When I began looking into preschools for each of my three children, I wasn’t adamant that they needed to attend a program in a synagogue or Jewish community center. In fact, I looked at many other programs including one close to our home that was very popular for children from all religious backgrounds. What I was really looking for was a program I felt comfortable with based on their philosophy with a convenient location.
Ultimately all three children attended a Jewish learning-based preschool program. Both of my older daughters attended preschool at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston and my son went to Temple Sharey-Tefilo Israel and then to JCC MetroWest in West Orange.
I loved the experiences all my children had in their preschool programs. They learned basic concepts, gained independence, and made many new friends. In addition, they also developed a strong foundation and love of Judaism.
I am not sure I realized at the time what a strong impact the religious aspect of the preschool curriculum would have on my children and on our whole family. Once the kids went to elementary school, we did continue to have Judaism in our lives (celebrating holidays, joining a temple, etc.) but it has never been quite as easy as it was when the kids were little.
These are the five reasons why I really miss having my children at Jewish preschool.
1. The Shabbat Feeling
At all three preschools, Friday was a day of celebration as the whole school welcomed in Shabbat each week. Shabbats were filled with songs, snacks, special projects, and candle lighting. Best of all, every child got their own Shabbat where they were the special person and they could invite their families. My husband, parents, and mother-in-law all took off from work to attend these special celebrations. I specifically remember sharing that“Shabbat Feeling”(my daughter’s favorite of all the songs) when she was 4 years old. She spent several hours that week debating whether she would have that “feeling” in her toes or her hands when her teacher, Fani Weissman, called on her. While I can’t remember which my daughter ultimately chose, I can vividly recall her smiling face and the smiling family that surrounded her that day.
2. Every Jewish Holiday is Special
Yes, we go to temple every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We attend seders on Passover and refrain from eating bread all week. But we are not as diligent when it comes to celebrating other Jewish holidays such as Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and Tu Bishvat. When my children went to Jewish preschool, every Jewish holiday was given its due. They were excited to eat the sukkah, dance with the Torah, and plant trees. They reminded us of the specialness of these days and led the way to us attending these fun events at their schools. When they were little, Purim costumes were as big a discussion in our home as what to dress for on Halloween. Now sometimes I have no idea it’s Purim until I pass the hamantaschen in the bakery aisle at the market.
3. The Absorption of Knowledge
Little kids are sponges when it comes to absorbing new information. I could not believe how much knowledge they picked up each day in preschool, especially about Jewish culture and traditions. Just by attending preschool my 3, 4, and 5-year-olds learned so much without realizing they were being taught. They came home and immediately wanted to share what they had learned with the whole family. As they got older, the things they learned in secular school became the topics of dinner conversation. They began forgetting much of the Jewish knowledge they once had because they were no longer exposed to it on a daily basis.
4. No Religious School arguments
When my daughters left their preschool programs and began elementary school, they also started attending religious school. When it was just on Sundays there wasn’t much resistance. Once it became twice a week and afterschool, there was pushback. In Jewish preschool my children enjoyed the holidays, rituals, and Hebrew learning. After a full day of school they were less interested, more mentally exhausted, and sometimes frustrated at having to miss other activities such as sports practices because they “had to” go to religious school. In preschool, Judaism was fun and they couldn’t wait to go each day. But religious school feels more like a chore and the ride to temple is filled with whining instead of excited anticipation.
5. The Friday Challah
Most Fridays I do not think about stopping at the bakery for a challah. However, when my children went to preschool, I did sign up for the weekly challah that went home with my child each week. Oh how I devoured that sweet doughy delight on the ride home! I would try to resist and will myself to leave the loaf intact so it could be used for Saturday morning French toast. But it would beckon me from the backpack and at every stop light my resolve would weaken until suddenly I was reaching across the car seat in a carbohydrate frenzy. “I’ll just take a little piece off the end,” I would rationalize to myself. One taste led to another and pretty soon I was ripping that bread apart like a starving animal. Then the darn kids would start begging for me to give them some challah (didn’t they just have a few slices at school?). Needless to say, there were very few Saturday mornings that I wound up making French toast.
My waistline may be better off without Jewish preschool, but I miss it.