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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Educating Vancouver’s Jewish children: the Vancouver Talmud Torah, 1913-1959 Kent, Rozanne Feldman


The purpose of this study was to research the early history of the Vancouver Talmud Torah, from 1913 to 1959, in order to determine how one group of Canadian Jews attempted to retain their separate identity while functioning in Canadian society. Two sources provided the bulk of the material for this study. Twenty-five interviews with former students, teachers, parents and Board members provided first-hand information and back issues of the Jewish Western Bulletin, the Vancouver Jewish community weekly newspaper, from 1925-1959 served as a written primary source. A book of minutes from 1944-1947 was also very useful in verifying facts. All of this information was then integrated with research on Jewish education in other parts of Canada, especially Western Canada, to establish the Vancouver Talmud Torah’s connection with similar efforts across Canada. There are two main divisions to this thesis. The first section covers the period from 19 13- 1948, during which time a group of Vancouver Jews dedicated themselves to the establishment and continuation of a Jewish afternoon school. The second section examines the first decade of the day school from 1948-1959 where a full program of Jewish and secular studies was offered to Jewish children during the regular school day. This study examines why the day school was set up. Some insights are also offered regarding whether both the afternoon and the day schools were successful in meetings the goals set out by the organizers and the needs of the community which it served. There is no easy way to determine the success or failure of a school. Many problems are beyond the control and scope of a school’s mandate. The findings of this research indicate that the Vancouver Talmud Torah endeavoured to provide the best possible Jewish education for its students under unfavourable conditions. The primary obstacle comes in comparing the quality of Jewish education in Vancouver with that in other major Jewish centres in Canada, because of the Vancouver Jewish community’s relative isolation from other communities and its small population. The shortage of qualified teachers and the lack of adequate teaching materials and professional development programs have made it difficult for the school to provide a Jewish studies program on the same level as its secular studies program (which was excellent). Furthermore, too much responsibility for the children’s Jewish education and identity had been placed on the school, with the family and community assuming a lesser role than it historically did. This has not only made the task of the Talmud Torah very difficult, it has also created a chasm between the school and the community, with the teachers and students left to battle it out in the middle. Therefore, under the circumstances, the Talmud Torah has provided the best possible Jewish education for its students. However, if the family and community would have maintained their responsiblity in guiding the religious and cultural education of their children, the Talmud Torah would have been in a much better position to fulfill its supplementary role in the education of Jewish children. It is interesting to note that the same comments could be made today, some 35 years later.

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