I am often faced with the same question from neighbors, friends and family: “Why did you choose a Jewish private school for your daughter?” They are surprised by my decision, especially since my husband is not Jewish and I didn’t grow up attending a Jewish private school. My friends explain that public school is free and most importantly that the schools in our district are high performing. I knew all of this. But I decided to follow my heart and go against my friends and family’s advice. I chose what many considered an unusual path for my daughter’s education.
I made this decision because I wanted more for my daughter. I felt that sending my daughter to public school, no matter how great or highly rated it was, wasn’t going to be enough for her. I wanted to give her something I lacked growing up.
I want my daughter to learn another language, and I wanted it to be Hebrew. Hebrew has been spoken for thousands of years and reflects the Jewish past and present in every word. I want her to appreciate what it means to be Jewish and why it is worth celebrating that part of her identity. Most importantly, I want my daughter to learn the importance of doing good things for the world; I want her to value our ethics and moral behavior.
I knew that a Jewish day school could offer that.
After my daughter turned five I began to search for a Jewish day school. All it took was a Google search and I found The Jewish Academy of Suffolk.
The School Welcomed Us as We Are
As I mentioned before, I know that parents are skeptical about sending their children to a Jewish school, I had my concerns too. I wasn’t sure we could afford it and that I might not be welcomed as I am. I had no knowledge of Judaism and my husband is not Jewish. We were happily surprised to see how we were welcomed with open arms. When I met with the principle of the school, he explained to me that he will work with me to make this education possible for my daughter. He listened to me and immediately appeased my concerns. Not only did we feel welcomed in the school, but we were warmly embraced by the entire school community. We, my non-Jewish husband included, are invited for dinners and Jewish celebrations. We not only found a school that met my educational needs but also found a warm community of friends.
A Outstanding Education with Excellent Values
My daughter has learned generosity, helpfulness and a desire to help others. When she returned back to school after being out sick for a few days, there was a get well card from each of her classmates. This meant a lot to my daughter. The cards showed her that she was missed and I learned how committed the school is to educating students on how to respond when people are sick. Another example of the thoughtfulness of the school was when my daughters’ second grade teacher created a “bucket filling.” Each child has a bucket in their classroom with their name on it and are instructed to write something nice about another student on a piece of paper and place it in their bucket. This process is beneficial for both the writer of the note and their recipient. In a time where we unfortunately hear too many terrible stories about bullying, I see how my daughter’s school is creating an environment and culture of kindness, respect, and acceptance. This is the best antidote to bullying.
It’s at the most unexpected times that I realize the value of an education that promotes kindness and compassion. During the middle of the school year, a new child was introduced to my daughter’s class. My daughter expressed that the new child was a disturbance in the classroom. However, in her next sentence she explained, “But I am nice to him because I don’t want him to feel bad or different and maybe God sent him to The Jewish Academy so he can have nice teachers and feel happy.” I was in complete amazement about her generosity in spirit and how maturely she responded to the situation.
My daughter has a great deal of empathy for others and has a sense of what is right and wrong and I credit The Jewish Academy of Suffolk for imparting those values to her.
Three years later I am glad I followed my instincts and listened to my heart’s desires. My daughter has grown to take pride in her Jewish heritage, without compromising my aspirations to give my daughter an excellent education with 21st century skills. Her kindness fills me with pride and along the way my daughter has even taught me so much. What else can a parent ask for?
The Jewish Academy is moving to a new location - the Suffolk Y JCC at 74 Hauppauge Rd. in Commack. The new space has stunning facilities for our K - 7th Grades. Come visit us at our new location and check out our website to learn more about the school.
Tanya Woltmann is a participant in The Parent To Parent initiative of The Jewish Education Project, which trains and empowers Jewish day school parents to share their experiences and personal reflections on social media.