I never attended Hebrew school as a child, but in the past 13 years, as a journalist for Jewish publications, I’ve spent so much time visiting day schools, congregational schools and summer camps (not to mention, interviewing parents, teachers, students and other stakeholders) that I’ve more than made up for it.
So it was an odd feeling this Sunday to be inside a congregational school not as a reporter, but as a mom.
As I dropped off my daughters in their classrooms and then sat down at an orientation meeting for parents, I had to stop myself from reaching for a notebook or seeking out people to interview. Without my journalist hat (metaphorical that is — sadly, they no longer issue those iconic hats with the little “press” card in them), I was just the mom of 4-year-old Sophie and 7-year-old Arielle, making small talk in a roomful of strangers. And since the synagogue is not in my beloved Jackson Heights, I couldn’t rely on the standby conversation starters that have gotten me through many a birthday party, soccer class and playground session, like “Where do your kids go to school?” and “How long have you lived in the neighborhood?”
My fellow parents were friendly enough, and I was pleased to see that not only am I not the only newbie (seems like many people join this synagogue when their older child starts second grade), but also most definitely not the only intermarried one. As I nibbled on a bagel in the temple social hall, the religious school director hurling scheduling and logistical details at us (fortunately, her style with the kids seems to be a great deal more personable and gentle), my neighbors to the right were a father named Chris and his Jewish wife. On my left sat a woman whose husband is a lapsed Catholic; her four children (including two girls in Sophie’s class) are adopted from overseas and thus don’t “look” Jewish. And Sophie’s teacher, who is Jewish, has a Latino-sounding last name; I don’t know if she’s intermarried, has intermarried parents, is a Jew by choice or simply a descendant of Latin American Jews.
While Sophie had resisted coming to Hebrew school (a battle I hadn’t expected to face for a few more years), both girls emerged in reasonably good spirits from their three-hour sessions, which included a half-hour service in the sanctuary. They seem to like their teachers and classmates, and Sophie, for the first time, started talking at the dinner table about the need to help poor people (a topic Arielle, a crusading vegetarian who is constantly brainstorming ways to save the world, was already fascinated by).
All in all, it is too soon to tell how this whole Hebrew school project will work out, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.
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