We’re enrolling my seven year old in second grade for his religious school. Even though he’s in first grade in public school during the day, I’m pushing a year ahead in his Hebrew classes.
It’s a big decision, and not one that I came to lightly. Sam has separation anxiety issues, and they were severe enough to warrant keeping him back in kindergarten last year. But while he was scared and anxious and really struggled in his first year of public school, he has always felt comfortable and safe at our synagogue. For whatever reason, whether it’s just that we’re there a lot, or he picks up on the general sense of peace, or the fact that it’s so much less chaotic, he’s completely relaxed and happy when we’re at the synagogue.
Our Conservative synagogue merged religious schools last year with two Reform synagogues to create one cohesive school, and there was so much chaos and confusion for him that we ended up pulling him out of class (actually, we couldn’t get him to go in the first place) and letting him attend the toddler services with our younger daughter. Classes were meeting at the other synagogue, and he wasn’t going unless I dragged him in kicking and screaming. While I could and did force him to go to regular school, I couldn’t bring myself to do it on Shabbat.
Even though he’s entering first grade at regular school, and even though he missed all of last year, and even though second grade is when religious school starts meeting on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, in addition to Shabat, I think it’s the right move for him.
This year, classes are going to be at our home synagogue. And his two best friends are going to be in second grade with him. Two of our family’s closest friends have kids his age, and they’ve been best friends since they were infants. That’s his community – these are the kids he’s grown up with, the ones he’s gone apple picking every year for Rosh Hashana, the ones who come over our house and light Hanukkah candles with us, the ones that ate peanut butter and matzoh with him when he was barely old enough to understand why.
When I look at my older daughter, with her bat mitzvah a year and a half away, I think that I want him to have that same experience, with the kids he’s grown up with. I don’t want him a year behind them, envious and held back because of his anxieties. I agonized over holding him back in kindergarten too, but in retrospect, that was completely the right move. He’s made wonderful friends, and is thriving now. But pushing him ahead in religious school, that feels right. Keeping him where he should be, with friends he loves, with kids who will reinforce his Jewish identity and will be a part of his community for years to come.
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