Later this week, both of my children will begin a new school year at a local Jewish Day School.
At the moment, we are in the whirlwind of the preschool year excitement–picking out new backpacks and shoes, finding out class assignments, and registering for after-school clubs. These are all activities that I recall with fondness from my childhood (who else remembers how exciting it was to get that new Cabbage Patch Kids plastic lunchbox and matching thermos–do they even make those anymore?).
Yet there is also another level of activity taking place that is completely foreign from how I used to prepare for a new year of public school when I was a child. This involves a stop at the Judaica store to pick out new kippot, a trip to the bank to get pennies for tzedakah, and a nightly review of the aleph bet. It gives me great joy to cross each of these off of our list. Not only because it means there is one less thing to do, but because it reminds me of why we decided to send my children to Jewish Day School in the first place. Because we want them to be in a place where wearing a kippa, giving tzedakah, and learning Hebrew is engrained in their daily lives; where their Jewish identities can be nurtured; and where developing midot tovot (positive character traits) is as important as learning to read.
Yet, as much as I am confident that Jewish Day School education is the right choice for our family, I also must admit that there is a certain sense of unease that comes along with being unable to relate to my children’s day-to-day life in school. My anxiety has subsided from where it was two years ago at this time, when we were new to the school. Then, I worried that we were not “religious enough,” that I would miss something important because I was unfamiliar with day school culture, or that I would make some sort of gaffe in a parent-teacher conference that would clearly signal my ignorance. I quickly came to realize that these fears were completely unfounded and that the scarlet P for “Public School Kid” that I thought I sported outwardly existed only in my head.
Now my unease tends to feel more like that of a tourist navigating a foreign city. This year–with my oldest entering first grade–will bring new, previously unchartered territory: What is this siddur party of which people are speaking? How will my son handle a long day split between Jewish and secular studies? What will happen when he brings home Hebrew homework with instructions that are beyond my very basic grasp of the language? I know that the answers to these will all come in time, and that with them, will come not only my children’s growth as Jews, but mine and my husband’s as well.
So for now, on the eve of a new academic and Jewish year, I will allay my anxiety of the unknown and instead celebrate the potential that comes with new beginnings–reveling with my children in their excitement over their new Mario schoolbags and in their rolls of shiny new pennies for tzedakah.