Why My Jewish Education Was So Important To Me (Even If I Didn’t Know It Then)

Why My Jewish Education Was So Important To Me

(Even If I Didn’t Know It Then)

By Michal F., Former Torah High Student

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really care much about my Jewish education while I was growing up. I would hear students coming back from university talk about how their Jewish foundations had helped them get involved, make friends, and feel less alone while away from home.

but I didn’t buy it!

I thought they just wanted to have any opportunity to come speak to a class full of kids who were forced to listen to them; and then I went to university myself.

My first few weeks in university were challenging, to say the least. I had just come back from a gap year in Israel, a place where everything is Jewish and catered to Jews, a place where I never felt for one second like I needed to defend my Judaism or stick up for it. I was immersed in it at all times.

Coming back to Toronto was a rude wake-up call I didn’t really expect. Within the first week of class, I had to meet with T.A.s to get my midterms rescheduled because of the holidays. Then walking through campus on club day, I witnessed my first “Free Palestine” booth.

One of the members of the club came up to me and gave me a pamphlet and said something like “Did you know Israel is currently occupied Palestine?”

Actually, I did know. I knew a lot. All of a sudden I realized there were all these tools that I had at my disposal, things that I had learned over the many years of my Jewish education that had equipped me to answer this person calmly, but also extremely effectively.

My time at Torah High had given me an understanding of my culture, and then having spent a year in Israel, I felt confident in my answer.  

I continued my walk through the clubs and went past the Hillel booth. There, at the back was a girl I recognized from a summer program I had done over three years ago. She introduced me to everyone there and told me about a Shabbat dinner happening that weekend.

Okay, I said to myself, I get this now.

Instantly being able to connect with someone is something that I’d taken for granted most of my life. I just assumed that because I lived in Toronto and I was always surrounded by my community, I always would be. Once you get to university, all of the connections that you made–some of which seemed so insignificant–can help you build a community of your own within an institution that is often HUGE, alienating, and doesn’t really have much in the way of Jewish cultural opportunities.

Now I look back and think, wow, I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to  experience Jewish education and social programs prior to university. My university experience would have been completely different without them. Because I became involved in the Jewish community through Torah High’s experiential programs, I met some of my closest friends who I’m still close with to this day. Even though my parents always told me that I’d be happy in the long run participating in these programs, I have to admit I didn’t really believe them fully– that is until I experienced my first day of my first semester as a new student at a university campus.