By Natalie Soroka, Talmud Torah Society
(Edmonton) – The week of October 9 was a difficult one at Edmonton Talmud Torah School. The devastation in Israel spread far and wide, and TT families and staff struggled to comprehend and cope. A lot of planning and coordination took place over the weekend to ensure the safety of our children. TT Society president Noga Vaisblat and principal Darin Johnson, in collaboration with Stacey Leavitt-Wright of Jewish Federation of Edmonton, kept in constant contact and worked tirelessly to keep families informed on school and security matters.
Monday morning, security protocols were already in place. Edmonton Public Schools provided TT with onsite security, and Jewish Federation of Edmonton, through a grant, provided an additional layer of security through a private security company. Stacey worked tirelessly to advocate for us and provide us with this next level of security. The Edmonton Police Service stepped up to not only provide an onsite police vehicle, but by Friday morning, Staff Sergeant Greg Scott was onsite the entire day providing additional security and comfort to our families. Talmud Torah Society’s Security Committee called out to our families, and a strong contingent of parents committed themselves each morning and afternoon to patrol the school grounds. Thanks to Doug Kondor, Chair, and his committee, for their efforts on behalf of the Society and its families.
That first week, rather than the usual process of waiting outside for the school bell for the start of the day, students immediately entered the school and waited in the hallway for classes to begin. Out of an abundance of caution, all students, including those in the Early Learning Centre, were kept inside the entire week.
As you are well aware, Friday, October 13, 2023 was a particularly emotional and unsettling day for so many around the world, including our families, and many kept their children home. Teachers and staff in both K-6 and the ELC pulled together, supported each other and created a comfortable and fun learning environment for children who did attend. It was a small but mighty group. In K-6, teachers decided to combine classrooms. Division 1 (K-6) and Division 2 (4-6) learned together, making for a unique and enjoyable day for all students. Sacha Brodie, ELC Director and Jennie, ELC Lead Educator, worked just as hard rearranging and combining classrooms, and moving educators around based on the reduced number of children.
Our K-6 students were involved in some very meaningful art activities. While some cut out doves of peace and wrote messages of hope, others wrote heartfelt words of support and cards to Israeli soldiers. These messages of hope and the cards will be sent on to Israel via the iTalam organization that provides us with our Hebrew and Judaic curriculum. In addition, Division 2 students created a Japanese form of art (Notan) using symbols like a Star of David, Torah, etc., to represent the dark days and the light we hope for. At another time during the school day, our older students teamed up with younger students for buddy reading in the library. Different grades also had the unique opportunity to experience gym time together, which they loved. During music class Moreh Ben introduced the younger students to the drums and their faces lit up when they realized how many different sounds could be made using their hands. The older students were excited to learn the basics of playing the ukulele.
Towards the end of the day, everyone gathered in the music room for a school-wide Shabbat celebration. Moreh Ben played the piano and Moreh Ari accompanied him on the guitar, while the students sang their hearts out to many wonderful Shabbat songs, and songs in Hebrew and English about hope and peace, including Kol Ha’Olam Kulo (The World Is a Very Narrow Bridge). Accompanied by their teachers, their young voices filled the room and hearts of all those present. It was an incredibly heartwarming and special experience. Partway through, one student commented out loud that he really wished that everyone worldwide could learn to get along and live together.
Talmud Torah Society’s Education chair, Michelle Huberman, attended and was very moved by the Shabbat service. “I was never so proud of the teachers as they sat among the children, their arms around some of them supporting and singing and making them feel safe and comforted,” she commented.
The start of the next week saw a significant increase in enrollment, with the kids once again getting into a routine, while security remained heightened. Our teachers are always amazing, but they have been rock stars through this challenging time. Along with Principal Johnson, who went above and beyond, TT staff, ELC staff, and Society staff were there for each other and the TT family. Together with our community partners, we remain resilient and strong. Am Israel Chai.