Spiritual Renewal for Those Who Shape Our Children’s Spirits

by Cantor Ellen Dreskin

I had the honor and pleasure of serving as Scholar in Residence just this past Shabbat for the URJ Early Childhood Educators’ Kallah – what a treat, I hope for everyone involved.  We wrestled with God, studied Torah, tackled Talmud, sang, and worshipped – I think we were all surprised at the impact of our time together.

We began with Talmud study – no kidding!  Early Childhood Educators took to it with ease, sharing with each other how, if each one was a letter in Torah, what our individual crowns were, and how we understood the impact of our teaching on future generations.  From there we moved on to God and faith – what do we really believe, and how is what we worship “writing itself on our faces,” in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson.    We studied Torah together, recounting the building of the Mishkan, the value of generosity, and the significance of Shabbat.  We composed Mi Shebeirach prayers for each aliyah, we wrote kavanot for our worship, and we delved deeply into many portions of our tefilah.

I was amazed to hear that these educators, to whom we entrust our children at their earliest and quite possibly most impressionable ages, are rarely afforded the opportunity to study this way.  Some related to me that they are considered glorified babysitters or arts and crafts coordinators.  It occurred to me that I also do not think often enough about the incredible opportunities that Early Childhood Educators have to shape our children’s spirits, as well as their sense of wonder, gratitude and responsibility.  Being able to reflect on their own identity, beliefs, and ritual observance is crucial to the choices they make in our classrooms every day.

Our Early Childhood Educators are vital to the spiritual strength and identity of our synagogue communities.  Assisting and observing as this group of 75 dedicated Jewish professionals spent two and a half days immersed in serious Jewish learning, and nourishment of their own hearts and minds, was an enormous gift to me.  I am deeply grateful for this opportunity.


Cantor Ellen Dreskin has served as cantor and educator for congregations in Cleveland and New York, and has taught for many years on the faculty of URJ Summer Kallot, Hava Nashira, and the URJ Kutz Camp Leadership Academy. She is a graduate of HUC-JIR School of Sacred Music, has a Master’s Degree in Jewish Communal Service from Brandeis University, and is proud to have recently received her honorary Doctorate of Music from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion.

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One Response to “Spiritual Renewal for Those Who Shape Our Children’s Spirits”

  1. Larry Kaufman

    We have now heard from at least three participants in the ECE Kallah about the enrichment they and their colleagues received through their participation. I am pleased that this important cadre of educators are working together, with URJ support, for professional growth, for recognition of their niche, and for the furtherance of the Jewish future.

    But no one has discoursed on what the children who participate in ECE learn, and what the residual effects are — especially now that the organization has reached the bar/t mitzva age of responsibility. What do we see in kids and families where ECE has been part of their lives when we fast forward to the maturity of those kids?

    I’m always impressed when the high school graduates at my synagogue (Beth Emet in Evanston IL) include in their valedictory addresses that their connection to their Judaism and to the synagogue traces back to their days in our pre-school — and I’m also impressed when new temple board members trace their identification with the congregation to their days as pre-school parents.

    So clearly something good is happening at the ECE level — but it would be nice to know more about precisely what that is.

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