When Sandra Forman of Madison enrolled her three-year-old daughter in the Brody Early Childhood Center in Whippany last summer, it offered her a window into the larger Jewish community.
She was not raised in a synagogue community and is not a member of a congregation.
A neighbor told her about the center, run by JCC MetroWest and located at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus. The center’s summer camp, Forman said, “offered a safe environment, a playground; it was light, and the kids could swim every day” in the pool in the campus facilities. At summer’s end her daughter was thriving, and Forman kept her there.
Forman said she also loves the center’s Jewish content. Some of the first words her daughter said after being enrolled “were ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ and one of the first art activities she brought home were decorations for the sukka,” Forman said. Another advantage: “A values-based program is important,” she said.
Today, Forman is active in United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and even came out for the Super Sunday and Terrific Tuesday fund-raisers, held earlier this month.
Forman and many of the other parents at the Brody Center feel so strongly about it they have taken it upon themselves to recruit other parents. Their grassroots campaign is about spreading the word about a place they love — and also about survival: Without a sufficient enrollment next year, it won’t be financially viable.
JCC MetroWest executive director Alan Feldman put the total required enrollment at the center at about 60 children — depending on how many days per week each child is enrolled. Right now, there are 45 students, and the school is running at a $110,000 deficit, said Feldman.
The parents have their work cut out for them: They have to recruit at least 20 new students.
“I think the center is challenged significantly to enroll enough students to avoid significant financial loss,” said Feldman. “It’s all about having enough students in the school.
“As evidenced by the parents’ efforts, educationally, our school is really good.”
Forman has created a Parents Action Committee to coordinate recruitment efforts. Although she works long hours as an attorney — she leaves her home at 7:30 a.m. and comes home at 7 p.m. — she spends weeknights, weekends, lunch hours, and commuting time doing committee work. Other parents have signed on to help, dropping off flyers at pediatricians’ offices and anywhere else young families might gather.
The school recently held an open house, and the parents are planning fund-raisers for the school.
‘A great school’
Forman said she thinks the biggest challenge is getting the word out. One issue is the location. In 2008, the JCC stopped operating the athletic facilities at the Aidekman campus, which are now run by the private Gold’s Gym.
“People think the early childhood center closed” when the fitness center was no longer run by the JCC, Forman said.
Rebecca Gold of Mountain Lakes, a member of the board of JCC MetroWest, supports the efforts of the “Brody moms.”
“I think it’s very important to have a nondenominational full-day Jewish school program in a neutral location,” said Gold, whose own children, now 12 and eight, went through the program. “Some Jews don’t feel comfortable entering a synagogue. It’s important for intermarrieds, and for people not familiar with our community institutions. Once they find it, it’s an easy building to come into.”
She also thinks it’s important to have a young Jewish presence on the Whippany campus, which is home to UJC MetroWest NJ (where she sits on the executive committee and the board of trustees), the Lester Senior Housing Community, and New Jersey Jewish News. “It creates continuity for our community,” said Gold.
Jayne Chaplick of Morris Township has three children, ages seven, five, and 10 months. Two of her children have gone through the preschool (the five-year-old is in the center’s kindergarten); her youngest will be enrolled in September.
She has been active in the recruitment effort.
“We were looking for someplace where we could reinforce what we were doing at home — Jewish traditions, holidays, values,” Chaplick said. “We looked at the Brody Center and found it to be so much more. It’s a great school. The idea that other families might not have the opportunity to send their children — there’s nothing like it in this area.”
The program is one of four full-day Jewish preschools in Morris County: at Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph, at Morristown Jewish Center-Beit Yisrael, and at White Meadow Temple in Randolph.
As for non-Jewish preschools, “You’d have to give up things that are important,” said Chaplick. “You wouldn’t have someone helping your child learn about the holidays, about the Jewish religion, about Israel. Sure, it will be a balanced program, but you won’t get what’s really important to our family — that would have to come later. And that’s such a shame to miss out on.”
Forman credits the Brody program with providing her with a critical first step into the Jewish community.
“Before, I felt intimidated. Having a nondenominational preschool is a good, safe way to learn and get these kids started without feeling totally behind the eight-ball.”