Total disclosure. I chose Alice’s preschool because they have a pool and teach the kids how to swim. It happens to be a wonderful school, with lovely staff and facilities, but it was the pool that sold me.
The fact that it is a JCC (Jewish Community Center) and the curriculum is rooted in Jewish teachings was a complete afterthought. I even told the school director in an offhanded way, “I was really surprised about how Jewish the curriculum is.” He then called the local mental institution and told them a patient with a frontal lobotomy had escaped, because what did I think they were going to teach at the JCC?
First sign that Alice was getting brainwashed, erm, I mean, learning about Jewish culture, was when she covered her eyes when we lit the birthday candles on my mom’s cake. That was the first clue that Peter and I were about to enter back into a world of Judaism that we had left when we were 13, freshly bar and bat mitzvahed, and completely over going to Hebrew school and synagogue.
Since then, we have been re-indoctrinated into a world of Zionism led by our 4-year-old. Every season we are inundated with songs, crafts, and stories reflective of our Jewish heritage. Alice regales us with tales of Queen Esther, Jonah, and the bravery and heroism of the Jewish people. In her world, Israel is a place where puppies are abundant, fairies fart sparkles, and everyone recycles. Alice’s version of Judaism is fun, free, and joyful.
Makes me wonder where it all goes wrong. I went to the same JCC as a child and probably had as much enthusiasm for my heritage as Alice does. Then I moved onto Hebrew school and was subjected to Jewish torture three days a week. I was forced to sit in the poorly lit basement of my synagogue, starving because I hadn’t eaten since lunch, and taught how to read Hebrew for the sole purpose of standing in front of my peers and family years later at my bat mitzvah in order to recite a memorized portion of the Torah. Judaism became a singular mission; to get through my bat mitzvah and to never have to reengage again. Until Alice went to Jewish school, that is where my Judaism had remained.
What I realize now is that Judaism is a code of ethics and system of values. It is a religion that is designed to be challenged and questioned, and in many ways is stronger as a result of the philosophical pursuits of its members. My Judaism has an absence of God, and funny enough, so does Alice’s. Her version of God mostly exists in the story of Hanukkah and she describes him in the way that I would describe Superman. Peter’s Judaism is strongly connected to God and understanding existence as directly tied to a higher being. We are all Jews, live in the same house, share the same values (more or less), and have this flexible understanding of Judaism. That is challenging as a concept and also pretty cool.
I still struggle with my cynicism and feeling conflicted about being Jewish. I see injustice in Israel and question the ethics by which Israeli leaders make decisions regarding issues of civil rights in their country. I see this hypocrisy, and wonder if Alice is being groomed to question these issues of morality. That is truly all I can say regarding Middle Eastern politics. I am mostly clueless about those politics, and have no business discussing at this moment in time. I realize though that it is my job to begin to understand them so that her Judaism is not only viewed through rose colored lenses. A view of the world where Jews are always the heroes, and anyone who falls into the “other” category is there to be defeated.
So this is all to say that when you are choosing your child’s preschool you may want to consider the following:
1. Do I have room in my basement for all of the craft projects she will bring home?
2. Do they have a pool?
3. Will the school’s curriculum make me completely re-think everything I thought about who I am and where I come from?
If you answer “yes” to these questions, chances are you are choosing the right school.