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May 13 2014

What Is It About Jewish Preschool?

By at 1:49 pm

preschool

A few weeks ago I met my two oldest friends for lunch. We’ve managed to maintain our friendship for 33 years–practically our entire lives–and through living in three different states. I’m aware that these kind of friendships are rare–as adults we are all so completely different, yet we share an unspoken connection. I can be myself around them and they have been there to offer support and guidance through many of life’s twists and turns. On the drive home from our gathering, with my kids in tow chattering away in the backseat, I thought about what’s made our friendship last when so many others have faded. It began in the classrooms of our Jewish preschool.

Jewish preschool. Exactly the place we ended up three years ago, when my oldest was 4. My husband and I thought he should spend a year in preschool before kindergarten, but the decision to make a change weighed heavily on us. At the time, I was hesitant to leave the loving arms of home day care for a more formal preschool. I had so many concerns and it was hard to imagine finding a place that would meet all of our family’s needs. “Who were these new people? Would we fit in? Would the teachers REALLY know my kids the way our sitter had?” Clearly, though, the preschool was prepared for a family with my level of worry and met my family and I with smiles at every open house and “get to know you” event.

We took the leap to enroll and almost immediately my fears were dismissed as we were welcomed into the community. Many families reached out to offer a warm welcome and to make a connection. I realized just much how this community would come to mean to me when that September my mother-in-law passed away. The preschool sent a Shabbat dinner to us and strangers, now friends, came to pay shiva calls. Remembering how those people reached out to us still touches me so deeply. The teachers took time to offer advice about how to help my kids understand the loss of their grandparent.

More changes came that spring as we moved into a new house. My son’s teacher shared ideas on how to help my sensitive boy transition to our new home. A few weeks later, the school seemed to anticipate my son’s trepidation at going to kindergarten and announced they would be holding a special breakfast for all the graduating children to help them talk about moving up to school with the big kids.

Our Jewish preschool has embraced every aspect of my children. When my youngest son went through a fancy girly sock phase the teachers “oohed and ahhed” over his feet no matter how funny he looked. When one was scared of a toilet that wouldn’t stop flushing, the facilities manager let my son help him fix it. On the first night of Hanukkah this year, my son was sick and missed the day at school so his teacher drove to our house to deliver his hand-made menorah and kissed his feverish head. Those acts of kindness are just the norm at Jewish preschool.

Seeing as how my kids have come to feel such a sense of belonging, I laugh now when I think back to that first day when I nervously called to check on my boys. The synagogue administrator answered the phone and I could hardly squeak out, “How are they?” I figured she’d turn me over to the director or just leave a message for the teachers. Instead she shared that my boys had just been playing up and down the hallway on their toys and were happy as could be. In such a short time my kids came to know every staff member in that temple by name.

Jewish preschool was, and is still, a special place. It’s so much more than just a preschool. It’s the place that my children planted their roots. They will always have the lessons they’ve learned there to look back on as they successfully navigate the future surrounded by the friends they’ve made.

As I write this, we are in our final weeks at the preschool. I get choked up just thinking about leaving. I had hoped for a place that would meet our children’s needs but never dreamed we’d find a place that has shaped our entire family’s life. We have made the best of friends and found a place to practice our faith. When I watch my kids play and pretend they are the Maccabees or hum a Jewish tune I know they have naturally developed a Jewish identity. They will always love being Jewish because of this positive beginning.

I don’t think there’s a way I can ever repay all the caring teachers and staff that have shared in the joy of raising our children. They will all be a part of my children forever. After all, it’s where my boys learned to wink and “not eat yellow snow.” They will always have Jewish preschool in their hearts, just as I have always kept it in mine. I am so thankful for the specialness that is Jewish preschool.

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