Celebrating 75 Years of Teaching Excellence: One Student/Parent/Board Chair’s Perspective

[NOTE: This blog post is written by former OJCS student, current OJCS Parent and Chair of our Board of Trustees, Joanne Gorenstein.]

This year, 2024, Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) is celebrating its 75th Anniversary.  As the Chair of the Board of Directors, I have been intimately involved in planning for all the various events to commemorate this momentous achievement of the school and of the Ottawa Jewish community.  When we planned the celebration of 75 years of teaching excellence (June 2nd / see flyer below), I could not help but to reminisce about my own experiences with the teachers and administration from Hillel Academy and OJCS…

I started at Hillel Academy in 1979 in Nursery, which at the time, was housed at Agudath Israel (now Kehillat Beth Israel) and I danced on the Hebrew alphabet on the floor of the kindergarten room – which I still chuckle because that flooring is still there!  In Kindergarten, my teacher was Mrs. Faigel Rosenberg.  I remember that I loved Mrs. Roseberg – I adored her.  That year, I lost my first tooth and I am sure Mrs. Rosenberg realized I had swallowed it but because she did not want me to feel bad for not having an actual tooth to show for it, she made the whole class look for it.  It is not every teacher that would care enough to do that.  That same year, my sister and brother had their b’nei mitzvah and my mother said I could invite one friend to the Saturday night party.  I chose Mrs. Rosenberg and was thrilled dancing with her. She took the time out of her weekend to be my “date”! That was the start of my experience with Hillel/OJCS teachers and how they treat all their students as extensions of their own families.

In Grade 2, my class had Mrs. Avalee Prehogan.  We thought she was the coolest teacher and each of my classmates took turns to get her attention. When Mrs. Prehogan announced mid-year that she was going to be leaving as she was pregnant, I recall my entire class started crying.  That is how much we loved her.

When I was in Grade 4, the school moved over to the Jewish Community Campus to the new school and what an adventure that was!  For the remaining four years of my education, my teachers always made every student feel special, unique and noticed.  When I went through an awkward phase and I was unsure of myself, Mrs. Glube recognized this and paid extra attention to me in a subtle way – she knew exactly what I needed.

In my last couple of years of Hillel, my teachers adjusted their approach to deal with pre-teens.  Teachers such as Mrs. Sara Briener and Mr. Murray Wilson made each of us feel valued and talked to us like adults.  I was a quiet kid and, in another environment, could have felt invisible, but I never felt this way at Hillel Academy.  My teachers spent as much time and attention on me as the smartest and the loudest of the bunch!  And with the leadership of Mr. Stan Katz, I felt like I had a zaide as a principal – not that I ever was sent to the principal.

Now I walk the halls of OJCS as a parent of an upcoming graduate and nothing has changed.  Of course, the teachers are different but their dedication and love of their students is the same.  The teachers know the names of all the students – no matter what grade – and they continue to invest the time to get to know their students and their needs to support their learning journey.  I think about Mrs. Ellie Kamil and how she not only keeps the entire school running but at the time, knows every student and nurtures each one as one of her babies – it is amazing to observe!  As I look back at my son’s OJCS journey, he has been supported, challenged and loved for nine years and I am so appreciative that he has had this experience and I know it has formed the “mensch” he is today.

In the end, the fact that I graduated over 30 years ago and my memories of my teachers are so vivid demonstrates the impact they all had on my life and on all the other graduates of Hillel/OJCS.  Teaching in a Jewish community school has unique opportunities and challenges but generation after generation, there is one constant – a love of their students.  I want to say thank-you to all the past and current teachers and administrators of Hillel/OJCS on behalf of all students for the last 75 years…please know your contributions to our lives are immeasurable.

In recognition of 75 years of teaching excellence, a community-wide celebration will be held on Sunday, June 2, 2024 at 2:00PM at KBI.  Please join us for dessert and to toast our beloved current and past teachers and staff!

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Jon is studying to be a rabbi at the Academy for Jewish Religion and is on the faculty of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) as a mentor. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

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