Friday, April 8, 2011

Universal Pre-K and Atlanta's Jewish Early Childhood Programs

As the URJ and ECE-RJ continue their talks and work about universal Pre-K, we here in GA are doing the same. GA’s Pre-K is funded through lottery dollars and classes of 20 children are funded at sites that are approved. Parents must enroll their child in one of these specific GA Pre-K classes. Programs that have a faith component may not apply for Pre-K funding/classes. The directors in Atlanta’s Jewish preschools are working towards resolution to be able to receive Pre-K funding since faith based primary and secondary schools are able to receive state tax dollars that families have re-allocated.

Read more about Georgia's Pre-K and their impact on the Atlanta's synagogues and early childhood programs at:

Edye Summerfield, Director
The Temple Early Learning Center and Camp Minimac
Atlanta Georgia

Sunday, March 27, 2011

To Facebook or Not to Facebook?

We use Facebook and love it!  I find that it is an easy way to share the values of the school.  I rarely use it to advertise events, and try to focus more on giving families gifts- items that they will find useful at that moment.  I think of it as a way to reach out to them.  So every day for the past two weeks I've done a Purim countdown, sharing a recipe, costume idea, book recommendation, or anything else they might be able to use at home.  I might take a 20 second video of the music teacher teaching a new song, or the rabbi leading the Shabbat blessings, or a photo of an inspiring set up in a classroom. 

My experience is that Facebook really allows you to get into the home and reach people in an accessible, easy way.  A parent told me that after reading some of the articles I posted she renewed her interest in education and has decided to go back to school to become a teacher.  It's that powerful.  In my opinion, Facebook inspires more face to face conversation.  For example, parents come in already knowing about the song their child sang in music class that morning and mention to the teacher that it was their favorite song as a child, or ask for a copy to use at home.  I think it depends on your community and how you use it, but I would expect it to deepen connections, not minimize them.

We have an open group, so I don't post photos of children's faces.  I find it to be a creative challenge to take photos that avoid faces.  It is amazing how much action you can capture in hands, feet, backs, and materials. 

If you decide to use Facebook,  I think it would be a shame to disable the comments (and I don't think you even can).  The goal of doing this by Facebook and not by email is to encourage the building of community through the comments.  That's the fun of it.  The comments are what makes Facebook a unique way to communicate and what helps bring people together to make connections with each other.  You start the conversation with a post, which you hope will draw people in and keep them coming back.  One of the markers of a good post is that it gets comments (both on Facebook and face to face at pick up.)  Facebook will even measure the percentage of people that comment so you can track their engagement.

There is a particular technique to a good Facebook page, and my recommendation is to start by noticing the things going on around the school that you want others to notice as well, and highlighting them.  Today a class visited a nursing home to deliver shalach manot and I snapped a photo and noted that they were doing a Purim mitzvah.  It really helps families notice all the work we do to foster their children's learning.

If you want to check out our page, you can see it here.

D'Var Torah: Shemini

This week’s Torah portion is Shemini. Many important teachings happen in this portion, but the one that stands out for me are the laws of Kashrut. A detailed description of the laws of ritual defilement regarding animal carcasses is given. An instruction of how we should eat and a list of forbidden foods are recorded. God set out a specific way and a path for the Jewish people by commanding a dietary regimen that an entire culture would follow. Following these dietary laws would solidify the survival of the Jewish people. Kashrut kept Jews separate and the regimen was intense. It took a person a lot of discipline to follow. An entire community of people was needed to follow this commandment. Jews would have to band together and help each other to be successful at it. Keeping Kosher is a commandment from God. Kashrut teaches us respect for life. Kashrut teaches us that we can’t always have everything we want. Keeping Kosher has helped keep Jews as a unique people and is a tradition observed by our recent ancestors. It links us to them.

Keeping and holding to rules impacts our lives each day as Directors of early childhood programs. After reading the explicit description of Kashrut, it made me think about the boundaries and rules we set forth for the children, parents and teachers in our schools. It made me reflect about what kind of community we should create for our young Jewish people. Rules are important and help us keep our values and mission in line. Questions to think about are: What do we think are the most important rules in our schools? What rules are we not willing to bend? What rules are there to protect the children in our programs and the teachers who work for us? What traditions and customs in our schools makes us Jewish? Having a clear set of rules is extremely important and how we communicate them even more important. Our rules, and there can be many of them, can seem overwhelming to some….but extremely important to running an effective and professional Jewish early childhood program. We should be mindful of these rules when we interact with parents. From the parents who we have the easiest and loving interactions with and the parents who we have difficult interactions with. As long as we are clear, consistent and communicate effectively and lovingly, our programs will grow strong – just as the laws of Kahsrut made our early Jewish people.

Dale Laing
Zipporah S. Abramson Center For Early Childhood Education at Congregation Beth Or
ECE-RJ, Ritual Chair

Monday, January 24, 2011

Member Perspectives: Cathy Rolland on the 2011 Conference

I am honored to have spent three days with ECE-RJ colleagues from all over the country as we explored "Ani V'atah" together in sunny Phoenix, Arizona! Mazel Tov to those of you who had the good fortune of being with us, as our amazing keynote speaker, Mark Horowitz began to "Blaze New Trails" with us! URJ Chairman, Peter Weidhorn delivered a dynamic speech emphasizing the importance of early childhood education. You can click this link to read his remarks. Whether or not you attended the conference, please consider sharing this link with lay and professional leaders, as well as members, in your congregations.

Hope to see you all in Boulder, Colorado next March!
Cathy Rolland

Cathy M. Rolland
Early Childhood Specialist
Union for Reform Judaism

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Follow Us On Facebook!

ECE-RJ is now on Facebook. "Like" our page to see what the organization is working on, our photos, news, and event updates!

Simply click this link to go directly to our page:
Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism Facebook Page

Thursday, January 20, 2011

D'var Torah: B'shalakh (from 11th Annual Conference)

This week’s parsha, B’shalakh, is a parsha of miracles: we learn about the parting of the Red Sea and the description of the chase is truly dramatic. We see the miracle of the provision of food in the barren desert and the transforming of bitter water into drinkable water. We follow how Moses takes instruction from God in order to conjure water from a rock. We read how Aaron and Hur accompany Moses up the mountain and with upraised arms, defeats the enemy Amalek.

This Shabbat is Shabbat shira, named for the triumphant poem sung by the Israelites after the final defeat of Pharoah. Here, the children of Israel feel the release from physical enslavement – here they revel in their awesome rescue and the miserable demise of their enemies.

This marks the beginning of their wanderings and their transformative journey from Hebrew slave to Hebrew nation. The children of Israel have entered into the wilderness already with their historical narrative – they have a collective history and even carry part of their history with them – the bones of Joseph. This is the generation that experiences redemption directly but now they must unite together to form a nation. In this parsha, the scene is set and God begins his work in creating the Jewish people.

So what does it take to create a nation apart from physical redemption? Let us consider the importance of spiritual, psychological and emotional redemption. How might we choose, now that we can make choices, to worship our God, to behave towards one another, and to express our feelings? As we progress through the readings in the Torah, the blueprint for Jewish nationhood unfolds.

Bonnie Rubinstein, in last year’s dvar Torah from ve-yakel & pekudei discussed the creation of the mishkan – the tabernacle – and in effect, the creation of sacred spaces. She talked about how we as educators create the sacred space of our classroom. From the four walls, we design an environment for children to find wonder and to form a community.

In B’shalakh which precedes pekudei, we can find the notion of sacred time. The children of Israel are instructed to gather a double portion of mannah on the sixth day and on the seventh day they will not be able to gather it. ‘Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath of the Lord; you will not find it today on the plain. Six days you shall gather it; on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none’ And a few lines later Moses reiterates ‘ Mark that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you two days’ food on the sixth day. Let everyone remain where he is: let no one leave his place on the seventh day.’ EX:16.29

Rashi explains that this prohibition to leave one’s place, is in reality, a prohibition of going out to the field to try and collect mannah.
Why is this description of collecting the mannah so important? Why is it repeated? Here we have the foundations of Jewish time. For six days God worked and created, and on the seventh day, He rested. Here we acknowledge the wonders of God’s creation and we reconnect historically and spiritually. The concept of kodesh and hol (the secular and the holy) in temporal terms is the foundation to the rhythms of Jewish life and the cornerstone to structure, routine and continuity.

As early childhood educators, we know how crucial routine and rhythm are to the security and well-being of young children. We observe the boys and girls to ascertain what activities are appropriate at different times of day and we honor their needs. Creating a Jewish classroom, however, is also about creating a Jewish sense of time. Imagine your classroom without your kabbalat Shabbat routine! If you do daily brachot, or tefilot, and then took that routine away, what would make your classroom Jewish? We are not a religion focused on objects – we are a religion which revolves around time, which uses time to unite in remembering and worshiping and of course, celebrating.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

ECE-RJ 11th Annual Conference

Jewish Early Childhood Educators “Blaze New Trails” in Phoenix

Recently, 250 early childhood educators from Reform Jewish congregations across the United States came together for the eleventh annual ECE-RJ conference. This year’s theme was Ani V’atah! You and I Can Change the World. The conference was held January 12-15, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.

This dynamic conference offered a unique opportunity for those of us who work in Jewish early childhood education to renew our own commitment to learning and to Judaism, while focusing on expanding our knowledge and faith with the same devotion to learning that we aspire to instill in our children and their families throughout the year. A highlight of the conference was an address by Chair of the URJ Board of Trustees Peter Weidhorn. Weidhorn’s presence at the conference underscores the Reform Movement’s commitment to early childhood education.

The conference consisted of three days of workshops, networking and creative worship, bringing together congregational early childhood education directors, teachers, specialists and lay leaders. Mark Horowitz, Director of Early Childhood Education at the JCC Association of North America, set the tone with his insightful key note address at the opening dinner. In addition, attendees participated in a wide variety of workshop offerings and learned about innovative program ideas.

The conference was hosted by two congregations in the Phoenix area, Temple Solel and Temple Chai. Friday afternoon, Tricia Ginis, the early childhood director of The Solel Preschool at Temple Solel and her dedicated staff lead tours of their dynamic classrooms. A wonderful Shabbat dinner was served following the uplifting Shabbat Shira service led by Rabbi John Linder and Cantorial Soloist Todd Herzog and his band. Saturday morning Temple Chai served as the host congregation with Rabbi Evon Yakar engaging us in a beautiful Shacharit worship service. Afterwards Early Childhood Director Debbie Popiel White and her enthusiastic staff made themselves available for tours of their wonderful early childhood facility. We then enjoyed a delicious Shabbat brunch.

Saturday afternoon provided the option to take in the natural beauty of the Desert Botanical Gardens. Showcasing the Arizona desert vegetation and landscape, six trails were open for exploration before we reconvened as a group athe the Gardens’ ampitheater for a breathtaking Havdallah and installation of the 2011 ECE-RJ board, officiated by Rabbi Jan Katzew, Ph.D., Director of Lifelong Learning at the Union for Reform Judaism. Conference attendees enjoyed the chance to socialize with one another over dinner at various Scottsdale restaurants and concluded the conference experience with a special hands-on make and take session with local teacher and artist Karen Bell-Zinn, designer of the 2011 ECE-RJ Conference logo.

Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) is the youngest affiliate professional organization of the Union for Reform Judaism. ECE-RJ represents professionals in all fields of Jewish early childhood education, serving as a voice for educators, providing synagogue leadership with current information about the benefits of early childhood education for congregations and young families, as well as useful guidelines for its members and their extended communities about salaries, contracts, and benefits, and cultivating opportunities for lifelong learning and continuing education.