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Back to (Not Very Jewish) School

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School just started here. With my boys starting first and fourth grade, I’m reminded of when I moved to this small town in 1986, when I was 7 years old. We moved from East Brunswick, New Jersey to Lake Mary, Florida.

Lake Mary is a charming, beautiful suburb of Orlando. It was recently named one of the top 10 places to live for families in Family Circle Magazine. I have no complaints about my parents’ decision to move here. But we might have been among the first Jews to move in. My Jewish family up North was so certain that we were being moved to the actual “Bible Belt” that they mistakenly referred to it as “Saint Mary.”

Although my parents aren’t very observant, they were acutely aware that it would be a bit of a culture shock to move from a state where Jews were everywhere to a place where we had to travel 30 minutes to find a theater that played the latest Woody Allen movie. Looking back, I think they handled it really well.

In third grade, at holiday time, my teacher led an arts and crafts activity where the class made Christmas ornaments. She figured that I wouldn’t know what to do (or have anywhere to put it) so she found the one Jewish teacher in the school and sent me to that classroom during the project. When I came home and told my mom, she was pretty irritated. She had me make a dreidel-shaped ornament and bring it in to show the class the next day.

When my brother’s kindergarten class sent home a sign-up sheet for decorations for the Christmas party at school, my mom sent in our electric menorah.

One day I came home from school crying because everyone in the class had been invited to a birthday party except for me. My mom called the mom of the birthday girl. Birthday Mom nicely explained that since my family was Jewish, and she was sure we didn’t celebrate birthdays, she didn’t send an invitation for me. My mom explained that it was Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Jews, who don’t observe birthdays. The next day I got my invitation.

I’m thrilled to say that Lake Mary has come a long way. The Jewish population has increased. We know some Jewish families. The boys went to the nearby JCC for preschool and go every summer to camp, where they’ve met Jewish friends. There is an annual menorah lighting at City Hall. Our grocery stores have kosher meat, and our Target even has a Hanukkah aisle!

Last year at holiday time, my oldest son came home (from public school) with a note to send 18 little trinkets home for his third grade friends to put in their Christmas stockings at their school “holiday” party. What did I do? I sent in 18 bags of Hanukkah gelt. The other son had a holiday party in his kindergarten class. I taught the kids how to play dreidel.

I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I can’t wait to see what this year throws at us.


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