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About Beit Rayim Hebrew School

Beit Rayim Hebrew School is devoted to engaging children in hands-on, experiential learning; inspiring them to embrace the knowledge and faith of their Jewish heritage .Using a 21st century approach to education, we teach boys and girls to become committed, involved and engaged members of the Jewish community.

Our program is affiliated with the Jewish Board of Education and meets the requirements of the USCJ (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism). A Jewish student who has completed his or her education at Beit Rayim Hebrew School qualifies to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at any Conservative Synagogue.

Beit Rayim Hebrew School is well established, with a history going back to 1977. We have put a great deal of care and thought into how to make Hebrew school a meaningful experience for you and your children. We are very proud of our program, our students, and our graduates.

The History of our School

By Helen Smolkin, Founder                  


Looking at our flourishing Richmond Hill Hebrew School today, it's hard to imagine that it has been in existence a relatively short time. Have you ever wondered how it got started?

Well, here's a short history of our school from someone who was involved right from the very beginning. Helen Smolkin has been associated with the Richmond Hill Hebrew School and Beit Rayim Hebrew School for more than two decades.

Bob and I were a young couple in our twenties when we went looking for our first house. On snowy day in January, we ventured from Bathurst and Finch all the way north to Carrville and Yonge in Richmond Hill. Looking at model homes, we were scared, but made our decision regardless. In September of 1973, we moved to Richmond Hill, right behind Hillcrest Mall, and eventually started to raise our family of two sons.

Our first goal was to get Jewish family life and culture together.  In December of 1976 a meeting was held at Richvale Community Centre on Avenue Road in Richmond Hill. Ninety-nine families were represented at that initial gathering, and subsequent planning sessions met at various Jewish homes throughout Richmond Hill. From those initial meetings evolved the Richmond Hill Community Synagogue.

Our home housed the synagogue telephone line, and also served as the depot for picking up High Holy Day tickets. People still remember picking up their tickets the night before yontif, while my mom and I were making kreplach for the next day. We were so proud when there was commotion in our hallway! We were like one big mishpocha, in a shtetel called Richmond Hill.

Because of numerous young children in the area, we also wanted to develop a Hebrew School. In the fall of 1977 a small group of mothers started a Hebrew School program. For one hour on Sundays, we instructed 12 children about Jewish traditions and festivals, until a teacher was found. And that is how Richmond Hill Congregational Hebrew School was born. Among the parents active at the beginning were Carol Abrahams, Robin Benmergui, Trish Hamilton, Lydia Naftolin, and myself.

Our students were a source of great pride when in 1982 Raquel Alexander, John Abrahams, Jason Gorber, and Jeremy Friedberg competed in the Toronto Board of Jewish Education Bible contest. Not only did they take first place, but the Richmond Hill squad was also the youngest team in the competition. Two members of the team, taught by Sylvia Eilath, also qualified to go on to the individual Canada-wide Bible competition in Montreal.

By 1982, the Richmond Hill Congregational Hebrew School boasted 60 students in classes from junior kindergarten to grade 4. Our school was affiliated with the Board of Jewish Education and offered two, four, and six-hour programs for the various levels, held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday at the Richvale Community Centre. The Hebrew school was run by a volunteer Board of Directors, and a staff of four with Pearl Brenman acting as the head teacher.

In 1983 our name changed to Shaareh Haim (Gates of Life) Hebrew School. We introduced Grade 5 and our enrolment grew to 75 students. The school also appointed Pnina Spetgang as its first principal, and it found a new home at Roselawn Public School. The school entered the Zimriah Festival for the first time and placed first out of 15 supplementary schools. How proud Bob and I were to see the photo in the Canadian Jewish News with our son Jeff among the 18 participants! Other students were Amy Winston, Lori Kaiser, Loni Sherkin, Ann Segal, Melissa Gorber, Amy Naftolin, and Brandon Rozen.

Our school was thriving. We organized Shabbatons for our children and their families, which attracted over 200 people. The school held Fashion Show fundraisers, Israel Day, and graduation ceremonies even for the kindergarten students. We continued to participate in Zimriah, Rikkudiah, and the Bible Contest, and of course we celebrated all the holidays with great attendance. One of our first music teachers was Bluma Schonbrun, an accomplished recording artist.

In 1986, the enrolment was up to 125 children between kindergarten and Bar Mitzvah age. We also had a new principal, Herb Spindel. In February of 1989, five students from Grades 5 and 6 took first place in the Regional Bible Contest. The winning team consisted of Ross Fischoff, Warren Pollock, Mitch Smolkin, Jeffrey Field, and Marcus Staviss. Once again, they were one of the smaller teams that participated. The Board of Jewish Education could not say enough about how successful our school had become.

Shaareh Haim Hebrew School moved to its present location in 1990, with over 200 students. What excitement! We shared the classrooms with United Synagogue Day School (U.S.D.S.), but we finally had a building. However, I have to admit - we had gotten very attached to the gym at Richvale Community Centre, for it was home for so many years. It was also special since Jeff's Bar Mitzvah service took place there, and many other simchas as well.

Unfortunately, two years later we had to reorganize and rebuild when Shaareh Haim Synagogue had to close its doors. We almost lost our school, something we nurtured for 15 years. No Jewish organization was willing to take a chance with us, and we almost gave up. However, over the Labour Day weekend of 1992, Barb Sax and I met with the leadership of Beth Sholom Synagogue. They helped us open our doors that fall. Once again, we were Richmond Hill Hebrew School. We are grateful to Beth Sholom Synagogue for their help and support through some difficult times.

Today, Beit Rayim Hebrew School is one of the finest in the city. May it continue to go from strength to strength.

Building a synagogue and school is a memorable and moving experience. My family and I, along with my dear parents Boris and Sophia Gelgor, and all of those who have participated in this extraordinary venture, are privileged to have done so. Yasher Koach to the leadership and organizers, past and present, who consistently provide a compelling environment of friendship and feeling.

Fri, 24 May 2024 16 Iyyar 5784