At The Toronto Heschel School’s most recent graduation ceremony, a guest commented on how remarkable it was to see a class of students so obviously connected to one another and to their teachers—and, more so, how unusual to see a group of parents who were so close. Graduation took place on a Thursday in June. The following night, every graduate gathered with his/her parents and siblings for Shabbat dinner. Initiated, organized, and hosted by parents, the dinner exemplifies how a diverse school community can create meaningful bonds between families from a wide range of affiliations, levels of observance, traditions, and family structures.
What unites these families is a shared commitment to raising kind, thoughtful, well-rounded mensches. The shared aspiration is never more evident than at the school’s annual Chanukah Festival of the Arts, which ends—every year— with the singing of Debbie Friedman’s “Oh Hear My Prayer.” The Heschel rendition opens with one or two student soloists, then gradually builds as all students, staff, parents, grandparents, and alumni take turns singing the lyrics:
By the time the entire community is singing together, there are very few dry eyes in the room. As a Heschel parent and staff member, I find the singing of “Oh Hear My Prayer” to be so powerful, because it demonstrates that there are many of us working together to bring out the best in our kids. We are connected to one another in vision, values, and spirit.