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Jewish Journal

An Oasis in Irvine

A unique school mirrors Orange County's Jewish diversity

by Ellen Jaffe-Gill

March 30, 2000 | 7:00 pm

The first thing you notice is how pretty the campus is, with its pale beige Jerusalem stone and desert landscaping; if it were on a higher hill, it would look like a small version of the Getty Center. In the foyer, you see some puppets of characters from the book of Esther on display, showing just a tad more artistry than grade-school kids usually seem to put into such projects.

Then you walk around -- not so much as a candy wrapper mars the floor or the outdoor grounds -- and see the banks of computers, the walls of elementary classrooms riotous with colorful learning materials, the well-appointed labs and studios. And, most important, you see students and adults alike focused on learning, their faces alive and enthusiastic.

It's only a school, but to a visitor who toiled in the grimy, stunted vineyards of Los Angeles Unified School District for 13 years, it looks like paradise.

Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School, founded in 1991 by retired businessman Irving Gelman, exemplifies, perhaps more than any other Jewish institution in Orange County, the blossoming of the Jewish community behind what Angelenos probably need to quit calling "the Orange Curtain." No longer a Jewish backwater, Orange County is home to Jews representing a range of national origin and religious observance almost as diverse as that of its neighbor to the north, and that diversity is well represented at Tarbut V'Torah.

In less than a decade, Tarbut (pronounced tar-BOOT; the school's name means "culture and Torah") has grown from 37 elementary-school kids in a warehouse on the Jewish Federation campus in Costa Mesa to more than 500 students in kindergarten through grade 11 in a breathtaking complex down the road from UC Irvine. This fall, the school will expand to grade 12, making TVT, as it's known within its community, only the second cross-denominational Jewish day school in California, after Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, to offer a full senior-high program.

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