Talia, my 4-year-old granddaughter, and Asher, her 2-year-old brother, have begun their Jewish journey in a joyful, positive, creative setting: JCC Chicago's Early Childhood Education programs. Galit, their 2-year-old cousin, and Pnina, their 1-year-old cousin, are in a parallel program offering the same warm, nurturing Jewish setting. I see optimism and positivity; I see a hopeful today and tomorrow!
The adage that we 'live for today, build for tomorrow' is so true. My grandchildren's parents are professionals with demanding careers. In fact, many parents of very young children hold positions that require full-day child care. There are options, to be sure, but what my grandchildren are receiving through JCC Early Childhood programs is nothing short of miraculous-an incredible foundation for a more secure Jewish future.
Listening to Talia and Asher sing Shabbat songs and recite the blessing over the candles (sometimes on a Zoom call to me) can't be adequately expressed in words on paper! The look in their eyes and their smiling faces say is all. Holidays around our table are enhanced by what they're learning at the J. This past Pesach, for instance, my grandchildren regaled us with songs and stories about the holiday.
It's well known that education begins in infancy. There are seven JCC Early Childhood Education Centers in the Chicago area serving almost 700 children daily. I'm most familiar with the Bernard Weinger JCC, where Talia and Asher spend their weekdays. The highly experienced, tenured staff is key to what I am witnessing in my grandchildren. Imagine what it takes to find and retain teachers with the level of caring and commitment required to educate, motivate, inspire, and help build the secure Jewish future we all envision. Miracles do happen, believe me.
I am hopeful for tomorrow. But here's the challenge and opportunity for all of us who are passionate about a vibrant Jewish future.
It takes quite a lot to build a community and to bolster an early education system in peril-it takes vision, it takes leadership, it takes courage, and it takes professionals who share that vision of a hoped-for tomorrow. JCC Chicago understands the challenges and took action in preparing for the 2023-2024 school year.
JCC Chicago has significantly expanded scholarship opportunities, including increased need-based fee assistance, and a new Camp Scholarship that covers two months of care for 3- and 4-year-olds who spend their full year in JCC programs. Meanwhile, the J's early childhood educators will receive pay increases ranging from 6% to more than 50% based on experience in the field. Teachers will also be supported by increased health care benefits, paid time off, expanded maternity leave, and more.
The J is a leader in the field and has assumed a responsibility to demonstrate what is possible for both families and educators in the early childhood sector. Their admirable efforts demonstrate what just one agency can do for 200 teachers and 700 children and their families. But, more is needed.
Yes, we do live for today, but we build for tomorrow. Philanthropic dollars are needed to help support these ambitious new opportunities so that more of the youngest members of our community can experience what my grandchildren and their classmates enjoy every day.
I'm a grandmother on a mission! Seeing and hearing what my grandchildren have learned and how they are living Jewishly is why I'm so optimistic. Their classmates are their special friends for a lifetime. Even more exciting, their parents are celebrating Jewish holidays and joining synagogues together, building meaningful Jewish lives that bode well for our future.
I'm enthusiastically hopeful for my grandchildren, for their parents, and for our greater Chicago Jewish community, with many thanks to the JCC and their incredible commitment to what matters most.
Lori Komisar is a life-long international Jewish community lay leader and activist. She lives in Winnetka with her life partner, Morris, and has two daughters, a son, and four grandchildren.