By Julie Levinson
It used to be that families with children enrolled in Jewish day school were a pretty homogenous crowd; two Jewish parents raising Jewish children. At Epstein Hillel there are still plenty of families who fit that bill, but so too are there more than a few who do not. Of all the families currently enrolled, thirty percent are interfaith. Their experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.
Aimee and David are one such family. Aimee grew up with a Jewish father and Greek Orthodox mother and David, now an agnostic, grew up Catholic. When expecting their first child, they spoke often about the role spirituality would play in their family’s life. They both wanted their children – two boys, born eighteen months apart – to be part of a true community. They agreed that Jewish values and traditions were what they wanted for their family.
Both of their sons attended preschool at the JCC. Kindergarten afforded them three options: EHS, public school or a secular private school. After visiting each, they put down a deposit for a spot at the secular private school. Something about it did not feel right, though. It was David, with no Jewish background, who suggested that they go back to visit EHS. Within moments of walking into the building, they both knew it was the right place for them. “There was an instant sense of community the moment we walked through the door.” Aimee recalls. Now that they are in their third year, she reports:
“The support and attention are beyond anything I ever could have imagined.”
We heard a similar story from Diane whose husband, Brian, grew up Jewish. Having grown up with no religious affiliation, Diane craved a sense of belonging. As a young adult, she chose Judaism as her religion, but did not convert until years later. Her son, an only child, is currently a 2nd grader at EHS. He, Diane and her husband, Brian, consider his classmates to be his siblings. While describing EHS as being “a terrific support system,” Diane goes on to say:
“EHS created an instant family … I feel more connected and part of a community than ever before.”
Neither of these families had planned on enrolling their children in day school. Each acknowledged trepidation in their decision-making – Would it be too Jewish? Would the fact that they are interfaith make them uncomfortable? Would they feel as though they belonged? Their fears were unrealized. Both cherish the community – for themselves and their children. All are impressed with the academics, including so many opportunities for project based learning, the outstanding teachers, and the morals and values-based education. With a twinkle in their eye, they speak of their kids’ love of learning. They marvel at hearing their children speak Hebrew, perform on stage in social studies curriculum plays, and program 3-D printers in science for their animal research projects.
These families know what a special place EHS is and are grateful for the community and education their children are getting. But perhaps most important is that both feel that enrolling their children was the best decision they ever made.
Julie Levinson is a freelance writer/storyteller. She lives on the North Shore of Boston with her husband and their four kids, who range in age from 11 to 23. You can learn more at her website; www.jklwriter.com