As camp ends and the new school year approaches, I find myself going over what I remember from last year, with regards to the Jewish faith. My eldest daughter is 4 and has been attending a Jewish preschool for the last two years. Being a non-practicing Catholic, I have taken the “learn as I go” approach.
There are good Catholic and non-denominational schools available to me in my area, but I chose a Jewish preschool. My husband is a consultant and travels most of the work week. Since he is not always home I felt it was imperative for Delanie to learn her father’s faith from a place that could teach her in a way I could not.
The usual school preparation list populates my head: no meat with dairy for lunch, remember her “mitzvah notes” each week (which I admit at times I make up because there is only so many times you can write that she helped with housework or shared with her younger sister), and whatever I do, I must remember to not send her to school in her holiday (Christmas, Halloween, etc.) printed tee shirts from Old Navy. I learned that lesson the hard way last year when my daughter’s teacher told me that the school would not allow the Halloween cookies I made because it is not a recognized Jewish holiday.
The first year was particularly hard for me. Navigating the ins and outs of a new school is hard enough, not always knowing the correct or appropriate steps to take. I found being open and honest with the teachers and even other parents helped me immensely my first year. There were times I was embarrassed (i.e. the Halloween incident), but my biggest concern was making sure my daughter never felt as if she did not fit in. Honestly, though, I learned that this fear had no basis in reality. The kids did not care if my daughter was half Jewish or not Jewish at all. They were just kids who loved to play. I still to this day ask questions if I am not sure. I always try and be respectful, which I think when you’re new to anything, goes a long way with other people.
Another major learning event for me was when my daughter had her first Shabbat Day in her class. The kids are the Shabbat prince or princess for the day. It is a very special time and normally coincides with the child’s birthday. There is a lovely service and we get to visit the kids and take part in their daily routine. The first year I felt a little left out as the parents normally say the prayers with the child before eating. Last year I made it a point to learn the prayers and a few common Hebrew words so I could be more present and involved.
Needless to say I have expanded my knowledge with regards to Judaism since sending my daughter to a Jewish preschool. I learned how to make the Jewish holidays more kid friendly and fun and even found a website for Jewish holiday printed tee shirts. We love celebrating Passover and playing hide the matzah, with a prize at the end for the sole participant (my daughter). However last year my mother-in-law corrected me on the typical “hide the matzah” prize of $1.00 versus the Barbie that I purchased.
So like most things, I am learning along the way, which to me is the exciting part. My daughter is learning right along with me. Just as she likes to learn in a fun environment, so do I. Seeing her excited for the upcoming holidays and school year makes me more excited. This year I want to learn about some of the other holidays that the children celebrate. I want to play a bigger part in not only the celebration of the holidays but also what the holidays mean to us in our current lives. I have noticed that the school does a great job teaching the children about the holidays, but it is imperative that as a family we share this special time and practice what it is they learned at school. With any religion, especially the Jewish religion, you need to make it a part of your life, not something that is just preached at school. After celebrating many of the holidays with other Jewish families I realize that they have a sense of obligation to carry on their culture and not lose the tradition that they have fought so hard to keep alive.
Looking forward to the upcoming year ahead, I know that I have a lot more to learn and I will make mistakes along the way. The point is that I care, I want to learn, and I am sharing that experience with my daughter. I know that my husband supports me and my faith and I want to do the same for him and for our families. With a little love, some laughs, and a few “oy veys” thrown in for good measure, this school year will be a success.