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It Takes a Village – Volunteer Reflections

The well-roundedness of The Leo Baeck Day School has always been impressive to Isabel Faibish. We get together in the early spring as part of a series of conversations to reflect on the way it has “taken a village” over the past 50 years. How it has all been because of “do-er-ship,” as coined by former Board President and longtime supporter, Stephen Morrison. 

Isabel’s daughter, Jackie Schwarz – who attended Leo Baeck as a student along with her brothers Robbie and Jason – is also with us to speak about “putting your hand up for Leo Baeck.”  She tells me that the strong culture of giving back at Leo Baeck has always been there, however small the school initially was. 

When Isabel and her husband, Paul, decided on Leo Baeck for their three children, it was the era of “class moms,” two per class, whose first job each September was to compile a list of 20-odd student landline numbers that, of course, got taped to the side of the Faibish fridge. For six years, Isabel chaired class moms (now more inclusively referred to as grade captains) with fellow 90s parent, Brenda Berger. They used to gather for class mom meetings in coffee shops or in a spare classroom, building strong friendships because of the shared wish to support this community. “Whatever was going on, Science Centre, Book Fair, the end-of-year Carnival – I volunteered. We were motivated because we really felt that the parent body AND the staff relied on us. We were glad to step up.”

Jackie, now a part of the incredible LBPA (her daughters being in Grade 1 and SK at time of writing), is emphatic about the journey every student gets to experience here. “It’s an honour to give back because I truly felt seen at this school, and still feel seen.” 

 

For the Morrison family in the 1980s, the school was a discovery after connecting with individual community leaders. “This new participation was very positive for me. Sometimes you start pitching in because there are people that you respect and admire who are very involved.” Stephen Morrison opens up about those people who he began to admire – Rabbi Dov Marmur, Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, Rabbi Michael Stroh. “It could be that the leaders at the time saw a quality that I didn’t see in myself. I felt mentored by them – they encouraged me to also give of myself.”

But because of how dedicated Stephen became – serving as both Vice President and President of the board – Haley deeply honours that she and her sister had a childhood “very much shaped by Leo Baeck.” She says that when she graduated, her father’s connection to the school “didn’t disappear.”

Jackie and Haley recently co-chaired the committee  for the school’s 50th celebration events. They particularly relished being involved  in the Alumni event back in November – a nostalgic Kabbalat Shabbat for former students and staff where both women kicked off the evening by lighting the shabbat candles with their own mothers (Isabel Faibish and Fern Morrison). 

Jackie clearly enjoys how much her mom loves the school. For both of them, they have seen from day one how genuinely the teachers care for their students. This is what makes both her and Haley say yes to Day of Giving volunteering, say yes to field trips, say yes to fun fairs. “They are all, not just teachers but all staff, trying to do better and better each day. This is what inspires the parent community to be involved.” 

I ask Stephen more about how he found his way through the many goals and activities that were already at play by the time Haley’s older sister Jessica was five. “In the mid-80s, we had something, if you can believe it, called the Computer Committee. So I was on that. Later I became Board Vice President and then President. I felt committed. And you don’t want to let people down once you have committed to something.” 

Hayley sums up her dad’s dedication to the school: “I’m amazed about what my dad did in those times and now I’m in awe of some of the parents in our school. There are some faces that you see all the time, AND those parents also have full-time jobs.”

“I love watching the 1995 Breakfast Television feature that the school shared this year, seeing Haley at that age, and seeing my grandchildren now in the school. The future of the school was not assured back then so, now, I shep a lot of naches.”

 

As we are winding down our discussion, I ask Isabel what parent volunteers have in common, both then and now. 

“It’s a shared mindset of wanting to do something outside yourself.”

She tells me on her way out that the school does feel like home, even though this wasn’t her kids’ campus. “My grandchildren know that bubby is involved.”

 

By: Janis Seftel (Leo Baeck Staff) for baeck+call magazine Summer 2024 issue

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