Board of Jewish Education (Toronto)

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Board of Jewish Education (Toronto)

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Established in 1949 as the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Board of Jewish Education (BJE) is the central Jewish agency in Toronto whose mandate is to preserve, enrich, and promote Jewish education in the Greater Toronto area. Its primary tasks are to coordinate and provide leadership in teacher training and professional development, curriculum development, school administration, and inter-school activities, and also to allocate funds to affiliated Jewish schools raised through the annual UJA Federation fundraising campaign. The BJE was established following the recommendations of a 1948 study of Jewish education in Toronto undertaken by Dr. Uriah Z. Engelman of the American Association for Jewish Education, and sponsored by the United Jewish Welfare Fund (UJWF; now, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto) and the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), Central Region. In its constitution, the bureau was described as having the dual characteristics of being an autonomous agency of the UJWF and also as acting for the UJWF in the field of Jewish education. The bureau was governed by a board of governors with representatives from affiliated schools, the UJWF, CJC Central Region, and from the community at large. The inaugural meeting of the board took place on 20 March 1950. The organizational structure of the Bureau of Jewish Education mirrored that of the UJWF, with a board of directors and executive committee, standing comittees, and a professional staff. Samuel Posluns was the first president of the BJE and Dr. Joseph Diamond was its first executive director, serving in this position for 18 years. In the 1950s, the staff consisted of the executive director, an administrative assistant, and a school consultant. Over time, the staff was expanded to meet the increased demand for BJE services as the number of affiliated schools grew. For example, the position of director of school finances was created in 1976 to oversee school budgets, monitor tuition fees and teacher salary profiles, and perform other duties relating to financial management. The BJE's offices were located with those of the United Jewish Welfare Fund, first on Spadina Avenue and then on Beverley Street, until the 1960s, when the board moved to offices in the Jewish Public Library on Glen Park Avenue. The board remained there until 1983, when the BJE moved into the newly built Lipa Green Building, on Bathurst Street, along with the other departments of the Toronto Jewish Congress, as the UJWF was renamed in 1976. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the BJE sponsored adult education programs in Toronto through the Institute for Jewish Studies, in collaboration with the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) and CJC. The BJE also provided assistance and advice to the CJC in support of Jewish education in the smaller Jewish communities in Ontario. The BJE's role in adult education diminished significantly after its reorganization in 1968, but this again became a responsibility for the BJE in the late 1990s. The BJE has gone through several periods of reorganization since it was founded: in 1968, when the bureau became the Board of Jewish Education and its board was reduced in size significantly; in the late 1970s, with the implementation of recommendations of the 1975 UJWF Study Committee on Jewish Education; in the early 1990s, following the development of a strategic plan for the BJE; and in the late 1990s, following the recommendations of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto Commission on Jewish Education (1996). The 1968 reorganization was the most significant of these, with the BJE Board of Directors reduced from over 80 members to just 20 members approved by the UJWF, and the number of standing committees was reduced to two. Stephen Berger was appointed as first chairman of the Board of Jewish Education in 1968, and in 1969, Rabbi Irwin E. Witty became the second executive director of the BJE. Later reorganizations typically involved alterations to the number and responsibilities of BJE committees. Although its primary function is to support existing educational institutions, the BJE has also participated in establishing several new instititions in Toronto. In 1953, to meet the need for qualified teachers in affiliated schools, the BJE and CJC Central Region founded a Jewish teachers' seminary (Midrasha L'Morim) in Toronto, which was jointly funded by the BJE and CJC for many years. In 1960, the BJE and UJWF sponsored the establishment of a non-denominational Jewish high school, the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (CHAT), with the BJE Executive Director as its director. In 1978, the Orah School for Jewish Children from the Soviet Union was established by the BJE, to meet the special needs of the large numbers of recent immigrants from the Soviet Union. At its founding, the BJE served a total of 21 day and supplementary schools. When it ceased functioning in 2012, the BJE served more than 70 day and supplementary schools in the Greater Toronto area, with the position of chair held by Baila Lubek and the position of executive director held by Dr. Seymour Epstein. The Board was replaced by the Mercaz and later, the Centre for Jewish Education.

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