by Annette van de Kamp
Jewish Press Editor
Raising a Jewish child is a full-time job. Luckily, we as parents don’t have to do it alone. We can send our children to religious school, we have access to wonderful clergy and can attend a variety of secular Jewish activities; we have holiday-related events and youth groups, and many of you send your kids to Jewish summer camps.
‘Growing up Jewish’ is made up of many different components; from getting the help you need to read your Torah portion during B’nai Mitzvah to knowing how to roll perfectly round matzah balls. From knowing how to answer when your non-Jewish friends ask what your favorite Christmas present was to understanding why Israel is important. From mastering the appropriate blessings to realizing that being Jewish is a work in process, and will be so for the rest of your life, because you will never stop learning.
One of the biggest assets we have in Omaha, when it comes to raising Jewish children, is our day school. But before I get into the how and why, I have to emphasize: it is not my intention to outright tell you to send your children there, or that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t. I would never presume to know what is best for you and your family. It’s not my job to tell you what to do or what to think. I wouldn’t dare. And, finally, my opinion is just that: my opinion. Not as an editor, but as a parent (just for this week; we’ll get back to politics next time!)
All I want to do is tell you my personal story, and explain why my husband and I did make that choice.
Our daughter Isabella started at Friedel Jewish Academy in 2006. Initially, it was a decision based on our gut- we had visited the school, met some of the teachers, and it “felt right.” At the time, my husband and I still lived and worked at Boys Town, surrounded by non-Jews, where our daughter was often the single child left out. Small things, like not being able to eat the pepperoni pizza, or hotdogs provided during a party. Being the only child not sitting on Santa’s lap during the annual Christmas event. The only child without an Easter basket. That’s not a criticism of Boys Town; it is just the way things are.
Now, in all fairness, these are not life altering things. She is not traumatized. However, when you’re four years old, it can be tough. No matter how your parents try to emphasize your own religion, and your own special holidays, food and customs, at the end of the day you’re still the only one without a fluffy Easter bunny toy in your hands. The idea that she would be going to school surrounded by children just like her was phenomenally attractive, exciting, and a big relief. It felt like we were finally doing right by her.
During her seven years there, Friedel has been a valuable component in her overall Jewish education, partnering with what she learned and experienced at home and at her synagogue. What’s more: she has learned to take an active role in her Jewish life. She is no passive consumer, she takes ownership and has a voice in what it means for her to be Jewish.
Now, I can talk all day about how attending Friedel has helped shape her Jewish identity. But I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention that the general studies component Friedel offers is every bit as impressive. In my daughter’s words:
“The class size is small, the entire school is small, and it forces you to get to know everybody, and learn to work with others. When you work together, you create a bond, and I really loved that about Friedel. The general studies teachers are amazing, they challenge you, and by the time I graduated and went to public school, I felt ready. From math to science to reading, the curriculum was well balanced; I was prepared for my next school. By the time I was in seventh grade, I was a little ahead of the other kids there; enough to give me confidence at my new school, but not so much that I felt left out.”
Some of you are already planning to send your child to Friedel. For some of you, it’s not what you’re looking for. But for those of you who are on the fence: talk to the students, and talk to the parents of former and current students. If you have questions, we will be more than happy to answer them.