Ashkenaz in The Schools

Ashkenaz in the Schools offers teachers, principals and parents the opportunity to expand curriculum offerings to students of various ages through exposure to the richness of Jewish cultural arts. A wide variety of programs in multiple disciplines (music, arts/crafts, dance, talk, etc) are possible and can be tailored to specific scholastic and educational contexts.

If you are an educator or parent and are interested in learning more about this program, please contact Ashkenaz’s Managing Director Samantha Parnes at sam[at]ashkenaz.ca or call 416-979-9901.

Ashkenaz was fortunate to welcome Janusz Makuch as a visitor to our community at the end of March. Makuch is the co-founder and artistic director of the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, which takes place in Kazimierz, Poland each summer. We hosted him at the Miles Nadal JCC on Sunday, March 25th for an interesting session about the nature of Jewish cultural expression in contemporary Poland, and the following day he spoke at Bialik HDS to grades 7 and 8. The students were attentive and engaged as he talked about the importance of heritage and why he is so passionate about his work. There were impressive questions from several children who inquired about Janusz’s motivation to organise a Jewish festival, given that he himself is not Jewish despite being very active in Jewish life.

In February 15th, The Ashkenaz Foundation presented Lorie Wolf’s dynamic show, “The Adventures of Mazel and Schlimazel” at Bialik HDS as part of the ongoing Ashkenaz in the Schools initiative. This fun and intriguing one man-show stars the exuberant actor Geoff Kolomayz in an all-original musical adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s folkloric children’s tale. In this 45-minute musical adventure, the debonair Mazel and the wicked Schlimazel try to take control of young Tam’s destiny while he tries to capture the heart of the king’s daughter. Lorie and her band of spirited Klezmer musicians provide live music to this classic tale while it is presented with humour, suspense and surprise.

This was our third presentation at Bialik since the launch of Ashkenaz in the Schools in 2007, as well as our largest school audience with over 400 students in grades 1-5, plus teachers and several parents. The outcome was terrific! Students were enthralled by the imaginative way that Geoff seamlessly turned into one character after another, and were fantastic audience members with many hands going up to answer the play’s delightful questions. Teachers were impressed with the high quality performance, a celebration of the work they do with Yiddish Studies at Bialik. Elementary school principal Anita Eckhouse said: “Thank you so much for arranging today’s wonderful performance. It integrated well into the MS Readathon, our Yiddish program, and our Character Education program in so many ways.” Mazel and Schlimazel premiered at the Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto over Labour Day weekend, 2010 to a packed house and was also co-presented by Ashkenaz at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2011. Lorie Wolf is a music teacher certified by the Ontario College of Teachers and can provide a full unit plan to teachers.

Ashkenaz was pleased to partner with Toronto’s secular Jewish Morris Winchevsky School in offering its students “A Jewish Music Journey through the Ages” in a six-part series throughout January and February 2012. These interactive sessions introduced students in grades 1-6 to Cantorial, Sephardic, Mizrahi, Ladino, Klezmer, Yiddish and Israeli music. Guest facilitators included Aaron Bensoussan, Aviva Chernick, Mitch Smolkin, Eric Stein and Avital Zemer. Classes were held at the School’s new location in the Annex at 918 Bathurst St, just north of Bloor.

In December 16, 2011, our ever-growing “Ashkenaz in the Schools” initiative presented a very special Hanukah program to the extraordinary Beverley School in Baldwin Village. Beverley School provides an incredible environment to support the educational needs of students with developmental and/or physical disabilities. Our visiting performer for the day, Robin Gertin, led an enthusiastic set of Hanukah songs which got all the students and staff involved, followed by an all-out klezmer dance party to the sounds of Dave Tarras and Konsonans Retro. The holiday spirit was in great abundance, and the nakhes meter was off the charts with this unique opportunity to share our joyous music and holiday traditions with such a special audience.