“This [Netivot HaTorah] is something that is a part of us! We were the pioneers, and we are still involved 37 years later! We were young and naive but we were idealistic.” In the early 1980s, Rabbi Elliott Diamond, Mrs. Rochelle Diamond and a small group of friends felt strongly about wanting to send their (still very young) children to a school that did not yet exist in Toronto: one that would value “Torah, Zionism, Derech Eretz while also placing an equal emphasis on general studies as a part of fulfilling a religious mandate: וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעׇבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשׇׁמְרָֽהּ׃ – Hashem told Adam that mankind’s responsibility is to work the world and preserve it. Our school understands that general studies is a vehicle for learning about the world so we may properly fulfill the mandate we have.” After many conversations in community members’ homes, they advertised in the CJN that a meeting would take place in Earl Bales for interested parents. Rochelle remembers her shock when 200 people showed up! “We thought, this is a real thing! People actually really want this!” “We had such strong feelings and beliefs and we did it! The message here is to follow your dreams, follow your heart and if you believe in something strongly, believe that Hashem will give you the strength to figure it out.” As the Director of Art and Special Activities, she uses that same young idealism nearly 4 decades later, “When I meet with Bnot Sherut and Shinshim I say, “Give me your biggest idea! I want to start there!”
Rabbi Elliott Diamond, Head of Jewish Studies, is equally nostalgic and enthusiastic, “We started the school in 1984 with 25 kids in the Gan and 15 kids in grade 1. The year was amazing. Year 2 – 160 kids!! We were thinking we would add a grade a year, but the response was so overwhelming we had to add more!” Rabbi Diamond recalls. “We also understood that the Grade 1 teachers needed to be phenomenal because parents needed to trust a new school.” Rochelle remembers interviewing Mary Martha Starkman and Reena Newman z”l in their living room, who they hired to be the Grade 1 teachers. Rabbi Diamond expresses his hakarat hatov, “I credit the school to those women, without them it wouldn’t have happened. They were outstanding.”
Simultaneous to being founders and lay leaders for Netivot, Rabbi Diamond was teaching Judaic Studies at CHAT and Rochelle was working as a psychoeducational consultant. He remembers “loving teaching high school. I created the Jewish Ethics course that is still there today.” A position came up at Netivot, and Rabbi Diamond made the move from lay leader to professional, “I wasn’t sure about the change from high school to elementary, but I came and I loved it and I still do.” Rochelle had another career as a parent educator, before being invited to Netivot in 2001 to interview to create an art program. “When I got here, there was not one material in the art room! We started slowly, and then I also moved into programming, and I still do both now, I love it! We do formal art instruction as well as informal art by infusing art into many of the things they do. If we are doing a play, the kids are involved in the scenery, prop making, costumes etc.” Rabbi Diamond expresses, “I don’t think Rochelle is giving herself enough credit. There is a tendency in Jewish day schools to be very text based. The problem is not every kid is a textual learner, or their strength lies in that learning style. I can’t tell you how many times there have been children who have opportunities to find their neshamas in art, visual arts, music, dance. These opportunities are crucial for them.”
“After 120 years when Hashem looks at us and says, so what did you accomplish? From an idea… to a school that’s teaching hundreds and hundreds of kids to follow in the pathway of Torah.” When asked what keeps him passionate year after year, “For me, it’s the kids. There is a big rush in seeing the kids make connections and understanding. The AHA moments. When a kid is jumping up to answer a question, that is special.” Rochelle agrees with that and adds, “I’m so lucky that I love what I do. This is not a job for me, it’s a passion. And getting to share that with the students and seeing how much they love it, because they really do.”
Rabbi Elliott Diamond and Mrs. Rochelle Diamond are parents of 3 alumni of Netivot.