Hooked on Bible

Published: January 11th 2010

Channa Sargon


Before I can take off my coat, she greets me with a big bear hug, a radiant smile and – “what can I get you to eat?” I am at the home of Channa Sargon, one of Toronto’s most well known Jewish educators and teacher of Bible studies.


For over 20 years, students have studied here in her living room, an inviting room with comfortable, aesthetically pleasing decor. Almost everything – the original paintings massed tastefully on the walls, the displays of art objects throughout the house – are Judaic or evoke Israel. “I miss Israel”, she says wistfully, even though she has lived in Canada for many years. “When I walk into my house, my whole house is Israel.”


“Learning in a house is a Jewish tradition,” says Channa. “So my house where people feel comfortable, is a good place to teach Torah.”


Her eyes light up when she talks about teaching. “Being a Bible teacher is a great privilege,” she says. “It’s not only the intellectual pursuit, it’s an opportunity of bringing people closer to their roots. The Bible is the base of our peoplehood.”


Dynamic, radiating warmth, her teaching is leavened with laughter and sprinkles of Yiddish. She brings everything she has to her classes. Teaching Bible for her is her profession, her hobby and her passion. She herself studies two hours every day.


Hundreds of people have flocked to her classes and become hooked on Bible. Many have been with her from the beginning and refuse to leave. People from all walks of life and all denominations – Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and non believers. She also lectures and gives workshops throughout Toronto in synagogues and organizations, such as UJA, Hadassah and Na’amat.


“Tuesday mornings I teach women who have just started, many of whom have never studied before. “It’s exciting to watch how quickly they are mesmerized by Jewish studies. My oldest group has been with me for20 years. Most have key leadership positions in the community. It’s immensely gratifying to see how they’ve integrated the learning and bring it to their roles. For example, they may start a meeting with a dvar torah”.


“I care about my students as human beings and we become like a family.”


“She is absolutely passionate about Torah and an outstanding teacher,” says Ester Kagan, a long-time student. “She is constantly going to many sources, from Nechamah Liebowitz to Rabbi Gunther Plaut. We are always getting new perceptions on things.”


The energy from the classes spills over into other endeavours. Her students raised $700,000 for the Shabtai Levy Home for Children in Haifa.


This is a far cry from where she started – in a left wing, secular world. Channa grew up in Haifa, the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland who came to Israel after the war. “My father was very active in the Labour Zionist movement,” she recalled. “And our extended family were ardent Socialists.” Channa was a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a left – leaning Zionist youth organization. “I never entered a synagogue till I was 17.”


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