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Rabbi Ari Ellis

Reflections by Rabbi Ari Ellis and others on Rabbi Green's Sermon and Gray Academy Cirriculum and Jewish Holidays.

By Rabbi Ari Ellis, Herzlia - Adas Yeshurun ,October 3, 2013

[Rabbi Ellis is responding to Rhonda Spivak's Editorial re Rabbi Green's Sermon, Gray Academy and Jewish Holidays which can be found here:'s_Sermon,_Gray_Academy_and_Jewish_Holidays].

Rabbi Ari Ellis 's Reflections on Rabbi Green's Sermon and Gray Academy Cirriculum and Jewish Holidays


I want to thank Rhonda Spivak for bringing Rabbi Green’s Yom Kippur sermon to my attention. And I want to commend Rabbi Green for dedicating a sermon to such an important topic. I too have suggested in one-on-one conversations with parents and Jewish community professionals that Jewish holidays not simply be treated by our community’s day school as days off. 

As a teacher at Gray Academy, I have sadly come to realize that many students in the high school don’t even know why there was no school on Thursday and Friday last week, let alone, celebrate the holiday in any way at all. And while one 40 minute visit to the Sukkah for games and snacks is a great start, it’s hardly a fitting way to observe Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, or Simchat Torah. 

Like Shabbat, the Chagim are an equally important part of our heritage. And it’s our responsibility as a community to ensure that this rich and vibrant part of our Jewish identify is passed on to the next generation. Yes, the reality is that most Jews in our community do not take off work for the Chagim. But that doesn't mean that our students are automatically entitled to a day off. 

Rabbi Green and Rhonda Spivak have both made some specific recommendations about how to remedy this situation. And I can add several other suggestions, as well. But I won’t. This isn't the right forum to suggest a specific course of action. 

A committee made up of representatives from Gray Academy, the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis, the Synagogues, the Federation, and the Rady Centre (which already offers child care on Jewish holidays for Gray Academy students enrolled in before / after school care for students aged 5 – 12), as well as the Winnipeg Jewish Schools Teacher’s Association, would best be able to come up with a realistic and viable plan.

And I challenge us to put together a trial pilot program by Shavuot and to come up with a comprehensive approach to the observance of Jewish holidays in time of next year’s Chagim, just under one year from now. Our students, and our community, deserve better than another year of four-day weekends. 

I too have been told that any discussion of Jewish holidays at Gray Academy would require a major change to the WJSTA’s collective bargaining agreement. But rather than seeing this as an obstacle, I believe that our community’s teachers should be at the forefront of planning and implementing such a program. They have the experience and they know the students. They need to be part of this discussion. 

Rather than relieving Gray Academy of its responsibility in this regard and placing the burden entirely on the synagogues to create engaging and meaningful programs for 600 students, I believe that difficult discussions have to take place and creative solutions must be found. From a practical perspective, even the best conceived program will find it hard to compete with a four-day weekend. That’s simply the reality. 

But on a more fundamental level, what is Gray Academy’s role with regard to the future of our Jewish community. The fact that Gray Academy continues to succeed and enrollment remains high is not in itself a measure of success.  We cannot continue to make an artificial and ultimately self-defeating distinction that Gray Academy is an “educational” institution while the synagogues are “religious” institutions. 

Gray Academy’s mission is to graduate informed and educated students, enabling and inspiring them to become active participants in our Jewish community. By definition, this must include the celebration and observance of Jewish holidays. 

I have been told on many occasions that Gray Academy simply reflects the observance level of Winnipeg’s Jewish community. If so, Gray Academy should be open for business as usual on the Chagim. After all, if parents go to work on those days, shouldn't their kids go to school as well? Is Gray Academy closed on the Chagim simply because of a clause in the teacher’s union contract, or is it closed for a deeper reason? 

If Gray Academy is to live up to its mission to graduate informed and educated students who will be inspired to lead our community into the next generation, then Gray Academy should be a model not of what is, but a laboratory of what should be and what can be. 

All our students must have the experience of hearing the Shofar – on Rosh HaShanah, eating in the Sukkah and shaking the Lulav – on Yom Tov itself, dancing and rejoicing – on Simchat Torah, reading the Megillah – on Purim, staying up late at night learning – on Shavuot, and much, much, more. And maybe, just maybe, when they enroll their kids at Gray Academy 20 years from now, we won’t need to offer such holidays programs for their children because they’ll all be doing it at home themselves.

- Rabbi Ari Ellis
Herzlia - Adas Yeshurun
620 Brock Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3N 0Z4
(204) 297 - 9148


 Joanne Seiff  Responds to Editor's Editorial Re Rabbi Green's Sermon Gray Academy and Jewish Holidays

This is a great idea--long overdue.  However, the synagogues would need qualified Jewish educators to undertake this. This would mean hiring adult educators, with graduate degrees in Jewish education or something related to it, who could plan consistent programming with good content.  Nearly every Jewish movement has an academic arm that offers this type of degree. ..For instance, both HUC and the American Jewish University offer these kinds of degrees. Why isn't Winnipeg interested in hiring Jewish Educators with graduate degrees to educate our children at synagogues, camps and after school federation activities? What about Rabbi/educators or Jewish Educators to run real religious school programming for kids who do not attend Gray Academy?  This community is missing an important opportunity to formally educate its youth by assuming anyone who is interested will simply sign up for Gray or a bilingual elementary school. Consolidation has not worked for everyone.  A parent who is interested in other educational opportunities like the international baccalaureate or French immersion programs is left with very little in the way of options when it comes to after school religious education.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.