Nov 20 2014
Nearly two weeks ago, I received a phone call from my son’s kindergarten teacher that has stayed with me. My first thought upon seeing the school’s number on caller ID was “Uh-oh, who did what now?” Though I am generally a positive person and I have been blessed with children who, for the most part, seem to thrive in school, for some reason, a call from that number always makes me think the worst.
Even after the teacher reassured me that, “Everything is OK,” I still found myself holding my breath, anxious to hear what was coming next. I was pleasantly surprised when she said that she was calling because my son had done something in class that brought her, the other teachers, and the rabbi great nachas—the Hebrew word for pride. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 18 2014
The bumpy ride and cacophonous roar of the kids’ voices were giving me a headache. I was on a bus with 45 sixth graders, full of hormones and fart jokes, on our way to the Lower East Side in Manhattan. I’d volunteered as a chaperone for my twin sons’ class trip to visit New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. I was interested in the exhibits but I also wanted to be close by as my boys witnessed a memorial to the darkest time in modern Jewish history. I wasn’t sure how they, or the other kids, would react upon seeing such vivid images, and if they had the requisite maturity to process what they’d be witnessing.
The kids had been studying World War II in their social studies classes, so there was certainly preparation by the teachers in an age-appropriate manner. However, I knew there was a difference between learning about the Holocaust in an academic setting, and actually seeing the depth of the destruction that took place from relics and vivid documentary testimonial.
As we made our way through the narrow streets of the Financial District, a kid shouted, “Look, there it is!” I was surprised at their enthusiasm about spotting the museum until I realized that the kids had spotted the gleaming Freedom Tower, the new building under construction in the former location of the World Trade Center. We all craned our necks and took pictures of the magnificent building and I realized that the kids had historical context from their own lifetime with which to understand the Holocaust. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 13 2014
Since the day our 11-year-old was born, we’ve poured on the love, hugs, and Legos. But we slacked big time on his Jewish education.
Although I was raised Reform and my husband Conservative (the nephew of a rabbi, no less), we’re both essentially agnostic and take our cultural Jewish identity for granted. We really get Jon Stewart. You say sheket bevakashah, and we’ll both say “hey.” My husband can read Hebrew (never mind its meaning). I really like salty fish slathered in mayo. We feel Jewish. Unfortunately, that sense of identity was formed at the knees of Yiddish-speaking grandparents—it’s not something that can be passed on. And while our son has his own quad of adoring grandparents, they’ve long since abandoned their parents’ more traditional ways (my side leans towards atheism, my husband’s towards guilty apathy). And so our son’s sense of being Jewish is surface, at best. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 22 2014
I knew bat mitzvahs were a bad idea. I told my husband this in 2001, about 20 minutes after we returned from the hospital with our two new daughters and he said, “My parents want to know when the baby namings will be.”
I like to think of the baby naming as a “bris for girls,” a custom created by Reform Jews rather than God and therefore, in my mind, totally optional. So, over babies crying, I hollered as best I could—given the fresh incision across my abdomen—that there’d be no baby namings. Then, as I struggled to attach a newborn to each of my nipples, I added, “And there’ll be no bat mitzvahs either. So tell your parents not even to ask.”
But they did ask, and so did my husband, who typically asks for nothing. Read the rest of this entry →
My daughter started Hebrew School last week. She’s in kindergarten and will be learning the Jewish fundamentals—holidays, traditions, lifecycle events—all the good stuff. For me this is a huge deal—HUGE!—because I’m a Jewish educator. And now my daughter is old enough to finally be in Hebrew School, in a grade that I used to teach! It’s very surreal.
Just before the first day of school, we got an email from her teacher with that week’s essential question which would comprise the core of the curriculum. The teacher asked us to talk about the question with our children to help prepare them for the conversation in the classroom. The question was: What do I do that makes me Jewish?
It’s a perfect point to start a Jewish education. The idea of identifying what we already do that makes us Jewish is spot-on for introducing 5-year-olds to Jewish concepts and ideas. As an educator, I loved it. I was curious to see where my daughter would define her Judaism—would she talk about Shabbat time, our Friday night ritual? Or maybe how we go to Tot Shabbat regularly? Or even how Mommy runs programs for children at a synagogue, or how her preschool was part of our synagogue? Read the rest of this entry →
May 27 2014
We are a “dual-school family.” Our daughter is in 6th grade at the local Orthodox Jewish day school while our son is in 3rd grade at a public school.
We often get asked how this came about. I enjoy replying that when deciding which child should learn Torah, we picked our daughter as a corrective step for generations of reduced access to Torah by girls. But that’s really just a line. As with most things in life, there’s a longer story behind this–and as with much of parenting, our intentions only played a minor role.
When we were first considering kindergarten options for our daughter, we chose the day school. We had seen the way that graduates from the day school can navigate rabbinic literature, converse in Hebrew, think critically about moral issues, and behave generally as mensches. We decided that this upbringing–which I think is a more appropriate word in this context than education–was worth the high financial cost. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 26 2014
So, we’ve made a decision.
Our older daughter will be starting kindergarten at the Jewish Community Day School (JCDS) just outside Boston in the fall.
That’s right. We’re sending her to day school. And we’re psyched about it. Perhaps more importantly, she’s psyched about it.
As some of you know, my husband and I have struggled with this issue. On the one hand, we want our children to have a strong Jewish education. On the other hand, it’s a lot of money. Even with the amazing support that is available through the schools and the Federation, it’s still a lot of money. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 20 2014
As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Lisa Friedman, a Jewish Special educator and advocate for inclusion, shares her guiding principals for creating a learning environment that is accessible to all students.
In my role as an Education Director of a synagogue’s Hebrew school, I have the good fortune to be able to use my skills to develop programs that enable students of all abilities to learn and thrive in a religious school setting. As an advocate of inclusion, I help guide my community to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate and find meaning through all aspects of synagogue life. Yet, not all synagogues have a Jewish Special Educator. Not all synagogues have a professional who advocates for inclusion. What can parents of children with disabilities do to ensure that their children are fully included in Hebrew school?
First and foremost, open and supportive communication is essential for a successful Jewish Hebrew school experience for any child, but especially those with special learning needs. Be forthcoming about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Do not assume that the school will turn you away or will not be able to accommodate your child’s needs. Share your child’s IEP, successful strategies from home and other information that will make it easier for your child to be successful. I am not suggesting that this is a magic bullet. There may be bumps and disappointments along the way. But without the willingness to have the conversations, you will never know what is possible. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 6 2014
February is officially Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), and we’re happy to partner again with Matan to run a special series on Kveller to highlight the challenges, successes, and everything in between that comes with raising a child with special needs.
Through advocacy, education, and training opportunities, Matan empowers the Jewish community to include children with special needs.
Finding a school that is a good match for a child with special needs can be a monumental task, so this year, we’ll devote this series to all things education. Let’s talk Hebrew school, day school, early childhood programs, inclusion programs, mainstreaming, and special education. Every Thursday in February, we’ll feature a different voice from the special needs community, so be sure to check back in each week.
We’ll kick things off later today with an account by Benay Josselson, who–despite earlier predictions–successfully mainstreamed her son into a Jewish day school environment, so keep your eyes peeled and stick with us all month.
Jan 21 2014
I had always envisioned my children growing up feeling the sense of “Jewishness” that was so special to me in my own childhood, so we started our son at a Jewish preschool at the age of 2.
But it quickly became clear that he simply couldn’t function in a classroom and was getting nothing out of school. Our journey, which eventually led to an autism spectrum diagnosis, brought with it a roller coaster of emotions and never-ending to-do lists, and dealing with all of that required me to push aside my disappointment about giving up his Jewish preschool. It had become obvious that we had to send him to a special education program to provide the hours of intensive therapy he needed. So without so much as a glance back we forged ahead on this path, and amazingly after two years he had progressed so far that he was almost unrecognizable from the 2-year-old he was before it all started.
We found ourselves at the beginning of this current school year, his last year of preschool, with some decisions to make. The special education preschool program in our new school district, as remarkable as it is, did not provide enough hours of school for him with only four short afternoons a week. We knew we should consider a mainstream preschool as a supplement to his special needs program. He would benefit socially from being around “typical” peers, but we couldn’t help but wonder if he was really ready for it. Read the rest of this entry →