By GERRY POSNER
You could not give odds on this one. Hard as it is to believe, there are no fewer than six women who are involved at the educational level at a Jewish day school in Toronto known as The Toronto Heschel School and all of these ladies trace their origins and trace them proudly, I might add, to Winnipeg.
It seems all the more strange when you consider the fact that the school has only 215 students and that there are but 40 teachers working at the school which serves Junior Kindergarten through Grade 8.
Who are these young women? They are: Ronit Amihude (a name not unknown in the Winnipeg Jewish School system), Aliza Millo (yes, the daughter of Belle), Lesley Cohen, daughter to Mark and Donna Cohen, Naomi Pfeffer, (of Shelley Pfeffer lineage) Lainie Filkow, daughter to the well known lawyer, Ken Filkow) and Shachar Leven, whose ancestral roots lie in the famous medical family, the Hollenbergs. They are quite an impressive group and what was clearly evident when I met these women was the real love they have for Heschel, their successful integration into Toronto life and yet, at the same time, their longing for some of Winnipeg.
Ronit was the first to make the move to Toronto - which she did in 1998 ,and she has taught there ever since.
Aliza came in 2005 to take the Jewish Teacher Education programme at York University and joined the Heschel family in 2007.
Lesley also came to Toronto in 2005, having finished graduate school in Waterloo. She was able to connect with Naomi Pfeffer, who directed her towards Heschel. (How Winnipeg is that?) Lesley has been teaching at Heschel for two years.
Naomi arrived in Toronto in 2000 for that same Jewish Education programme at York. She taught at Heschel for three years and was also in Calgary at the Calgary Jewish Academy. She now serves in a more administrative position as an Admissions, Marketing and Communications Manager.
Lainie Filkow moved to Toronto in 2002, having received her teacher’s accreditation at the University of Winnipeg.
As for Shachar Leven, she came to Toronto in 2003 after five and half years in Israel. She began supply teaching at Heschel while doing her M.Ed. She currently teaches Hebrew & Chumash.
To top off the Winnipeg connection to Heschel, there are two supply teachers there who also come from Winnipeg: Andrea Schaffer and Maxa Sawyer, plus a student teacher - Gabbie Kneller. There were previous teachers who also claimed Winnipeg as their home. Moreover, one of the founders of the school was none other than the first Superintendant of the Jewish Schools in Winnipeg – Baruch Rand. And, according to Naomi, several families have Winnipeg ties owing to the fact that some of the parents emanate from Winnipeg. Based on this Manitoba input, the school might do well to change its name to The Toronto and Winnipeg Heschel School.
The women all echoed a similar refrain and that was a real love for the school and its philosophy. It is a small and intimate school, but it is not contained within a new building and lacks the freshness of the Gray Academy. Yet, these six Winnipeg women seemed to feel that it is a place that exudes warmth and sensitivity and was an inviting environment for the children. The common thread among these women was that the Heschel School gave off a real sense of community very comparable to the Gray Academy. They took some considerable pride in the fact that over 70 percent of the graduates went on to the Jewish high school in Toronto (C.H. A. T). The other link that all these women had was that they all were Camp Massad alumni and they waxed glowingly about the camp.
I had hoped that my interview with these women might have some positive side effects for my grandchildren by virtue of the fact that two of them attend this school and the likelihood was that at least one of these teachers had one of my grandsons as her student. Alas, no such luck. But, what I will say is that I sure do hope my boys (as I call them) get to have any of these teachers one day, as I sense these are all quality educators. Well, I suppose that’s because they are from Winnipeg.