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  • 01 Feb 2024 by Lisa Samick

    There is a little book called Dear God: Children’s Letters to God by David Heller that I always think of at this time of the year as we read about our Biblical ancestors’ enslavement in Egypt and their path to freedom. Originally written by Heller in 1987, these brief letters, written by children ranging in age from 6 to 12 from various religious and cultural backgrounds, emerged from Heller’s research on children’s religious and moral development.
     

    Dear God: Thank you for my baby brother. But what I really wanted was a puppy. Joyce.
    Dear God: Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they each had their own rooms. It works with my brother. Larry.
    Dear God: We read in school that Thomas Edison made light. But in Sunday School, they said that you did it. I bet he stole your idea. Donna.

    As we join as one this morning in Memphis, representing two professional organizations, the ARJE and the ECE-RJ, we are all bound by our everyday work with children and our desire to be both learners and teachers of Torah. In this week's Torah Portion, Beshalach, the Israelites finally leave Egypt, and eventually, they come up against the Reed Sea. Having changed his mind about letting them go, Pharaoh pursues them with horses and chariots. The people come close to despair and imagine their end would come soon. Then, in one of the supreme miracles of history, the sea divides. The Israelites passed through and, led by Miriam, the prophetess, sang a meaningful song of freedom, faith, and deliverance. 

    Our sages ask why the Israelites deserved to be saved in such an extraordinary manner, and the sages answer that it was because of the Israelite children, who were a significant part of the multitudes that came out of Egypt. In tractate Sotah, the Talmud records that the children who left Egypt were the first to recognize God. This is a puzzling statement. After all, the nation that left Egypt included the great spiritual giants Moses, Miriam, Aaron Joshua, and all the elders of Israel. Yet, according to the sages, these famous ones were not the first to recognize God; it was precisely the children — children born and raised amid Egyptian oppression. Nevertheless, our sages proclaim that the children received a fitting and proper education, which imbued them with the ability to recognize God. The Torah even hints that the children, as they crossed, could point with their fingers, saying, "This is my God, whom I will glorify."

    Together this week, we are taking the ideas of slavery and freedom – echoed in this week’s portion and the complicated US history we are surrounded by in Memphis and moving one step further into belonging.  It is not enough to be free – we need to be seen, recognized and celebrated as individuals in the community. 

    Joe mentioned a moment ago that the children who left Egypt were the first to recognize God. As teachers, we can take comfort in explaining that their “proper and fitting education” allowed them to do so.  But, as experts in child development and childhood, we can also embrace that their boundless imagination will enable children to see the world in a way that is sometimes more challenging to do as adults.  The shoulds, the musts, and the can’ts, do not confine children.  Their conception of belonging is not marred by preconceived notions or by prejudice or fear; in many ways, they see things more clearly and authentically than we can.
     

    What if, over the next three days together, we can adopt that lens, that clarity, and that innocence?  What if we could put aside our own definitions of what belonging means, put aside our concept of who ARJE is and who ECE-RJ is, and approach it all anew? While belonging is something we’ve grappled with for a long time – as educators, as organizations, and as a movement, what would it take to forget (or at least put aside) all of that learning and start together from zero?  To build an approach that breaks down the barriers that have separated us and opens up our communities in ways we couldn’t have previously imagined?

    In Early Childhood classrooms, our students are not burdened by the lanes they’ve been put in, the labels that other people have given them, or the boundaries of their specific position. Indeed, that gets more complicated as children get older, but in the beginning, they are free to be a superhero one day, an electrical engineer the next, and a puppy after that.  In those moments, they are not just playing; they are constructing. Their concept of identity is still forming, and as such, they can experiment with who they are and who they are becoming.  There are no lines around what they can and cannot be – and for the next three days, there are no lines around us. 

    The lesson from all this is that our work is interconnected, and we are stronger together. We are like the Israelites at the sea, singing Miriam’s song but not doing so as individual tunes but rather as communal music. And if one wishes to be truly blessed, both materially and spiritually, including nachas from our students, then the way to that is through engaging our students and their families in meaningful and relevant Torah education. What we have in common is how our strengths can strengthen each other, and from our time together, we can and will produce young adults with a sacred life filled with energy and vitality in Judaism when they go to synagogue and throughout their lives. That is our joint mission as Jewish educators and what binds us in our daily labors.

    Dear God: I didn't think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday. That was cool!

    Lisa Samick, ECE-RJ President

    Rabbi Joe Eiduson,  RJE, ARJE President 

  • 17 Oct 2023 by Lisa Samick

    I am not ok… and I know that you aren’t either.

    The events of the last week have been gut-wrenching, to say the least.

    I am not a historian nor a politician; there are other resources to help you better understand the issues, the complex history or what tomorrow may bring.  I don’t have any profound insight into where we go from here or how we heal.

    But I know that each and every one of us – whether we’re part of the Jewish community by religion or by choice – is broken and hurting.

    Amidst all this horror and chaos, Early Childhood Directors have been thrust into the role of therapist, risk management assessor, security expert and cheerleader – all while managing our own fears, anxieties, and devastation.  I wish I could give you comfort or reassurance.

    On several of our ECE-RJ calls this past week, several people talked about some version of “I prefer to deal with COVID”.  The pandemic was stressful and traumatic, but it was foreign and equally distributed.  This is terribly personal. The names and the faces are etched into my brain, and I somehow can’t get myself to turn off the news and step away from social media.

    All I can say is that I am with you. I urge you to please lean into this incredible community we’ve built, where together we will find comfort.

    Some of you know that I grew up in Young Judaea; and there is a song that we sang on Saturday nights that has been on repeat in my brain since I woke up on October 7th.  It’s painful, but somehow it gives me comfort and so I am sharing it here in case it helps you as well.

     

    Ain Li Eretz Acheret (I have no other country) by Ehud Manor

     

    Ain li eretz acheret,

    Gam im admati bo’erert

    Rak mila b’ivrit choderet

    El orkai, el nishamati

    Beguf ko’ev

    Belev ra’ev

    Kan hu beyti.

     

    Lo eshtok

    Ki artzi shinta et paneha,

    Lo avater la,

    Azkir la

    Ve’ashir kan be’ozneha.

    Ad shetifkach et eyneha.

    I have no other country,

    Even if my land is burning.

    Only a Hebrew word

    Reaches my veins and my soul.

    With an aching body,

    With a hungry heart,

    Here is my home.

     

    I will not be silent

    Should my country change its face.

    I will not give up,

    I will remind her and sing in her ear,

    Until she opens her eyes

     

    You can hear it here:  Ain Li Eretz Acheret

    I am thinking of all of you and I know that you join me in prayer for the return of the captive, the healing of the wounded and comfort to all who are in mourning.  

    Lisa Samick, President, ECE-RJ

     

    Resources and Donations for Israel

    Resources:

    Donations:

    Donate to the JNFA Campaign
    Jewish Federations are responding, working with our core partners to support victims of terror, help rebuild damaged infrastructure, and address the unprecedent levels of trauma caused by this horrific attack. 

     

    • Didi Kerler Thanks Lisa. If anyone has family or friends in Israel and you want to talk, to worry, to express anxiety, anger etc, please do contact me. My son is one of the 360,000 people deployed all over... see more Thanks Lisa. If anyone has family or friends in Israel and you want to talk, to worry, to express anxiety, anger etc, please do contact me. My son is one of the 360,000 people deployed all over Israel. My phone # is 812 345-4714. This is personal for all of us. If you are Israeli and need to speak Hebrew because sometimes that is the only language that works for you, it's okay. I can do that too. It has helped me so much to just talk with friends.
      4 months ago
    • Fern Katz Oh, Didi, my heart is with you.
      4 months ago
  • 19 Sep 2023 by Lisa Samick

    A wise friend, colleague and fellow board member once told me that the reason she took on a leadership position in BBYO was because someone reached out and asked her to fill a specific need. “I need you to bring the green Jello.” “It was specific, it was finite, and I understood the expectations,” she explained.

    So… here I am… asking you to bring the “green Jello.” Listed below are just a few of the ways you can get involved with the ECE-RJ. Each one is critical to the functioning of our organization. I am eager to speak with you, so let’s get this conversation started!

    Membership – Join our VP of Membership in working to ensure the best possible member experience for our ECE-RJ people. Be part of welcoming and onboarding new members, helping to engage potential members, or creating forums and opportunities for current members to network and connect.

    Learning – Join our VPs of Learning to craft and implement the professional development calendar for the year. Help brainstorm ideas, host meet ups, contact potential speakers… OR get involved in the conference planning!

    Finance – Join our VP of Finance in implementing our scholarship processes, fundraising and strategic planning.

    Marketing and Communications – Join our VP of Marketing and Communications to push out content on social media or help work on our amazing monthly newsletter, UNITE.

    Write an article!

    None of these requires more than a few hours/month and, of course, your enthusiasm, but makes a huge difference in our ongoing successes.

    Being President of ECE-RJ has been (so far – LOL) one of the most fulfilling and exciting experiences in my career and I am so grateful for the opportunity. But, when I think back to how I first got involved, I realize that I have received much more than I have given. Each committee and task force that I sat on, each board position that I have held, connected me to a network of incredible wisdom and support. I learned SO much about communication, advocacy and leadership and I am a better director today because of it.

    We will be following up with many of you to reach out and connect, but don’t wait for us! Feel free to reach out to me at lsamick@templeisraelnyc.org or to our Executive Director, Tricia at tginis@urj.org.

    • Sara Losch Great piece, Tricia. Once we get past the crying (us!) of the new year, I'll look at the volunteer opportunities. Thank you for doing all you do. G'mar chatimah tovah.
      5 months ago
  • 28 Mar 2023 by Lisa Samick

    I want to write something profound... something comforting... something that could bring any sense to the horrific tragedy today in Nashville, but I have no words....

    Our hearts are broken for the children, the teachers and the families of Covenant School in Nashville, TN. Their lives were cut too short, their innocence shattered, and we, as a country, once again stagger under the weight of another senseless school shooting.

    May their memories forever be a blessing and may we all find the strength to honor Evelyn Dieckhuas, Hallie Scruggs, William Kinney, Cynthia Peak, Katherine Koonce and Mike Hill and hold up their loved ones in our hearts.

  • 22 Sep 2022 by Lisa Samick

    Today smelled like fall in NYC.   It had that chilly morning, sunny afternoon, back to school kind of feel that indicates that things are about to begin anew; and I feel hopeful.  

    I’ve heard from so many colleagues that this start to school has been hard - parents are less forgiving, the pressure from our institutions to recoup financial losses is increased, it is harder and harder to find qualified, committed teachers.  It’s very easy to feel hopeless.. but I am going to choose positivity, and I invite you - even if only for the reading of this letter - to join me. 

    5783 brings with it new challenges, but also new joys.  We have students entering our buildings this year and showing their entire face for the first time!  We have brought back some community-wide events, some class mixing, some opportunities for “fun-raising” and the air feels a little lighter.

    In our own organization, we are gearing up for our first in-person conference in more than 2 years.  In just a few weeks, more than 200 Early Childhood Educators from across the country will descend on San Diego (look out San Diego!) for a week of reconnecting, reimagining and rebounding.  It’s not too late to join us if you’re not yet registered! 

    “The Orchard” - our partnership with Paradigm Project, JCCA, JFNA and more, has launched its 5783 line up of professional development opportunities geared towards all early childhood educators.  And ECE-RJ still has learning grants available for our members to participate at up to 50% off each of the learning communities being offered.  

    Our National Early Childhood Salary Study is wrapping up its data collection phase and will soon be moving into analysis and reporting.  We believe that this information will be CRITICAL to our continued advocacy on behalf of Jewish Early Childhood Educators across the country

    … and the new year is JUST beginning!  

    ECE-RJ is committed to changing the landscape of Jewish Early Childhood Jewish Education and it is our goal for each and every educator to feel connected, inspired, valued and fairly compensated.  

    At this time of renewal and reflection, we ask that you consider donating to ECE-RJ to help us to reach these goals. 

    Thank you in advance for your generosity and your support.  Your donation to ECE-RJ and to Jewish Early Childhood Education is an investment in our Jewish future.

    L’Shana Tova.  May you have a sweet and a healthy new year.

    Lisa Samick
    President of ECE-RJ

    Donate to ECE-RJ

  • 25 Aug 2022 by Tamar Andrews

    You must have heard by now… about the struggle to find and keep qualified teachers in Jewish Early Childhood Education.  As a director myself, of Temple Isaiah Preschool in Los Angeles, a Reform congregation preschool with over 250 children, you can imagine what it is like to look towards the start of the school year and only have a partial staff.  

     

    Like all people, teachers need support.  This support takes many forms:

    • Physical support in the form of materials for their classrooms AND compensation for their bills and expenses.

    • Emotional support in the form of unconditional positive regard and constructive feedback to inform their practice. 

    • Cognitive support in the form of professional development, communities of practice, and a cohort in which to share ideas. 

     

    At the 2022 ECE-RJ Conference in November, we can help you in all three of those critical areas of teacher retention. In fact, studies have shown conclusively that events such as this one help retain teachers for up to two more years past its conclusion.

     

    How? We have devised a conference that addresses all three needs that teachers have and by attending, teachers will:

    • see the financial support of their institutions who pay for their attendance

    • gain additional mastery of practice in Jewish ECE

    • meet with and collaborate with other teachers from around the country

    • engage with materials and share experiences that they can take back to their classrooms immediately

    • develop stronger Judaic practices

    • return to their classrooms with renewed passion, determination, and a sense of pride and professionalism

     

    Don’t miss this opportunity to really support and show your own appreciation for the work your teachers do.

     

    Follow this link and sign up now for the 2022 ECE-RJ Conference in San Diego, November 2-5!


    Questions? Feel free to reach out to Tricia Ginis, Executive Director, tginis@urj.org

  • 21 Jun 2022 by Fern Katz

    Dear Friends,

     

    The past two years for ECE-RJ and me as president have been exciting, full of unexpected changes and challenges, and required much thinking, rethinking, doing, and redoing. I imagine that it was similar for each of us in our personal and professional lives.  

     

    I have heard and used the word "unprecedented" so many times – usually referring to something negative. Unprecedented global pandemic. Unprecedented mass murders. Unprecedented school closures. Unprecedented staff shortages. I recently heard someone say, “I hope we never see unprecedented times again.”

     

    But isn't every day unprecedented? Every day over the past two years, every day before that, and every day in the future is unprecedented. No two days are exactly alike, and each morning we wake up, we have an unprecedented day ahead of us. We have an opportunity to look at our jobs and our lives in a new light. An opportunity to rethink and redo, to make the world a better place. An opportunity to lay the groundwork for each young life, each family we touch to grow into themselves and their Jewishness with joyous learning and community.

     

    In the months before I was installed as president of ECE-RJ, Lisa Samick and I had many discussions about what we wanted to do in the next few years. We were so excited! Our planned path took many twists and turns. And a few nosedives. But through it all, ECE-RJ members were always our top priority. So, together with the Board of ECE-RJ and members joining in, we rethought and redid and rethought and redid again. If you joined us for the 2022 plenary, you heard about our revised mission and vision statements and a new board structure that brings more members together. Keep your eyes on UNITE, the member forums, and social media for more updates and how you can engage with ECE-RJ in the unprecedented days ahead.

     

    And now, with Lisa as President, Ellen Lefkowitz as First Vice President, the entire board, along with Executive Director Tricia Ginis and URJ Liaison Rachel Margolis and the amazing membership of ECE-RJ, our organization is in great shape and great hands, and on a phenomenal path that will inevitably have twists and turns and will keep moving forward. 

     

    On a personal note, I want to thank Lisa Samick, Rachel Margolis, Tricia Ginis, Ellen Lefkowitz, Pam Ranta, April Schafer, Lori Kowit, Leslie Scheck, Cathy Goldberg, Zoë Miller, Sheila Purdin, Shelly Sender, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Cathy Rolland, Judi Goozh, Marc Newman, and the many, many others in ECE-RJ who supported me and continuously and consistently elevate the field of Jewish Early Childhood Education and ECE-RJ.

     

    I’m looking forward to each unprecedented day ahead. I hope to see you in San Diego in November for the first ECE-RJ in-person conference in over two years!

     

    Fern Katz, Immediate Past President, ECE-RJ

    Director of Early Childhood Education

    Sinai Preschool

    Chicago Sinai Congregation

     

    • Dale Cooperman Well done, Fern. This article put all our lives over the past 2 years into the proverbial nutshell. Your leadership (and the leadership in this extraordinary organization) certainly helped me get... see more Well done, Fern. This article put all our lives over the past 2 years into the proverbial nutshell. Your leadership (and the leadership in this extraordinary organization) certainly helped me get through all our days, unprecedented or not. Your perspective here was an "aha" moment, because every day is just that. Unprecedented. And, it has certainly affirmed my love for this field and for you. thank you.
      1 year ago
  • 25 May 2022 by Lisa Samick

    My heart is broken.

    Yesterday, I was installed as the next President of ECE-RJ.  In a zoom room, filled with colleagues, friends and family, I was truly overwhelmed and feeling so much gratitude and love.... and then the call ended, I turned my phone back on and it was like all the air left the room.  

    Ten days after a horrific shooting in a grocery store in Buffalo, NY, 19 children and 2 adults were killed in their classrooms in their elementary school in Uvalde, TX.  19 second, third and fourth graders, 1 teacher and 1 school employee (the news as of now).

    It is enough.

    As a Director of a school, I can’t help but going to a dark place – what if…

    My social media news feed is flooded with “thoughts and prayers” – and we need time for that.  But, we also need to take action.

    Over the next weeks and months, you’ll hear a lot about what I hope to accomplish in my presidency, about the goals that the board has set for ECE-RJ, and the impact it will have on the world of Early Childhood Jewish Education; but for now, we have some serious work to do.

    In my first act as President, ECE-RJ will be making a donation to Everytown for Gun Safety on behalf of our entire organization.  We invite you to join us in doing this - every $1 makes a difference in their ability to advocate and fight. 

    In the meantime, though, we also need to make space to heal and to process and so I invite you to join me on zoom on Friday afternoon at 3pm ET/ 2pm CT/ 12pm PT.  We will have a moment of silence and say the Mourners' Kaddish for the victims of this heinous event and then we will just have space for us to talk and to support one another.  Please register for the zoom HERE.

    We are including below some links to resources that may be useful in your own communities – both in terms of helping parents and educators to support the children that they care for and in terms of advocacy and education.  It is by no means an exhaustive list and I encourage each of you to share out the resources and organizations that are doing this important work – please use our FB page and the forum as a platform to help us all take action.

    We are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it (Pirkei Avot 2:21)

    I am thinking of each and every one of you and of the families in Uvalde.

    Lisa Samick
    Incoming President of ECE-RJ

     

    Supporting young children through tragedy:

    Sesame Street on Violence

    Child Mind Institute – Helping Children Cope with Frightening News

    Today Show:  An Age by Age Guide to talk about shootings

    Fred Rogers:  Helping Children with Tragic Events in the News

    National Child Traumatic Stress Network – Helping Children with Traumatic Grief

     

    Advocacy/Education:

    Religious Action Center:  Gun Violence Prevention

     Sandy Hook Promise  

    Stand with Parkland

  • 08 Mar 2022 by Fern Katz

    I Have Missed Relationships the Most

    I think that what is most different for me these past two years, and what seems to affect all the different aspects of my life – home, family, friends, work, organizations (ECE-RJ), etc. – is the actual building of relationships. I still have most of the same relationships I had before, but I have not had the opportunity to build many new relationships. I would not have thought I would miss it so much, considering how hard it can be to develop or strengthen a relationship.

    As an EC director, last year it was harder than ever before to get to know new families well and this year it is only a little easier. It has been so long since parents could spend time schmoozing in the lobby with each other and me, so long since we have had an in-person Tot Shabbat dinner where I got to know the extended families of the children and welcome out of town grandparents who came in to visit on that particular weekend so they could go to Tot Shabbat, so long since I have seen the faces of siblings without masks.

    I miss in-person professional development, meetings with colleagues, and conferences. I even miss (but not much) the initial and sometimes awkward moments of trying to remember names and pronounce them correctly. I miss the next part of a new relationship- where two or more people get to know each other, finding the commonalities and putting more emphasis on those than the differences. I miss playing Jewish Geography - the back and forth of finding who you have in common – because there almost always is someone.

    I have so greatly missed having an in-person ECE-RJ Conference to attend. I miss the learning, the praying, the singing, the talking, the celebrating. But mostly I miss going to an ECE-RJ conference and seeing old friends, and then leaving the conference with new friends, knowing that by the next conference the new friends will be old friends. Please, come to the November 2022 ECE-RJ Conference in San Diego – Lech Lecha: Moving Forward Together. Reconnect. Reimagine. Rebound. This conference is going to be a very special experience – one that I think we all need. If you are my old friend, please come so we can have a real hug. If you are a friend that I don’t know yet – I cannot wait to meet you, and to soon think of you like an old friend, too.

     

    Fern 

  • 18 Feb 2022 by Tricia Ginis

    Reflecting On This Year's Kallah

    Soon after the 2022 Virtual Kallah, I found myself sitting in my office with an overwhelming sense of personal and professional fulfillment.

    My mind began to wander. I first thought about all the fantastic sessions we offered and was blown away by the caliber of speakers and the amount of information we could cover in such a short time.

    For some reason, I started to think about specific pieces that stuck with me, like Rabbi Sandra Lawson singing a song to us that she had written for her mom, "You Can Be Anything." It was such a personal story that she shared about her mother's support and love.

     I thought about Rachel Hall and Tani Prell's session about creating anti-oppressive classrooms and realized how much we have to learn and how much intentional work needs to be done in this area.

    I remember Eliana Rubin sharing her story and feeling so proud of her strength and ability to feel comfortable to share and vulnerable enough to allow us in. I teared up as I thought about the shared stories during the panel discussion. The feeling of support and understanding could be felt through Zoom.

    All of the attendees were as mesmerized as I was. We spent Shabbat afternoon with Dr. Tamar Andrews, learning and sharing baking stories. Each one reminded us of the relationships and memories we had in the kitchen with family and friends. She shared that "Real relationships that elevate us and our lives require simple and honest ingredients that we put in by hand.  Ingredients such as communication, empathy, and love. We have to work on these relationships quite a bit until they form into real ones and then allow these relationships the time they need until they bake into something that we savor."  

    Soon after, I realized how lucky we were to have scheduled a Havdalah and reflection program to process the work and learn from the week together. The timing was unbelievable as Havdalah began just a few hours into the hostage situation in Colleyville. The time together was so meaningful.

    Yolanda Savage-Narva shared a poem by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays.  

    I have only just a minute,

    Only sixty seconds in it.

    Forced upon me, can't refuse it.

    Didn't seek it, didn't choose it.

    But it's up to me

    to use it.

    I must suffer if I lose it.

    Give account if I abuse it.

    Just a tiny little minute,

    but eternity is in it.

     

    It was a perfect culmination of the 2022 ECE-RJ Kallah and left us with a charge to continue the work to Listen, Learn and Act towards transformational change.

    For those who attended the 2022 Virtual Kallah, I hope you left with the tools and mindset to bring what you learned back to your early childhood program and temple community and with the intention of Lishmoa, Lilmod, Lif'ol: LISTEN, LEARN AND ACT.

  • 18 Feb 2022 by Fern Katz

    The Board Is Working on A New Organizational Mission and Vision

    February 2022As I am writing this, I have just completed Day 2 of the ECE-RJ mid-year Board Meeting – I am both drained and energized. While we have a monthly meeting to work on the organization's regular business, the Board meets twice a year for a few days to work on big picture items. There was a time when the ECE-RJ Board met in person and worked on whiteboards, giant Post Its, and chart paper. This is not that time – and even though we are meeting on Zoom, we will still be able to work together and accomplish some heavy tasks ahead of us.

    It is essential for ECE-RJ to be robust and relevant and to strengthen Jewish Early Childhood Education in congregations across North America. The timing was right for us to look in the mirror and make decisions about who we are, who we are not, and who we should be.

    We asked URJ North American Board member, Chuck Gealer, to help us work through the challenging task of revising or recreating ECE-RJ's mission and vision statements – and it is our good fortune that Chuck agreed. Chuck has been guiding us, pushing and pulling us to dig deep, think, discuss, and synthesize our ideas, beliefs, thoughts, and goals. And reminding us that this is a process that will take months.

    We are currently in the middle of this process, and I am both drained and energized. I am looking forward to bringing more information to you over the coming months.

    It is an exciting time to be a member of ECE-RJ.

    • Elaine Gaidemak As a founding member it is wonderful to see the continuum of growth from the very first mission statement and the statements that subsequently followed, to the current efforts. ECE-RJ is truly... see more As a founding member it is wonderful to see the continuum of growth from the very first mission statement and the statements that subsequently followed, to the current efforts. ECE-RJ is truly becoming and it is a wonderful thing to observe. I am so inspired by this wonderful journey.
      1 year ago
  • 20 Jan 2022 by Tricia Ginis

    Another Successful Kallah is in the Books

    Kallah gives us sacred time and space to come together and support one another in our learning. This year's Kallah was no different. It was a time to share our journeys and get reinvigorated with the joy of why we do what we do. Like Kallah's past, we unwound, laughed, sang, and celebrated who we are and what we do.

    This year, our focus was advocating for equality and creating communities where everyone is accepted and celebrated. Early childhood centers play a significant role in creating a welcoming congregational community. As directors, assistant directors, and teachers, we must lead in welcoming and supporting Jews and educators of color, advocating for LGBTQ+ awareness and minority rights, and offering equal access and accessibility to all.

    For four days, we explored the many ways we can work together to open our ears and widen the tent surrounding us. We had a slate of presenters who showed us how to create a responsive community by breaking barriers and building brindges: Lishmoa, Lilmod, Lif'ol (Listen, Learn, Act).
       
    The workshops allowed for deep and meaningful conversations that challenged us to explore the importance and value in listening to others with an authentic and open mindset. 
    We learned from various voices and perspectives, providing us with essential takeaways to facilitate much-needed change—to take action, break down barriers, and build bridges.
    If you have never attended a conference or a Kallah, I highly recommend you do.

    Please take a look at the recap of the Kallah and mark your calendars for our next IN-PERSON (fingers crossed!) ECE-RJ Conference in San Diego, CA, November 2-5, 2022 .

  • 20 Jan 2022 by Fern Katz

    A New Year Brings Hope

    Happy 2022! This is going to be an important year for young children. It looks like we are going to see two major changes that will have an immense impact on life and society. It is expected that the Build Back Better Act will pass with funding for early childhood education and that the vaccine for Covid-19 for children under 5 years of age will be approved by the FDA.

    I am really excited about the vaccine. I hope that it will bring a turning point for this crazy disease that has impacted every aspect of all of our lives. It seems that almost everywhere I go – in person and virtually – from work, to family get-togethers, to funerals, to social media – I hear the phrases “Follow the Science” and “Read the Data.” The scientists who have developed the vaccines, the scientists who interpret the data, the ones who figure out how to fund the research and development, the medical professionals who give the vaccines, the truck drivers who bring the vaccines to the pharmacies, the packaging engineers who designed the packaging, the hazardous waste collectors, every single one of these people, every person who has had a hand in developing, distributing, promoting, and all the other thousands of steps it will take for everyone to have access to this vaccine … every single one of them was once a young child.

    Each of these individuals, at one point or another, was the recipient of early childhood education. It may have been in a “formal” environment (classroom) or an “informal” place (home, playground).  It may have been “play-based” or “academic” or watching Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Wheel of Fortune. The education may have been planned and intentional, or it may have been organic and unexpected. But at some point, each of these people who have a hand in getting this vaccine into the arms of young children, learned how to read and count, think and sort, categorize and create. Maybe they read science journals and maybe they read traffic signs. Maybe they do trigonometry and maybe they count the boxes they load on the truck.

    I want to thank all their teachers. The classroom teachers, the parents and caregivers, the babysitters and grandparents, the neighbors, siblings, Big Bird, Mr. Rogers and Vanna White.  And you. I want to thank you in advance, because the future scientists and truck drivers, economists and politicians, the ones who are going to take us to even higher heights of science, more brilliant art, music, and literature, and the ones who may bring about a peaceful world – they are in our classrooms, our programs, our sanctuaries, our parks, and our homes, now.

    So, on those days when it is hard to get out of bed and face yet another day of pandemic preschool, remember - the change makers, the ones who will make the world a better place, they are in front of you right now. 

     

    Fern

    • Dale Cooperman Fern, this is one of the best reminders of why we do what we do, in the best and worst of circumstances. thank you for this - and as i look around at these children with whom i share my days, ... see more Fern, this is one of the best reminders of why we do what we do, in the best and worst of circumstances. thank you for this - and as i look around at these children with whom i share my days, and celebrate their wondrously insatiable curiosity, i will remember your words.
      2 years ago
    • Heidi Baker Ditto!
      2 years ago
  • 16 Dec 2021 by Tricia Ginis

    The Pandemic Has Changed How Things Are Done

    It is easy to take something you have done repeatedly for granted. For example, planning a staff meeting, providing professional development opportunities for teachers, or connecting families with congregational leadership. It does not take much each time you do it. Maybe a few tweaks here or there, but that is it. We almost never reinvent the wheel when it comes to such tasks.

    The pandemic has really changed how things are done. We have had to completely reinvent very interaction, every activity, every step along the way has been uncharted territory. We are continually evolving and changing everything from welcoming families into the preschool and temple community to coordinating drop-off and pick-up.  The way directors have had to work to engage and connect their staff in a virtual world, and how teachers have adapted to a new normal either in the classroom or in a virtual learning situation, is incredible.

    There have been no blueprints or instructions to refer to when needed. Directors and teachers are relying heavily on each other to share what works and what doesn’t. ECE-RJ continues to play a vital role in figuring it all out.

    We have worked to provide resources and support for members through:

    • Publishing a monthly newsletter chock-full of ideas and information
    • Producing the annual conference by shifting to a virtual format while still finding ways to build relationships and a supportive community
    • Holding virtual professional development opportunities for teachers and directors, featuring the top experts in related fields and in partnership with organizations like Paradigm Project and the JCCA.
    • Engaging in advocacy efforts to raise the pay and benefits of people in our field
    • Providing online forums to network, share information, and ideas
    • Providing consultative services for congregations going through a leadership staffing search and those needing guidance and support with their early childhood center. This includes re-evaluating a program, staffing, curriculum, COVID-19 processes & procedures.
    • Hosting a national job board

    ECE-RJ continues to be committed to building vibrant, contemporary, and inclusive educational communities whether we are in a pandemic or not. Our membership works to bring people together in our institutions and to ensure the radiant and sustainable future of Jewish Early Childhood Education. Please feel free to reach out for more information about what ECE-RJ has to offer and let us know how we can support the early childhood professionals in your congregation.

     

    Tricia

     

     

     

  • 16 Dec 2021 by Fern Katz

    Grateful to Have ECE-RJ Leading Us Into 2022

    We have almost reached the end of 2021 and even though we are only a few months into 5782 and only a few months into the 2021-22 school year, we are still closing out 2021. This has been an important year in Jewish Early Childhood Education. As a field, we have been successfully operating preschools and childcare centers in a pandemic and we have done it with courage, grace, and many new challenges. We have witnessed the inauguration of new President of the United States, an unprecedented female Vice President who happens to have a Jewish spouse and a mezuzah now hangs on the doorpost of Number One Observatory Circle.

    2021 has been a year of difficult changes, staff shortages, and worry. It has also been a year of advocacy, exciting changes, and joy. We have seen increased opportunities in professional development, partnerships and now we are at the cusp of the passing of the Build Back Better Act which has brought awareness to the needs and plight of early childhood education, that we have lived with for far too long; and hopefully funding for families with young children and preschools.

    I cannot predict what will happen in 2022, but I am glad and grateful that we have ECE-RJ to lead us into the new year and pave the way for more changes, more opportunities, and more joy.

  • 22 Nov 2021 by Tricia Ginis

    Take Action to Help Early Childhood Education, We Need Your Voice

    I receive calls nearly every day from early childhood directors, executive directors and congregational leaders. They want to find out what resources are available to help early childhood centers struggling to find qualified staff, how can they manage budgets while keeping in line with current COVID-19 protocols and ratios as well as keeping a balance between enrollment and staffing. Times are tough right now for the field of early childhood education. Sara Wasserman of Sh’ma Koleinu shares some information on the current situation and what we can do to help.

    Please take a moment to read and take action. We need every voice. Now more than ever before.

    Early childhood centers across the United States are struggling with staffing, enrollment and finances. While this is not new, the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on many of the long-standing issues affecting early childhood education, including, for example, affordable access to early childhood education, low teacher wages, and the lack of financial support from the government. The Build Back Better plan, which is being negotiated in Congress, seeks to address some of these issues. 

    One of the key objectives of the Build Back Better plan is to provide free or low-cost half-day preschool education for three- and four-year-old children across the country. As currently proposed, the Build Back Better plan would expand access to early childhood education for families across the country by offering parents program choice, infusing funds into schools both for improvements and increasing teacher salaries, offering teachers support to pursue higher level degrees, and stressing the importance of early childhood educators’ work on a national scale.

    The key to the Build Back Better plan, and the future of early childhood centers, is a mixed delivery model. As currently proposed, the federal government will support the existing childcare infrastructure with an infusion of funding intended to provide access to high quality preschools to 75% more families than currently have such access. Public schools, licensed center-based childcare providers, licensed family care providers, community childcare providers, and Head Start programs will all be eligible to receive funding from the federal government.

    This bears repeating: EVERY early childhood center will be able to apply for federal funding to increase teacher salaries, invest in the quality of the school, and reach so many more children. 

    We therefore need everyone to advocate for the field of early childhood. Contact your elected officials so we can get this bill passed! To find out who you should contact, visit: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/map

     

    Sh’ma Koleinu (Hebrew for Hear our Voices), is a coalition dedicated to listening to and advocating for children, families, and early childhood education. 

  • 22 Nov 2021 by Fern Katz

    How A Lack of Qualified Teachers Impacts Families and the Economy

     

    Early childhood education is in crisis. Last month I wrote about the crisis of the shortage of educators and the challenge of finding qualified teachers who want to work in a demanding field that typically has low wages. 

    This month I am writing about the trials and impact this shortage has on families and our economy. According to a survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, four out of five daycare centers nationwide are understaffed. How does lack of available early childhood education impact more than families and children? A shortage of teachers means a shortage of spaces available in preschools and childcare for young children. A shortage of spaces means parents of young children may not be able to work. For many families, without childcare it is impossible to work. A young child cannot be left alone while a parent works outside the home. For parents that work in the home, it is nearly impossible to devote adequate attention to work and a child or children at the same time. Most of us, including families with young children, need gainful employment to pay their bills, feed and shelter their families, and be productive members of society in order for an economy to thrive.

     My niece, like many parents, was faced with the childcare dilemma in her plans of returning to work after her the birth of her baby. She shared with me her desire to return to work as a nurse, a job that is important for the health and safety of her community as well as providing necessary income so that she could raise her child. And yet she explained to me that she was having a hard time finding quality affordable childcare. The centers that were affordable were not accepting any more children because they did not have the staff needed. The one center they found that had space was so costly that what was left after paying for childcare would not be enough to pay their mortgage and all other bills - even in a two working parent professional family. My niece’s solution: She found a center quite a distance from both of their jobs and their home and they are on the waitlists at three centers that are closer.

     For our society and economy to function and to thrive, affordable high quality early childhood education is needed in every urban, suburban, and rural area in the country. Childcare cannot bankrupt families, and at the same time needs to significantly raise wages to attract and retain educators. It is time for the federal government to take a more active part in funding early childhood education – and you can help make this happen. Let your legislators know that you support federal funding for early childhood education in a mixed delivery system and that this funding is necessary for an economy to grow and thrive. You can do this by email, post card, phone call, and the easiest way is to go to this link https://fyff.quorum.us/campaign/34126/ and take 30 seconds to fill out the form. Call or write everyone you know and ask them to do the same. It is time to act.

  • 22 Oct 2021 by Tricia Ginis

    Looking for a new Director of Early Childhood Education? Hiring can be a difficult undertaking. Did you know that Unconscious Bias is a part of the hiring process whether we like it or not. It is hard for people to put aside these influences. The judgements we make on any number of things about the candidates can be the deciding factor on whether a candidate is considered for the position or not. How can the search committee leave these biases out of the hiring process? Each committee member needs to understand what their unconscious biases are.

    Here are some things that can affect perception of a candidate:

    • Affinity bias- gravitate to those who are most like ourselves.
    • First Impression Bias- when the candidate walks in the door- look great, sound great, must be great
    • Confirmation Bias- influences us to unconsciously seek information only the information that supports our early stage findings or assumptions-encourages us to under weigh, undervalue or ignore information that might conflict our early stage findings- stop listening deeply, stop probing for solid evidence or understanding, even skip questions
    • Resume- Any part of your resume can be a deciding factor (college, addresses- mailing address (undesirable location or distance), email address (crazymom@gmail.com)
    • Social Media postings-Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc.
    • Appearance: Height, weight, ‘attractiveness’, clothing

     

    Tips and Techniques to minimize unconscious bias

    • Watch Unconscious Bias: Stereotypical Hiring Practices with Gail Tolstoi-Miller Tedx Talks will help the search committee begin thinking about their own unconscious bias and open the conversation about how the committee can work to avoid the biases affecting the candidate selection process.
    • Be honest with ourselves to identify our own biases, preferences, and stereotypes
    • Visit https://wrj.org/implicit-bias to learn more about implicit bias and take the test to see what your implicit biases are.

    Need help with a search for a new Director of Early Childhood Education? Feel free to reach out.

    Tricia Ginis
    Executive Director
    tginis@urj.org

  • 22 Oct 2021 by Fern Katz

    We are in a crisis.

    Now, more than ever, the outlook is bleak for early childhood education and educators. There is a great need and a great shortage of educators in the field of early childhood education, including Jewish education. Without enough teachers there are not enough programs. This was an issue before the pandemic, and now it is much worse and impacting more and more families with young children.

    On September 19 of this year, the Washington Post published an article by Heather Long with the heading ‘The pay is absolute crap’: Child-care workers are quitting rapidly, a red flag for the economy. The article provides both statistics and stories from parents and teachers illustrating the crisis that we are all in.

    The statistics are staggering:

    • Day Care workers earn in the bottom 2 percent of all professions
    • The child-care industry if down 126,700 workers
    • The hiring situation in early childhood is worse than in restaurants
    • More than 10,000 workers have left the industry since June, 2021
    • More than a third of providers are thinking about quitting or closing their business “as a sense of hopelessness permeates the industry”

    In the Early Childhood Jewish world, we see this every day. And we are worried. Just a few of the comments I have heard recently include:

    • I can’t afford to send my own child to the program I work for
    • I can make more money as a cashier at Walgreens
    • I worked throughout the pandemic and received only a cost-of-living increase. It is still barely minimum wage
    • We live in a country that values money – it is clear how little they value educators
    • I love teaching and I love children, but I am so tired of being treated like this – little money, no benefits, little respect

    If you are reading this, you are probably not surprised. You probably have heard this before. You are likely a person who cares about young children and the field of early childhood Jewish education, who sees the value in the work of ECE-RJ, and who wants to support educators and education.

    Keep reading.

    We have an opportunity.

    Now, more than ever, is the time for our collective voice to be heard.

    The United States Congress is considering a bill that would support early childhood education and make quality early childhood education a right, not just a privilege, for all three-and four-year olds. The proposed legislation would reduce costs for families and offer wages for early childhood teachers that are comparable to educators in local public schools. Federal funding can work for Jewish and other religious schools in a mixed delivery system. While accepting federal funding would mean removing religious aspects from the curriculum; ethics, values, and honoring the cultures of all children can remain. Religious aspects of the program can take place before or after the funded program as enrichment class or family programming. This may be a challenge and a change for some

    • Sara Losch Thank you for this. I"ll be retiring after 38 years in the field and I worry that I can't leave my school staffed and prepared. As my final push at our synagogue (where i"ve been the director for... see more Thank you for this. I"ll be retiring after 38 years in the field and I worry that I can't leave my school staffed and prepared. As my final push at our synagogue (where i"ve been the director for 33 years), I am pushing for large increases for our preschool staff. By the way, for context: I run the religious school too where our staff earn $65-70 per hour with no training. That keeps me up at night.
      2 years ago
  • 03 Sep 2021 by Tricia Ginis

    The pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on early childhood education. The continuing public health crisis has made an already stressful and challenging job even more difficult.

    It is not surprising to find directors and teachers feeling stressed out, overworked, and underappreciated. It can feel very isolating in a building where stress is coming from all directions. You have parents worried about the health and safety of their children, teachers who feel underpaid and overworked, and Temple administration and lay leaders (with declining Congregational membership), who are more than ever looking toward ECE programs as a source of income. 

    What has been a bright light and a source of nurturing support are the private forums and webinars offered by ECE-RJ.  They are places where members can go to be with others who are having the same experiences and experiencing the same feelings and emotions.  They are places to share, vent, and find an empathetic ear. This is not the time to go at it alone. We all need each other.

    If you are looking for a network of early childhood educators to provide guidance and support, ECE-RJ is the place to be. I’d love to share more about ECE-RJ and how we can support the work that you do. Feel free to reach out!

     

    Tricia Ginis
    Executive Director, ECE-RJ
    tginis@urj.org

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