Why Temple Lay Leaders Should Partner and Support Their Preschools

A small grant opportunity was made available in my local area from One Happy Camper, a partnership between the Foundation for Jewish Camp and communities across North America whose goal is to introduce families to Jewish sleepaway camps.

The first step was to identify my supporters who turned out to be the four clergy, the religious school director, preschool teachers, and the preschool board. A subcommittee was formed, brainstorming meetings happened, and one idea took hold; we chose to recreate my favorite sleepaway camp experience—making Shabbat in an outdoor amphitheater.

The next step was to gain approval from temple’s executive board, most of whom had never had children in the preschool. How was I to ‘sell’ them on the idea that it would benefit all if we, as a temple community, invested time, energy, and valuable property for a group of children whose parents had not yet committed to being temple members?

As is the case with most executive boards, our volunteers rotate every few years. As a constant in the building for 25 plus years, it often falls on me to identify and educate the stakeholders on the history, benefits, and drawbacks of creatively using common spaces. After a formal presentation and an opportunity to ask questions, the board gave its approval to move forward with the plan.

We now have a beautiful campsite on an otherwise unused piece of property. It has an ‘amood’ and a fire pit. It is rustic. It is outdoors. It is surrounded by trees and grass. It feels exactly like my sleepover camp amphitheater. The preschool community meets there for Bima Time each Friday, and they use it as a place for nature exploration all week. It is perfect, in my eyes. What about the eyes of the board and other temple stakeholders, you might ask?

While the idea was brought to the executive board by the preschool, the entire temple now benefits from this simple, multipurpose space. The campground has become popular across the ages and stages of our congregants, including one past preschooler who chose to make the space wheelchair accessible as his Eagle Scout project. The religious school uses it for Maccabi games. Young families pitch tents and cook dinner together for a Shabbat evening ‘sleepunder’, complete with s’mores and campfire songs. The teens used the space when scholar in residence song leader, Dan Nichols, led services.

That one small grant and that one small idea have brought joy to many.

Carol Paster
Preschool Director
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, South Orange, NJ

January 2019