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It Takes a Wexner Heritage Class to Get the Job Done

Posted on Thursday, July 14, 2016 by Joel Shalit

WHP Alumni (Montreal 09) Joel Shalit, Andrea Rosenbloom and Monica Mendel-Bensoussan together with other UTT-Herzliah and YM-YWHA execs at the closing transaction, made complete with champagne and strawberries. 

For well over a decade, the 106-year-old Montreal YM-YWHA Jewish Community Centers (the “Y”) and United Talmud Torah-Herzliah (“Herzliah”), a mainstream Jewish day school founded over 120 years ago, have considered the possibility of building a new high school immediately adjacent, and physically connected to, the Y.  By connecting these two institutions, both physically and strategically, the entirety of the Montreal Jewish Community would benefit from a continued source of young, community-engaged leaders who would take pride in their Jewish Community and help ensure its viability for the next 100+ years.

In fact, the project in various forms has been brought to each of the Y’s and Herzliah’s boards of directors twice before in the past decade, but was defeated both times for various reasons.  However, through the initiative of several WHP alumni, the third time proved to be a charm.

That the dream of building a new state of the art high school on the Montreal Jewish Community Campus should come to fruition at this time in our history is nothing short of remarkable.  Despite the declining overall Jewish population of Montreal, and in particular that of the school-age Jewish population, Herzliah has experienced enrollment increases and the Y has enjoyed membership growth.

Beginning at the WHP Montreal Class of 2009’s first retreat in Aspen, a group of concerned Montreal Jewish Community leaders, representing the Y, Herzliah and a donor group, determined that the timing for a third attempt was ripe.  Largely due to the strong personal relationships forged through the WHP, and as a result of the leadership skills we refined during the program, this group of WHP alumni accomplished what prior community leaders could not: the successful negotiation of a strategic partnership between the Y and Herzliah. This has now culminated in Herzliah’s $50 million capital campaign and the construction of a state of the art school of excellence in partnership with the Y, anchored in the heart of the Montreal Jewish Community Campus.  Herzliah’s namesake’s most famous quote continues to resonate strongly – “If you will it, it is no dream.”

Both Herzliah and the Y came to the negotiating table with individual long-term strategic plans based fundamentally on a strategic partnership between the two institutions.  As was the case during prior attempts to establish this partnership, resistance to the project among community interests continued to be fierce, largely echoes of the forces that defeated prior iterations of this project.  This time, as a result of unrelenting effort, the right personalities in place, and above all the right relationships developed through the WHP, our community has something to be proud of, for generations to come.

Montreal looks forward to welcoming its third WHP class, planned for 2017.  That auspicious year also marks the 100-year anniversary of Montreal’s Federation CJA, the much-anticipated opening date of the new Herzliah high school, and the launch of newly-renovated facilities at the Y.  We all have many important reasons for which to be grateful to the WHP, but this monumental achievement will remain a tribute to the WHP’s success for all to see.

Joel Shalit, WHP Alum (Montreal 09), is a Montreal-based entrepreneur in the real estate investment industry.  A former attorney at Cleary Gottlieb in New York, he returned to his native Montreal to run his family’s manufacturing and distribution business until it was sold to overseas buyers in 2011, which prompted a move into the real estate investment field.  Joel is a Past President of the YM-YWHA Montreal Jewish Community Centers and currently serves on the boards of Federation CJA, as well as the Y Country Camp, a residential Jewish summer camp.  He lives in Montreal, Canada with his wife and two daughters and can be reached at joelshalit@gmail.com.