Morah Robin Marcus retires after 31 years teaching at Talmud Torah School

After 31 years, Morah Robin Marcus is retiring from her teaching position at Talmud Torah School in Edmonton.

By Regan Treewater-Lipes

(AJNews) – Did you grow up in Edmonton and attend Talmud Torah School? Did you go on to send your little ones to Talmud Torah too?  Well, if you answered ‘yes’ and you’re a child of the 90s or younger, then chances are that your education has been enriched by the dedication of a woman who has made a real impact on the Edmonton Jewish community. For the last thirty-one-years she’s been the rock supporting early Hebrew language and Judaic studies at Talmud Torah School; of course, I’m referring to Robin Marcus.  Really, she needs no introduction; everyone who has walked through the doors of Talmud Torah knows Robin, but as she marks the end of an admirable teaching career, it is time for all those she impacted to wish her yasher koach and toda rabah!

Enjoying the recent shift to summer weather, I recently sat down with Robin to chat as she looks back at where she began, and the footprint she is leaving behind.  Sitting in Wolf Willow for only an hour one evening, Robin was approached by no fewer than three community members, mostly students, and it was almost like being spotted with a Westend celeb. Watching so many people eager to come and say ‘hello’ emphasized how important Robin is to the community.

After moving to Edmonton as a child, Robin and her siblings all attended Talmud Torah. “I had very good teachers,” Robin told me.  “And even the ones that I didn’t think were my favourite at the time, I’ve come to really appreciate.”  With some excellent educational role models, it was clear to Robin from a young age that she too, wanted to be a teacher.

Robin is what we in the industry call a teacher with a capital T.  In fact, she has ensured the vitality of Hebrew language and Judaic education at Talmud Torah; she trained the generation that will follow in her footsteps.  “Yes, some of the teachers we have at Talmud Torah now were my students,” she beamed with a smile from ear to ear.  “I remember teaching them their Aleph Bet and now I watch with pleasure, as I see their own passion for teaching.”

The hallmark of a great teacher is a person who never stops learning. After graduating from Talmud Torah, Robin remembers going to public school each day, and then enjoying the after school Hebrew program in the evenings. “It was a special after school program for Jewish kids,” she explained. “We would go after regular school, and I have fond memories of these times!” When it came time for university, she already had her sights set on an education degree and worked to fulfil that dream. “In those days there was a recession, and unless you were willing to go to rural communities, there weren’t jobs,” she recalled. “We were a graduating class, and the job market was competitive.”

Luckily, Robin had already been working as a day camp coordinator during the summer, for children of all ages at the old Edmonton Jewish Community Centre.  She continued with this, and soon became the preschool director. This led to working as a classroom assistant as part of the Talmud Torah Society, and guest appearances around town as a substitute teacher. By the time her own little ones were at the school full-time, Robin too got the full-time position she was destined to fill.

I was curious, after such an accomplished career, what was it that Robin found most intimidating when she first started as Talmud Torah’s kindergarten teacher. “I think one of the most important things I wanted to do was make sure I built strong partnerships with parents,” she explained. “I think that I became much more confident with this over time…Every child is different, and they are learning at their own pace. I need to reassure parents that everyone is going to get to the finish line eventually. Some babies take longer to learn how to crawl, some might get the hang of walking right away, but they figure it out. It’s like this with speaking, and with reading too.  Some of them might take longer and might need extra assistance, but it will happen.” She paused and added with a smile: “It’s like a light bulb being turned on – I love those light bulb moments!”

She’s been a guest at numerous bar and bat mitzvahs and other life-cycle events. Living and working within the small and very close-knit Jewish community of Edmonton’s West End has no anonymity, especially for a high-profile person like Robin. I asked her if it is difficult to have her career and community so inherently intertwined. “Not at all,” she was quick to respond. “I really love seeing my students at shul and running into people around the neighbourhood.” It’s true, I sit next to Robin in shul on Shabbos and there is a lovely parade of hugs from adorable little ones.

I once had a parent tell me that nobody could teach children how to read Hebrew quite like Robin. This parent insisted that after a year in Robin’s class, any child would be on their way to reading and writing Hebrew. Many moons ago, I remember sitting in the office at Talmud Torah and listening to Robin confidently translate for newly arrived Israeli families registering their kids for school. I had always assumed she had lived in Israel for a time, done a year abroad, perhaps worked on a kibbutz during university.

“I come from a family that really values languages,” she explained to me. “We always valued the richness of language in our home growing up and I always loved Hebrew. When I don’t know how to say something, I ask. And when I speak Hebrew, I don’t mind sounding silly while I figure things out.”

Robin continued with her Hebrew education with classes at the University of Alberta even after becoming a full-time teacher, a testament to her dedication to providing her students with the best. More recently she completed a four-week intensive summer language immersion program in New York for Hebrew teachers, called Ivriyon.

Reflecting on her time at Talmud Torah, Robin said she is filled with a profound sense of gratitude. “Gratitude for the opportunity to impart knowledge, to instill values, and to witness the growth and development of each and every one of my students. It has been a journey filled with joy, challenges, and countless unforgettable moments that have shaped me as much as I hope to have shaped them.”

“Teaching Jewish children has been a passion and a calling for me, not just a profession,” she added. “It has been about more than just imparting facts and figures; it has been about teaching them the values and traditions that are the bedrock of our faith. It has been about instilling in them a love for learning, a curiosity about the world, a deep-rooted sense of belonging and of pride in our identity.”

Robin said that she is grateful for the loving support of her family and friends. She also expressed gratitude for her “incredible family of colleagues, as well as to the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and most importantly, the beautiful children of our Jewish community.”

“As I look back on my time in the classroom, I am reminded of the countless faces that have passed through my doors, each one unique, each one leaving an indelible mark on my heart…And through it all, there has been one constant: the support and dedication of this community.”

As Edmonton’s Jewish community pays tribute to the end of an era, we can still look forward to cameo appearances! “I’m retiring, but I am still going to be on the sub-list,” she said with unmistakable joy. As a substitute, Robin might not be with kindergartners or grade one students as we have all grown accustomed to. This made me wonder if she had ever considered teaching other grades. “Every year they ask us what we would prefer to teach, and they try to accommodate us as much as they can. I tell them that I can go where they need me, but I do love teaching the little ones.”

Robin is looking forward to representing Na’amat at a program in Israel this November, and visiting with her grandchildren, but the rest of the time, she won’t be far away. Talmud Torah students and parents can look forward to seeing Robin around and she looks forward to seeing her students, their families and her colleagues. When I asked how many students have come through her door during her career, Robin laughed and told me she hasn’t been counting. Needless to say though, Robin Marcus is a hard act to follow, and her time at Talmud Torah leaves behind an admirable legacy.

Regan Treewater-Lipes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.   

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