At this moment in history–which is filled with so much Jew hatred–it seems especially important not only to continue the survival of the Jewish people by procreating (check!) but by ensuring that my children learn Jewish custom and tradition, and pride in their Jewish heritage. While I am, in truth, inspired by those who hate us to embrace our heritage even more, this is not solely a call for resistance to hatred. Rather, it is an understanding that by having my daughters learn our customs, songs, stories, and history, it will give them joy, light, and purpose–which they will share with the world, and which, in turn, will remind and re-educate me on these things.
So, I am happy to report that both of my girls had the good fortune of attending a wonderful Jewish preschool (I once even penned a post in these pages on my dreams of shrinking and going to preschool with my older daughter). My nearly 5-year-old attended the school for two years and my 2-year-old attends the school currently. It has been an absolute delight to witness their growth as people–emotionally, cognitively, and in their souls. Not only have I witnessed them becoming little mensches, but also they have led our family to a deeper appreciation and love of Judaism.
It is because of their interest that I have been called on to remember biblical tales and discuss with them the meaning of things. Because of them, I have celebrated more Shabbat dinners and made more efforts to go over the prayers with them. And, because of them I have experienced more pleasure celebrating the holidays than I can remember for a long time.
I’ve also found that often it is the small things I see from my daughters and their morahs (teachers) that reveal the essence and joys of Judaism. Like when my older daughter once suddenly began singing about tzedakah (charity) while in the bath, or when she told me as I almost stepped on a flower that Hashem (God) “would be sad if I hurt a living thing,” or when my younger daughter sings with pure joy about the Torah, shabbat, the Aleph Bet, or about “sticky icky icky Challah Dough,” or when their morahs have called my daughters to wish them refuah shlema (fully recovery) when they are sick.
Having said that, this year my older daughter has had an equally wonderful and important experience attending pre-kindergarten at a school that focuses on children with hearing loss. While she does not have hearing loss herself, her class is an integrated one: comprised of children with and without hearing loss. In this environment, she has become an expert on different types of hearing aids, and has learned to see each of her classmates as a whole person with no stigma associated with those with hearing loss. She also understands that people are born different from each other and has a respectful, “no big deal” attitude about those who appear different or have different abilities.
In addition, unlike the makeup of her Jewish preschool, my daughter’s pre-kindergarten class is incredibly diverse and includes children of many religions, races, and ethnicities. During a multicultural study, my daughter’s class learned about a number of countries and cultures, including Ghana, Japan, Israel, Thailand, Poland, Italy, Pakistan, the UK, Ireland, France, and China. Many of these countries were selected based on her classmate’s families, and class parents introduced the children to their various cultures by reading stories and sharing food from their countries of origin. In one lesson, the class learned about Shabbat, lit candles, drank grape juice, and ate challah bread.
During the winter holidays, the class also learned about both Christmas and Hanukkah, and I joined the class to read some Hanukkah stories. As with her acceptance of people with disabilities, my older daughter respected that some people have Christmas trees and some have menorahs, and that some may even have both.
While I am concerned that my older daughter is missing out because she is no longer getting an intensive Jewish education and will be attending public school in the future, I am also certain that she has been enriched by exposure to these many different cultures and has learned respect for all people–including those with disabilities.
In turn, I think it is valuable that these other children learn about Jewish culture and Jews, and see us as just another variant of humanity. Indeed, as my older daughter tells me, “We all have hearts and dreams.” I still wish my daughter could have the best of both of these school worlds, but, in the end, I recognize that instilling an understanding of our common humanity, no matter where we are from, what we look like, or what our abilities are, is perhaps the most important–and Jewish–lesson of all.