Talmud Torah celebrates 100 years
By Anna-Grae York
EDMONTON — Talmud Torah School, the longest-operating Jewish day school in Canada, will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this May.
Esther Starkman, a former Edmonton Public Schools trustee and Talmud Torah alumni whose children and grandchildren also attended the school, says that the importance of education in the Jewish faith is one of the reasons the school has lasted so long.
“When immigrants, Jewish immigrants, came to this country, they really valued education,” she said. “In our family, there were four children. All four went to Talmud Torah, all four graduated from the U of A.”
Talmud Torah was the first example of the umbrella concept — when privately founded schools are taken in under a school board. In this case, it was Edmonton Public Schools that took it in.
“Talmud Torah was the first,” said Starkman. “And since that time, other schools have adopted the concept in one way or another. Everyone is a little bit different. At the time, when the Talmud Torah went public, the Edmonton Public School Board then funded all but the religious component.”
A celebrated member of the Edmonton Jewish community, with a school named for her in the Terwillegar neighbourhood, Starkman was an important player in the incorporation of Talmud Torah School into the Edmonton Public School system.
“My father, as many immigrants, went through terrible times in eastern Europe,” she said. “They got to this country, and somehow pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. They made their living by their smarts. When they finally got on their feet, to them the most important thing was for their children to become educated.”
Opened in 1912 in the basement of 96th Street’s original Beth Israel Synagogue, Talmud Torah was first funded by donations to the Talmud Torah Society. Forty years later, the basement no longer provided sufficient space, and the school was moved to a new Glenora building, which still stands today.
In 1977, Talmud Torah School was incorporated as a part of the Edmonton Public School Board.
In 1995, the school again outgrew its home. Talmud Torah relocated to its current building at 172 Street in 1997 just in time for the start of the school year. There to cut the official ribbon in 1999 was Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister of Israel.
Today’s Talmud Torah School offers the Judaic Studies program, which incorporates written and spoken Hebrew in the classroom. Biblical and modern Jewish history is also focused on — students learn to relate modern life to their theology. It is located at 6320 172 St. in the Callingwood neighbourhood.
Starkman has fond memories from her days at Talmud Torah — she remembers the bond that she had with her fellow students was unlike any other.
“Every Monday it was macaroni and cheese, Tuesdays it was salmon patties with peas and mashed potatoes,” she said. “It was a wonderful feeling of camaraderie.
I felt I had a strong bond of friendship with the kids I went to school with, and I learned a sense of community with the community I was involved with.”
“A full weekend of events are planned for May 17 to 20, culminating in a gala dinner on Sunday, May 20, at the Westin which we expect 500 to 700 people to attend,” said Jay Palter, part of the Talmud Torah Society board of directors and TT100 Steering Committee. “Over the course of the weekend’s events we hope to have as many as a thousand people attending.”
The weekend will begin on the Thursday night at the Royal Alberta Museum with a concert featuring Talmud Torah alumnus Robert Dvorkin, who now lives in New York City. On Friday, there will be a welcoming reception at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Saturday will be dedicated to observing Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, and visiting with friends.
“Sunday morning, we will be running tours of the old Talmud Torah School in Glenora, where many of the alumni attended school,” said Palter.
Then, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., an open house is planned at the current school that will feature art and performances by some of the students. Sunday evening will be the gala dinner, which is $180 per ticket.
Notable alumni of Talmud Torah School include:
• Valerie Raymond, Canadian ambassador to the Czech Republic
• Lewis Kay, professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto, and Yale graduate
• Deborah Yedlin, columnist for the Calgary Herald
• Mel Hurtig, author
• Jack Mintz, former CEO and president of the C.D. Howe Institute
• Daryl Katz, owner of the Edmonton Oilers
If you attended Talmud Torah School and want to attend the 100th anniversary celebrations, go to http://tt100.ca/register-now. Donations are also accepted if you are unable to attend.