What’s Jewish About “Finding Nemo?”

Hebrew College’s Early Childhood Institute Annual Conference Advocates Early Connection with Jewish Families

EarlyChildhoodEdDay2_1027-371By Linna Ettinger

For those of us who are blissfully untouched by alzheimer’s or runaway children, Disney’s Pixar production, “Finding Nemo” is an entertaining and even funny story about a father finding his kidnapped son with the help of a friend with no short-term memory. But for those of us who have been touched by a loved one’s alzheimer’s disease, this Disney classic will be a very painful reminder of the challenges we face without memories, and the humor is quickly lost. Without memory, we lose our identity and as the film shows, without memory we end up swimming in circles with no purpose.

Connecting to memory, and especially communal memory, is extremely important for the future of the Jewish community. In October, to help make these connections possible, Hebrew College’s Early Childhood Institute hosted the sixth Annual Early Childhood Jewish Education Conference based on the theme of Hibburim/Connections, where over 230 educators and professionals in the field of Early Childhood Education in the Jewish Community connected, explored, created, played, and learned. Conference participants included clergy, preschool directors, and both Jewish and non-Jewish preschool teachers from 57 organizations who were all focused on learning ways to connect with and engage children and families with diverse backgrounds and abilities with Jewish values, Hebrew language, and the Jewish community.

In the same way that Nemo’s father Marlin and his friend Dory needed the help of friends of all types to find Nemo, like Bruce the vegetarian fish, and Crush the 150 year old surfer dude sea turtle, some of the conference sessions focused on methods of inclusion to ensure that all people are being reached no matter what their particularities are. Sherry Grossman, Director of Community Services at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, offered a session about Inclusion of children and families of different abilities; Rabbi Julie Zupan, Associate director for the Union for Reform Judaism/Reform Jewish Outreach in Boston, offered a session on Audacious Hospitality; and Rabbi Michael Fel, Associate Rabbi of Temple Emunah, offered a session about how to engage families in and around the synagogue, showing innovative ways to reach young families where they are at, out in the community.

Other conference sessions concentrated on sharing hands-on ideas for classroom activities to connect to Jewish traditions, values and texts. For example, Lorraine Arcus’ session, “Torah Alive!” gave participants hands on ideas for how to have the kids reenact the story of Abraham and Sarah; Rabbi Michael Shire’s “Torah Godly Play” gave participants the experience of working with materials that provide connection to spirituality; and Dena Glasgow, Director of Faculty and Curriculum Development for Adult Learning and Erica Streit-Kaplan, Coordinator of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, both of Hebrew College, explored how to use both Jewish and non-Jewish children’s books to teach “Hesed and Creating a Caring Community in Your Preschool.”

The Hibburim/Connections Conference was subsidized by a grant from Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Gelfand Family Charitable Trust.

Linna Ettinger is the Assistant Director of the Early Childhood Institute at Hebrew College. More information about Hebrew College’s Early Childhood Institute can be found www.hebrewcollege.edu/early-childhood-institute.