Testimonialsk4 best of 023.jpg / Statistics

69% of Jewish Beginnings board members (for many the first Jewish board service) go on to serve on other Jewish community boards.

90% of our students come from non-Orthodox homes.

“Jewish Beginnings has become a prime portal into Jewish communal life.”
    - A.S., Parent

“Our student body is the most diverse of any Jewish educational institution.”
    - S.B.

“We are so very fortunate to be blessed with the ability to send out girls to the BEST school in town.”
    - L.L., Parent

“The environment at Jewish Beginnings is so warm and loving…I feel so happy when I know my grandchild is there.” 
    - R.G., Grandparent

“I will always be thankful for Jewish Beginnings opening my eyes to the value of daily Jewish education.” 
    - B.D., Parent


A Mother’s Jewish Beginnings Journey AKA Go Enjoy Your Double Espresso Cappuccino – Heavy on the Foam!
By Amy Gelfman

 

In 2001, we moved from Minneapolis, MN to Grand Forks, ND. Before our big move, our eldest son, who was five at the time, asked what North Dakota looked like. The first thing that came to mind was the fact that the place had so very few trees. He asked, "Will we be able to breathe?" And since there were also few Jews there, our children became enthralled by anyone who was Jewish. We could barely contain our excitement when we spotted a man with a kippah at the local Target. We begged him to come to our home for brunch that day - which he did, with his wife and kids, before they returned to the booming metropolis of Winnipeg, Canada, two hours away. If you have ever been to North Dakota, you know that it is not known for its thriving, bustling Jewish community.

At the time, we had two preschoolers and a baby on the way. We registered them right away at a nearby preschool. They had one unbendable rule there that sticks out in my memory: Unless it was 30 degrees below zero, children played outside. Some days, we fought with the strong blustery cold winds to even get in the front door - all the while my kids were screaming in their most dramatic Gelfman tone: "Why, WHY? Mommy, we are NOT Eskimos!!" Anyhow, it was their rule and I think in some ways it made our children more adept to climatic changes, maybe?

Anyway, we came to Milwaukee for a family visit and my sister-in-law asked me to pick up her son's, our nephews, at CLLLC, the former name for Jewish Beginnings. I was a little taken aback. Boy, I had no idea just how far away we were from something like this. To me, it was like the Utopia of preschools. I remember thinking, "Now-this is a preschool!" I remember it had the aroma of Israeli salad and fresh bread. Based on that I was sold! A far cry from the North Dakotan favorites of lefsa and ludafisk. But more than that, I roamed the halls imagining what it would be like to send my children to a Jewish preschool and be a part of a community like this. Not just any Jewish community and certainly not just any preschool, but this one! After three years of living in Grand Forks, we yearned for not only the beauty of trees, but the existence of a larger Jewish community.

When you spend time in a place far away from real Jewish civilization you seem to build this extreme appreciation and fascination for thriving Jewish communities with Jewish culture and education. I would bet that any New Yorker would laugh at my next statement, but here it is: For us, moving to Milwaukee was like entering this new and exciting Jewish world. So you can only imagine our happiness when we had the privilege of enrolling the next generation of Gelfman's in Jewish Beginnings. As excited as I was, I really didn't have the whole picture of what a real treasure Jewish Beginnings is. The scent of fresh baked bread, or cookies, or savory soup in the halls is a plus, but there is something much deeper that has made a great impression on us. The mere thought of our son being the "abba" for the Friday Shabbos party made us giddy with joy! To hear our children belt out Chanukah tunes and boast about the strong Maccabees was like a dream come true. Possibly one of the greatest joys in raising children is when a teacher recognizes, embraces, and nurtures that which makes your child unique and wonderful. In a nut shell, this is Jewish Beginnings.

If you are imagining me and my children frolicking through the JB halls, lovingly patting my smiling child on the back and sending him into education wonderland, you've got it all wrong! There are days where the teachers have peeled my child off of me, and given me that reassuring "I'll take it from here" look. It's that look that us mothers love, and if we don't move fast enough, the look changes to, "Mama, I said "I'll take it from here! Now go and get your Starbucks!"

It is at these somewhat difficult times that I value this place most. I know that my children are in wonderful hands. In an essence, Jewish Beginnings is helping me grow up as a Mom...learning to let go at the right times...learning to allow my children to explore life in a healthy way.

Walking the Jewish Beginning’s halls is an experience in and of itself. These are not the halls of your average preschool, halls adorned with smiley faces or cut-out tulips and bubble letters shouting "Happy Spring." These halls are living and breathing evidence of our children's imaginations, thoughts, creations, and insights. Due to the hard work and passion of our exceptional teachers, we can experience our children's learning journey through the extensive documentation and photo representation they create each and every day, capturing moments of wonder and concentration, joy and camaraderie, successes and triumphs. Because of this cutting edge approach to education, we get to see the evolution of our children's thought process and intellectual and emotional growth.

I'll never forget the first day of pre-school for our son, Lev, who happened to have an obsession with frogs. That day, he came home with a questionnaire which he helped fill out. It read something like this: What would you like to do at Pre-school? Answer: Frogs. What is your favorite thing to do? Frogs. What do you want to learn more about? Frog tank; and finally, what do you like most about being Jewish? Frogs (naturally). The teachers had a field day with this kid exploring his hobby and helping him to integrate into his new environment through the happy medium of frogs. And seeing that they were part of his "frog team," the teachers gained his trust and love and ultimately assisted him in expanding his interests and activities to include other things beyond his comfort zone.

At the end of the day, there is nothing more important than our children feeling loved and accepted for who they are. But Jewish Beginnings goes even beyond that. The gentle encouragement of gaining independence goes a long way. Jewish Beginnings is like our trusted partner in a business of taming wild animals, as my mother describes child-rearing, and our business plan is to help shape and nurture, our greatest hope, caring, compassionate, curious, and kind individuals - mensches. Beginnings can sometimes be challenging, but Jewish Beginnings turns a challenge into an adventure. And we are happy to say that OUR adventure will, G‑d willing, continue for several more years as our children continue their preschool journey.

And after living in Milwaukee for almost eight years, we never take for granted the beautiful landscape of trees and their life sustaining gift: Oxygen. But, we would be remiss if we didn't note the other life-sustaining gift of a rich early childhood Jewish education, brought to you by none other than the amazing Devorah Shmotkin and her excellent staff led by Lori Evans, a most creative and thoughtful educator.

Thank you all for being a part of a magnificent and authentic beginning to our children's lives!