Setting Our Kids on a Path in the Jewish Community

Inside Leadership

Setting Our Kids on a Path in the Jewish Community

Preschool class, Oak Park Temple-B'nai Abraham Zion

I recently came across two photographs. The first showed our younger son’s preschool graduation photo from Glasser Preschool at Oak Park Temple– B’nai Abraham Zion in Oak Park, IL. The other was a photo from his Kabbalat Torah, or tenth grade confirmation ceremony.

Although the kids’ appearance had certainly changed dramatically in the years between these events as they grew from cute preschoolers to goofy adolescents, what stood out to me was that most of the kids in that first photo were also in the second one. Most of those families still live in our community, and many of the parents of those kids remain close friends.

I realize this is unusual. Not all families choose to join a synagogue and send their kids to Jewish preschool when they start a family. Why did we choose this path when there were so many other choices available?

Our older son attended a nearby nondenominational preschool/childcare that was highly regarded, provided a rich learning environment, and encouraged play and basic skills. It was a good experience. What we missed, however, was the sense of community we found at our synagogue. As a result, when it came time to send our younger son to preschool, we didn’t spend time looking around; we made a choice to sign him up at Oak Park Temple, which met our Jewish communal needs, but complicated our childcare situation because it was a half-day program, and I worked full-time. However, with creative transportation solutions and some tearful transitions, we made it work. Both of our sons stayed in religious school until tenth grade (though often not happily, as is probably standard for children!).

With that, our connection to the Temple community grew even stronger.

A few weeks ago, I invited the parents of the kids in both photos (now 23 years old and out of college!) to our home to talk about the choices we made. All of us chose to raise our kids in Oak Park because of its diversity, liberal politics, unique urban/suburban blend, and proximity to Chicago.

We all agreed on the reasons we’d chosen to send our kids to the temple preschool – and that it was worth it. We agreed, too, that as kids get older, life gets fuller and more complicated, but our insistence that they continue for another 10 years – despite the push-back many of us experienced – was worth it as well.

There is no secret sauce to bringing up children in an unsteady world. We simply do what we can to give them a base and set them on a path. For us, that base was a Jewish education that began in preschool at Oak Park Temple and continued through Kabbalat Torah.

We may live in a unique community, but, as I reflect on this decision we made decades ago, I don’t think that what we did was unique. We sent our kids to Jewish preschool, insisted they stay in religious school until they were tenth graders, and raised them in a Jewish home with Jewish values and traditions. As it turns out, many of our friends in the Oak Park Temple community did the same.

Raising kids can be tough, and it helped to be surrounded by friends we’ve known since our kids were in preschool together.

We have chosen to give our children the foundation that we think is important. We have tried to model this by living what we believe. The rest is up to them.

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Susan Stirling, her husband, Jerry, and their two sons have been members of Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion in Oak Park, IL, for more than 20 years. She is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Design at University of Illinois at Chicago.

Susan Stirling

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