Overcoming the Working-Parent Challenge

By Rabbi Yael Buechler

I recently came across the siddur I received from my first grade siddur ceremony, complete a custom siddur cover made of leftover wallpaper – when wallpaper was still in style. In-as-much as times have changed the past three decades, particularly in the field of Jewish education, one consistent piece of the day school experience has remained the same – namely that of the “ceremony.” Year after year, students in various grades, particularly in the elementary years, continue to receive gift books from their schools, from siddurim to chumashim, often in the format of a special ceremony at school.

These ceremonies have often provided parents and grandparents with an opportunity to ‘shep nachas’ from their decision to send their children to a Jewish day school – often with heavy financial implications. Yet for the growing number of working parents these assemblies also present a daunting balance between needing to be at work and desiring to be present at school for their children and grandchildren. Parents are working longer hours in general and more households are double-income households. Some parents book shifts at their jobs months in advance and others travel frequently for work. Ceremonies and other school events that were once meant to reaffirm families’ commitment to Jewish education and to their respective schools now represent an additional stress factor for families.

Recognizing this new reality, what, if anything, can schools do to bring relief to parents with already packed schedules and personal commitments? How can schools provide families with yearly opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of their children and also respect their needs and commitments?

Some schools have made the shift to hold these types of events on Sundays. However, I also see much merit in having parents join for events during an actual school day. Parents can truly benefit from experiencing the buzz and ruach (energy) on our campuses, instead of entering empty halls over the weekend.

I believe there are two ways Jewish day schools can support the growing needs of working families with regard to in-school events. The first way is to provide as much notice as possible for these ceremonies (and not add last minute events to the calendar, mid-year). Schools should publicize the dates of these programs to families by June or July the latest for the upcoming academic year. This would provide at least several months advance notice. Parents also appreciate when end-times are listed for these events, so that they know when they can next book appointments at work. Reminders about these events, a month out, as well as even a day or two before the event, also serve as helpful tips for parents. Sometimes even the biggest of events get lost in the shuffle of managing life and several schedules.

The second way in which schools can support parents is to make it a given that these events will be live-streamed. This way, parents and grandparents abroad can watch the ceremonies in real time as well as re-watch the ceremonies soon-thereafter. At a recent ceremony at the school where I am a rabbi, a family who ended up with a seats further back in our auditorium joked that they also watched the assembly on Livestream so they could have a closer look!

For the sake and satisfaction of working families, I urge all administrators, educators, and school technology teams, to do the best they can to give parents more advanced notice about these ceremonies and enable them to participate in these events remotely. It goes without saying that most importantly, these programs should continue to be innovative and engaging for both students and families alike. And hopefully, the scripts for these ceremonies have been updated a bit since my own siddur ceremony!

Rabbi Yael Buechler is the Lower School Rabbi at The Leffell School, formerly Schechter Westchester, and founder of MidrashManicures.com, which combines fashion with creative Jewish expression.