Sports Day event on June 23, featuring a variety of fun, but physically challenging activities. One of the highlights of the day is a dunk tank, where students are given the opportunity to dunk the teachers. This is the culmination of a month-long fitness month organized by school council.

What a year it has been! Wishing everyone a rejuvenating summer, and looking forward to seeing you all back on September 5.


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