Building Culture and Community - Honouring Jewish Identities

By: Irfan Toor  •  September 22, 2022  •  (4 min read)

The start of the school year always brings thoughts and opportunities of how to create a new focus or to really prioritize certain goals. The last three years have been very disruptive and have brought new and unexpected challenges. Sometimes, disruption can also be an opportunity to examine patterns and practices, and rather than just continuing what we have done before, to be intentional about what and how we are going to approach school leadership.

How can you enter into this year with a focus on building culture and community? How can you encourage the building of community as a way to build relationships and respond to the social and emotional needs of students? How will you support students as they also re-adapt to the systems and structures of a disrupted school community?

The foundation of any equity and anti-oppressive work is always the honouring of identities.

We need to ensure that our students and staff can be their authentic and whole selves as they learn, work and participate in the school culture. The time spent now in laying that foundation, at the beginning of the school year, is necessary to create a culture where students and staff can engage with and support each other.

The end of September and beginning of October mark the beginning of the Jewish calendar through the celebrations of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These days of significance are an excellent opportunity to educate your school community about Jewish history and the contributions of Jewish Canadians to our society. Embracing, honouring and celebrating different identities help build respectful and inclusive communities and combat and dispel hate. Jewish students and staff continue to face anti-Semitism through language, symbols, curricular content and overt acts of hate. These problems are not new; in fact, they are embarrassingly old.

Schools have the unique opportunity and a social responsibility to interrupt these old patterns of hate and exclusion. It’s not about being an expert on Jewish culture or Judaism; its about using your position as an educational leader to create the conditions and the expectation that all identities are important, difference is valued and schools are a place where people are honoured and accepted for who they are.

For schools to do better, the school leader must be engaged in this work. Students and families should be able to expect that they will find pedagogical practices that challenge biases and affirm identities.

As a school leader, how are you supporting school staff who are already doing this work and how are you challenging those who are still reluctant and resistant? It is critically important that school leaders work with staff, as well as community, to work in collaboration on this journey of challenging biases and affirming identities.

There are many organizations that can help in your learning and your practice. Facing History and Ourselves and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies have great resources and programs to help classroom educators and school leaders deepen their understanding and their commitment to combatting anti-Semitism and fostering inclusive spaces.

As always, feel free to reach out to me directly with comments, questions or support at