In 2012, when I began as Director of Early Childhood Education at a URJ congregation, I had never heard of Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism. I had been a director at a JCC and knew JCCA, a director at a University and knew NAEYC and Head Start, and I had taught religious school at both Reform and Conservative Congregations and was very familiar with the National Association of Temple Educators (now Association of Reform Jewish Educators – ARJE), the URJ, USCJ, and CCAR. Nevertheless, I did not know that there was such a thing as ECE-RJ.
I had not been on the job long when I received a phone call from Cathy Rolland. (I imagine right now there are ECE-RJ members around the country saying, “I did too!”). I do not remember much of the conversation except for thinking “What is ECE-RJ? Who is this person? How did she know about me? and, “When can I meet her because she sounds amazing?” Cathy convinced a very skeptical me to join ECE-RJ and register for the next conference. I signed up, not knowing what I was getting myself into, yet knowing I wanted to meet Cathy. I was not disappointed. Everyone at the Morristown conference knew Cathy and Cathy knew everyone. How could one person know so much about early childhood Jewish education in the Reform movement across North America? How is one person able to have such a positive impact, directly and indirectly, on so many educators, families, and young children?
I quickly learned that Cathy, along with a few other directors of early childhood centers in Reform congregations, had created ECE-RJ as a way to bring together early education professionals to collaborate in new ways in the field of early childhood Jewish education. Cathy and her cohort designed an organization in which early childhood Jewish education as a profession would be recognized and elevated. An organization where ideas could be shared, support would be provided, important issues could be discussed, and high-quality professional development would be offered. We, ECE-RJ, are Cathy’s baby.
A very fast eight and half years later, Cathy has continued to have an incredible impact on me, on ECE-RJ, on our members, and the centers, congregations, and schools in which we work. This, in turn, affects our educators, children, and families, and the future of early childhood Jewish education and Jewish life. Each family and each child that walks through our programs leaves with a little bit of Cathy in them. Cathy has pushed me, guided me, co-constructed with me, taught me, laughed with me, and cried with me. She has become a dear friend.
The URJ, in their good sense, has moved Cathy to a new position (Senior Director, Emerging Networks/Families with Young Children) where her reach will be even broader and her influence will go beyond ECE-RJ and families with young children. Cathy has done an amazing job raising her baby, ECE-RJ, and we will continue to grow with our new liaison, Rachel Margolis (more on Rachel in January). However, I am not letting Cathy off the hook so easily. She is still my friend and teacher, and a friend and teacher to all of ECE-RJ. And I have her phone number!
On behalf of all of ECE-RJ, I want to thank Cathy Rolland for all that she has done for us and for early childhood Jewish education. Cathy, your work has been immeasurable. Hazak hazak v’nitchazek, be strong, be strong and we will be strengthened.