What I Learned at Nursery School
by Marc Newman
Before I began working with the URJ’s Early Childhood Education specialists, I had spent most of my volunteer time working with URJ Camps and other youth programs. My “ah-ha” moment occurred when our two-year-old grandson stopped us to say the Motzi before eating.
It took a while to make the connection, but after visiting his early childhood center (for the most part, we no longer call them nursery schools or preschools), I understood where he had learned the prayer. There was as much Jewish content in his classroom of two- and three-year-olds as I have seen in our URJ Camps, and like our camps, it was intentional: all Jewish, all the time.
When I was asked to chair the URJ’s Early Childhood Education Committee, I needed to understand what the connection was between our synagogues and their early childhood centers (ECCs). Here are the facts, from our 2007-08 MUM data:
- 200 congregational ECCs had a combined income of $113,500,000;
- Expenses amounted to $106,500,000; and
- 650 congregations expended $96,500,000 on religious schools while reporting $72,000,000 in tuition income.
While religious schools showed $24,500,000 in expenses over income, the 200 congregations with ECCs showed a $7,000,000 surplus, providing them with many possibilities.
But the most important thing I have learned is that our early childhood and early engagement programs are at the heart and soul of every congregation. The Jewish souls of our youngest members are awakened in ECCs and early engagement programs, nourished in our religious schools and fed large helpings of Jewish ”soul food” in our camps and NFTY programs.
The future of our Movement will depend on drawing young families and their children through the doors of our synagogues and into warm and welcoming congregational communities. To do this, we will need to create meaningful, engaging programs. We’ll have to learn to nurture each family in a holistic way, creating individual paths to lifelong Jewish learning and commitment. We can begin in early childhood centers and with an array of early engagement programs that provide meaningful experiences and show young families our engaging congregational communities.
Help me ensure the future of our Movement by contributing to the newly created Fund for Engagement of Jewish Families of Young Children. At my request, the URJ helped create this fund in memory of my mother, Judy Newman. My mom was a teacher and librarian who believed that every child should love to read. She left her classroom for the library, where she could read books to young children and encourage the older ones to read. Our Movement’s early childhood centers are doing great work, and this fund will help provide additional resources, as well as raise awareness about engaging young families in our congregational communities.
Marc Newman is a member of Temple Tikvah in New Hyde Park, NY.