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Tarzana’s Gan Israel School –

The “Crown Jewel” of Chabad of the Valley

Just as in the life of individuals, organizations tend to have pivotal events in their history that stand as key turning points that change their scope and shape their direction anew. For Chabad of the Valley, which now consists of nineteen (soon be twenty-one) centers spanning the greater S. Fernando and Conejo Valleys, its key turning point undoubtedly came on a fateful day in 1978 -- five years into its existence -- when Rabbi Joshua Gordon and a unique man named Jerry Blauner, of blessed memory, stood in front of a house on Burbank Boulevard in Tarzana and dedicated it as the “Israel and Anna Blauner Youth Center” in tribute to Jerry’s late parents.

At that time, Chabad of the Valley consisted of but a single center – a small house on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Encino – operated by Rabbi Gordon and his wife, Deborah. The expansion to Tarzana not only gave Chabad a new level of prime street exposure, it allowed for the establishment of a thriving new educational facility and the opening of a new early childhood program called the Gan Israel School.  Two short years later, Rabbi Mordechai and Chave Einbinder would move to Tarzana be the spiritual leaders of the Tarzana center and to help move Chabad of the Valley along toward the exponential growth it now enjoys. Today, standing alongside the Blauner Youth Center, is a beautiful 24,000 square-foot multipurpose center that serves as the central headquarters for Chabad’s Valley-wide operations from Studio City to Ventura; Woodland Hills to Valencia.  

The centerpiece and launch-pad of the Tarzana miracle, which set so many new milestones in motion, was surely the Gan Israel School Pre-School and kindergarten. From the day Jerry Blauner informed the Lubavitcher Rebbe of his sacrificial acts of philanthropy to open a school for Jewish children, a unique and close relationship was established between the Rebbe and the Blauner Family, including Jerry’s wife, Eleanor, who passed away earlier this year. Over the years, Jerry would receive constant guidance and blessing from the Rebbe – none more telling than the Rebbe’s initial assurance and blessing that the Blauner Youth would soon be “overflowing with children” receiving their vital Jewish education at the facility.

Under the direction of Renee Hutchings – who has been at the helm of the Gan Israel School ever since it first opened its doors in 1978 and who continues to run the ship with that same level of energy and enthusiasm to this day – the school stands as one of the premier programs of its kind in the State of California. For the past three decades, Chabad branches up and down the coast seeking a top-notch, professional early childhood program after which to model their own start-up programs – one that blends the warm spirit of “Yiddishkeit” with finest of academic excellence – would turn to Renee and the Tarzana miracle for guidance and direction.

Whereas its initial enrollment on day one in 1978 consisted of ten students, today there some 200 students are enrolled in Gan Israel’s pre-school and kindergarten programs – with an “overflow” waiting list in place.

Since the construction of its new campus, the Rabbi Moshe & Ruty Weiss Early Childhood Center houses the Gan Israel School in its spacious beautiful ground floor facility. The sprawling center offers state-of-the-art nursery school facilities and an expansive Pacific Oaks-inspired play yard. Gan Israel and its staff of 32 professionals has earned high marks from many esteemed and recognized educators throughout the state. Not to mention the gratitude and satisfaction of many pleased parents…

“The real beauty of Gan Israel,” says the school’s Rabbi and Judaic Director, Rabbi Mayer Greene, “is that every family, regardless of their level of observance, feels right at home in this environment. The emphasis is completely on the positive and on the experiential. From the Alef-Bet to the ABC’s; the weekly Torah portion to Jewish ethics; subjects are not merely taught in the classroom, but are animated and brought vividly to life – with music, with dance, with stories. Likewise, whether it’s a holiday event, a Friday night dinner or a school graduation, there is a special spirit in the air that embraces child and parent alike. This school spiritually feeds the community, and vice versa.”

In the words of Director Renee Hutchings, “Beyond the high level of professionalism we aspire to, there is that abstract dimension that endears this program to all involved. That dimension is love. It’s warmth. It’s Chabad.

“Many of our students today are the children of those who themselves attended our program as toddlers and pre-schoolers during our pioneering days. To see the joy and nachas of Gan Israel come full circle like that says it all. It’s the ultimate fulfillment of the vision the Rebbe shared with Jerry and Eleanor Blauner all those years ago.”

For further information regarding the Gan Israel School, call 818-758-3838.

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