Remembering Zita Gardner z”l
GARDNER, Zita Joy Hertzman
On Wednesday, October 20, 2021, at home surrounded by family.
A gracious, strong and caring person. Predeceased by her beloved husband, Allen. One of Zita’s life philosophies was “everything in moderation”, the exception being love. For Zita, love was received with joy and given in abundance.
Holy Blossom Temple honours Zita, click below to read thoughtful reflections from Temple President, Avra Rosen, and Eric Peterseil, Head of School, The Leo Baeck Day School.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet, May her memory be for a blessing.
Reflections from Avra Rosen, Temple President and Eric Peterseil, Head of School, The Leo Baeck Day School
I first met Zita Gardner when my daughter Sarah began attending the Leo Baeck Day School at the Holy Blossom Campus in 1995. At the time, the campus was very small, Zita knew every student and was so proud of it, as Holy Blossom was a special place for her. It wasn’t long before Zita suggested to me that I join the LBDS Board of Directors. I was in my early 30s at the time, a young lawyer, with little knowledge or experience of governance. But Zita saw my potential and took me under her wing. With her prodding and support, I grew on the LBDS Board and later the Holy Blossom Temple Board, and Zita’s pride when I became President of Holy Blossom Temple in late 2019 was especially moving for me. Zita loved not only her family but all of her students and staff who were her family as well. After her graduation from Leo Baeck, Zita continued to follow Sarah through her various milestones and celebrations at Holy Blossom, all the way up to her Aufruf in February 2020, which Zita was able to celebrate with us as she was at Shabbat services that day. When Zita looked across the aisle to me, I knew exactly what she was thinking. That was the last time I saw Zita, as shortly thereafter, the pandemic forced Holy Blossom to close its doors. Livestreaming and working online was not a challenge for Zita. A few months later, I collaborated with her on Cantor Maissner’s digital Tribute Book for his L’Chaim that was held in June 2020, collecting letters from his colleagues all over the world. Zita was a woman on a mission, passionate about ensuring that everyone on her list had the opportunity to contribute, and in her polite (but direct) fashion, regularly reminding me to follow up with Rabbis and Cantors throughout North America as President.
As I close my eyes, I can see Zita walking down the school hallway at Holy Blossom in her blouse and skirt, with a big smile on her face, glasses perched on her nose. To her family that lit up her eyes and those that she touched, her memory will always be for a blessing.
Avra Rosen, President, Holy Blossom Board of Directors
This week we mourn the passing of Zita Gardner, the long-time Director of The Leo Baeck Day School. Zita became Director of the school in 1992 and oversaw its significant growth from a single campus school in a rented surplus TDSB building to two thriving campuses in a purpose-built school in Thornhill and at Holy Blossom Temple.
Over 20 years ago Zita hired me to become the VP of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at the school, and opened my eyes to the significant power day school can have to influence Jewish leadership and identity in young people. I had been deeply engaged as a young person at Temple Har Zion, loving Religious School and the Jewish identity it created for me. But I remember the difference through my life when I came in contact with graduates of day schools or CHAT, people whose passion for Jewish culture and identity was matched by a knowledge base of which I was jealous. Their familiarity with Hebrew, Jewish ritual and love of Israel was something I longed for, and the reason I became a Jewish educator after graduation from university. But Zita showed me the power of a day school education, the seamless intersection of the Jewish calendar with the modern world, never having to choose school or shul on a Jewish holiday, because school was simply closed. She also introduced me to the breadth of the day school world as the President of PARDeS, the association of Reform Jewish Day Schools across North America, opening for me the possibility that there were thousands of young Reform Jews across the continent engaged in Jewish learning and living for hours every day, instead of a few hours per week.
As her final act before retirement, Zita sponsored the study of the International Baccalaureate Program at the school, bringing our school in line with the best independent schools in the world by combining the critical thinking and social justice so deeply embedded in our school culture with a pedagogic framework respected around the world for precisely those two attributes. The 12 years of her tenure put our school on a powerful path forward toward growth and depth, and an entire generation of Jewish youth are forever grateful.
Eric Petersiel, RJE (Pronouns: he, him)
Head of School
The Leo Baeck Day School