Music and art will be added to the curriculum of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh next fall as the Orthodox Jewish day school hires trained specialists to instruct students in grades kindergarten through 12, thanks to a new $1 million endowment fund.
The Joshua Sindler Creative Class-rooms Art & Music Program at Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, created in memory of the Hillel alumnus who died from a brain tumor last year at the age of 45, will provide the annual funds to complement the students’ secular and Judaic education.
The fund was created by Sindler’s parents, Marilyn and Norman Sindler, and his siblings, Deb and Mark Sindler and Ross Sindler, with a matching grant provided by the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future, an endowment within the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community Foundation Centennial Fund and the Jewish Community Foundation.
The funding for the new arts program is the largest grant that Hillel has received since its establishment in 1948, according to Daniel Kraut, the school’s CEO, and will be used to establish a multifaceted program of music and visual arts education that involves hands-on learning and performance opportunities.
Sindler had a deep appreciation for drawing, photography and music, said his brother, Mark. He was known for his melodious voice and often would lead services at Young Israel and Poale Zedeck congregations. He was deeply connected to his Judaism, a connection that was nurtured and strengthened during his 13 years as a student at Hillel, said those who knew him.
Because of Sindler’s love of the arts and the school’s lack of formal art and music instruction, his family thought this endowment “would be a good fit,” according to Mark Sindler.
“There’s been an absence of this kind of curriculum,” he noted. “Art and music defined [Joshua], and there was this place that had this acute need. It seemed natural to focus on the school that influenced who he was.”
Aside from occasional classroom activities — including a music appreciation program that concludes in fourth grade — the arts largely have been absent from the halls of Hillel.
“There is so much more that someone there for a Jewish education can get from rounding out their education in these areas that are lacking, to give them that kind of grounding,” Mark Sindler said. “It could spark an interest or could bring to the surface talent that kids didn’t know they had. And it is consistent with the values of the school.”
Hillel parents are excited about the new curriculum, Kraut said, which ultimately will include instruction for all grade levels in the elementary school and electives in the middle and high schools.
“Having a creative classroom program like this takes a great school and makes it an excellent school,” Kraut said.
Hillel Academy has doubled in size over the last few years to its current enrollment of 355 students — including the 137 children in its preschool program — and has increased its appeal to “a variety of students and families in the Squirrel Hill community,” said Danny Shaw, the school’s director of student life.
The new art and music program may capitalize on that trend and attract new families to whom the arts are important, but who also want their children to be educated at an Orthodox day school.
“We were concerned with the lack of art and music programming at Hillel,” said Mike Belman, a father of a kindergartner and a second-grader at Hillel who works with his wife, Chantal, as an art conservator. “To be honest, as Chantal and I both work in the arts and have had fine, applied and art historical training, it is certain that our children would have had a healthy exposure to the arts regardless. It was more of a concern for the rest of the community that other children would grow up with a void of experience in what provides color, texture, flavor and fuel for the imagination and creativity. The potential for having children miss out on what one day might spark their passion was unfortunate.”
The new art and music curriculum will help provide a well-rounded education, Belman opined.
“We have seen firsthand how beneficial art and music are for not only fostering creativity and providing an outlet for the expression of emotions, but also for building creative problem-solving skills,” he noted. “Additionally, it is well known that through the arts, the thoughts and feelings that can be conveyed range from the simple to the far more complex than can be verbalized.”
The new program was celebrated at a Shabbaton from Feb. 27 through March 2 and included the music of Eitan Katz at a communitywide concert at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on Saturday night, Feb. 28.
Pittsburgh artist Burton Morris will be creating a piece of artwork that will be displayed permanently in the school in memory of Joshua Sindler.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.