When Hurricane Irene swept through the area two years ago, it flooded the basement of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, ruining its classrooms.
Although the spaces were repaired and renovated, children who had attended the popular preschool there were sent elsewhere. Restarting the school last year proved impossible.
This year, a new option has been established, born of collaboration. The JCC of Central New Jersey, which has an acclaimed early childhood program and is looking to expand its presence in the community, has joined forces with the temple and plans to offer a pilot class for two-year-olds.
According to Robin Brous, associate executive director of the JCC and director of its early childhood services, if this class proves popular, others will be added over time. “This is an opportunity for us to create a satellite program in a partnership that works well with our educational philosophy and our commitment to Jewish learning,” she said. “And the setting is intimate and welcoming, which is especially important for little ones starting school for the first time.”
Parents of the small students will need to be members of the JCC, which is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, but not necessarily of the temple to enroll their students. While the location, six miles from the Wilf campus in Scotch Plains, where the JCC is located, might be an advantage for people in the vicinity, it could benefit those from further afield as well. Commuting parents will have the option of leaving their cars in the temple parking lot on Walnut Avenue when they drop off their children, and make use of either the nearby train line or bus service.
Rabbi Ben Goldstein, who heads the congregation, said he hopes to see his own son, Zachary, who will be two in December, attend the class. “I am delighted by this plan, not just as a parent but as a Jewish professional,” he said. “Whenever organizations in the Jewish community get together like this, in the spirit of cooperation, it’s a blessing for the community. We might pray in different houses of worship or have other differences, but we share a kinship, and this allows us to build on that.”
The idea was first mooted, he recalled, two years ago, after the storm. He and Barak Hermann, who was then executive director of the JCC (he has since left), got to talking. “I had seen what a wonderful job the JCC preschool was doing,” Goldstein said, “and the idea of working together on some kind of educational opportunity appealed to me immediately.”
Over the past year, the rabbi worked with Brous and with Hermann’s successor, Jennifer Mamlet, and a joint committee of JCC and temple members, developing the idea. They have looked into hiring a lead teacher and an assistant, and have acquired furnishing and equipment as well as educational materials. There will be both half-day and full-day options, and the JCC will also offer early- and late-stay care options at the Cranford location.
Getting the ball rolling with the initial cohort of students is challenging, Brous acknowledged. But the new entity has the advantage of the fact that the JCC preschool and kindergarten are already accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. According to the press release issued by the JCC, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America has also recognized it as “a Sheva Learning Community Cornerstone School, with constructivist learning philosophies, and inspired by Jewish expressions of values.”
So far, about a dozen families have expressed a desire to enroll their children, and another six or so have a positive interest in the idea. Brous said, “Both sides are very committed to the idea, and we’re very encouraged by what it represents in terms of two agencies working together. This kind of collaboration, and strengthening ties within the community, is central to our mission.”