Moments before I strapped two cranky toddlers into their car seats at 4:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon and drove towards our nursery school Purim carnival the first week of March this year, I wondered if I was crazy. We would definitely end up putting them to bed late, missing bathtime and eating nothing but hamentashen cookies for dinner. As soon as we arrived though, and I watched as my older son ran towards his preschool class friends dressed in their costumes jumping in the moonbounce, all doubt was erased. Instead of worrying about how bedtime would go I couldn’t help but watch him in that classic mom way, simultaneously enjoying the moment and being emotionally nostalgic as I watched it pass.
I had no idea just how nostalgic I would be about that evening as that week would be my three-year-old’s last one going into his classroom for the remainder of the school year. As the news deteriorated my trepidation about taking care of a one-year-old and three-year-old all day for weeks (now months) on end with no school turned into grief for all we were losing.
Any child in preschool who suddenly had their last day due to the spread of Coronavirus knows the ache and longing for the teachers and friends they were unceremoniously separated from. As parents, we miss that social-emotional connection just as much as those early educational learning blocks of colors, numbers, letters and shapes. But as a Jewish mom, with children in a Jewish preschool, that loss feels twice as painful to me.
Like many families in our situation, Jewish preschool will likely be the only formal Jewish day school education my children will have.
Like many families in our situation, Jewish preschool will likely be the only formal Jewish day school education my children will have. Jewish day schools are unfortunately cost prohibitive and a luxury many families can’t justify. So this is it, these three precious years in preschool were going to be the heart and the start of it for our little boys.
Now I’m just recklessly optimistic that we will return to the classroom in some way in September, but I’m not naive enough to believe that they won’t likely need to close again at some point this Winter, and even if they don’t what will become of things like Purim carnivals, Hanukkah parties, and Passover model seders? These hallmarks of Jewish preschool often create those powerful first memories of positive and important Jewish milestones in our lives.
Hallmarks of Jewish preschool often create those powerful first memories of positive and important Jewish milestones in our lives.
I know it’s my responsibility to make my home the center of Jewish life but I don’t think we can dismiss how fundamental those early childhood years are in Jewish education or be Pollyanna enough to think experiences over Zoom are comparable to in-person ones when you’re three (though our teachers and rabbis have done an amazing job trying to bridge the gap!)
I don’t have a positive spin to end these thoughts on, I usually try to think of one but I can’t today. I just want to give voice to the parents of the littlest learners and remind us not to give up on figuring out a way to safely return to the magic of those nursery school classrooms.
Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her Youtube channel and Instagram @MyJewishMommyLife page where she shares her experience living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life. She is also a professional social media consultant and web and television writer for Discovery Channel, NOAA and NatGeo and has an MBA from Georgetown University.