“Shalom, Chaverim. L’hitraot!”
The Leo Baeck Day School students and teachers are packing up and it’s hard to say good-bye.
So many Holy Blossom members were among the community leaders who launched The Leo Baeck Day School and then brought it to the Holy Blossom campus twenty-one years ago. Our Honorary Life President Jack Geller, our Past President Fred Zemens, together with Phil Epstein, Zita Gardner, and Rabbi G. W. Plaut (z”l), Lionel Schipper, Ann Kelner Shendroff, Heinz Warshauer (z”l), and many others were there in the early days, dreaming up what could be for the Toronto Reform Jewish landscape. Over the years many of the school’s presidents were Holy Blossom members. Let me mention by name those from recent years – Elizabeth Wolfe, Franci Sniderman, Ronna Rubin, and Laurie Davis. The attachment runs deep.
A few weeks ago we had an opportunity to honour them and Eric Petersiel, the Head of School, for their success in developing the two campuses of The Leo Baeck Day School to be as vibrant as they are today. When they stood by the Torah for an aliyah, I mentioned how much we’ve grown to love the happy noises that school children bring to the Temple five days a week and how much we will miss them. It’s not unlike the moment when a child grows up and leaves home for university. There is for the parent mixed emotions of pride and loss. That send-off is filled with full-voiced encouragement and a quiet longing. We are excited to see the school flourish in its new South Campus at Arlington Heights. And we pledge to maintain strong ties to the school and to our many Holy Blossom families who choose Leo Baeck Day School for their children’s education.
Rabbi Leo Baeck’s Teaching for This Moment
On that Shabbat, when we honoured the LBDS leadership, I spoke about some of the teachings of Rabbi Leo Baeck for whom the school is named. Rabbi Baeck’s writings will always hold a prominent place in the canon of modern Jewish Thought and Theology, but it’s his life-example that has had and continues to have an even greater impact. He was my great-grandfather’s friend and classmate in Rabbinical School. He was the one who sent my grandfather out of Nazi Germany to Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Upon reflection, Rabbi Leo Baeck wrote: “The real danger of the camp was not the physical enslavement, but spiritual enslavement… Whether one survived in a concentration camp depended outwardly on circumstances: disease, torture, annihilation could destroy one’s life.” But whether one could survive inwardly depended on two other qualities – “patience and imagination.” Baeck defined patience as “the power of resilience that did not let the will to live give way” and imagination as “the vision that ever again and in spite of everything makes him see a future.” (Leonard Baker’s Days of Sorrow and Pain : Leo Baeck and the Berlin Jews)
“Patience and imagination” is a powerful combination that can see us through many personal tests and trials in life. It may also be exactly what this moment of transitions demands of us as well. We need patience to stay the course through a time of change, patience to endure the emotions that come with change. And yes, simultaneously, the will to imagine what could be.
Our classrooms will soon be empty of the LBDS’s books and students. We will miss them, no doubt. However, this does give us an opportunity to transform our Religious School, expand our Senior School, Youth Programming, and Adult Education program as well. Our Maintenance Staff and Religious School Faculty will soon be readying the School Wing for the fall. Our Director of Education, Debbie Spiegel and her Religious Education Committee have exciting ideas about to be realized. Rabbi Thomashow and her Youth Committee have wonderful plans for youth engagement unfolding.
A stronger Leo Baeck Day School and a stronger Holy Blossom Temple Religious School will be “good for the Jews.” Together we will raise up the next generation of Reform Jews for this part of the city. Let’s imagine.