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By JOANNE SEIFF

I walked between my twin three year olds, holding hands. Leaving preschool, we passed an older, bearded man wearing a kippah. One of my boys waved hello.


“Hi G-d!” he said with nonchalance.
I was loading my guys into the car before I realized what had happened. I felt flooded with embarrassment. I spent the ride home explaining that although there is a divine spark in each of us….this was not the Almighty, but a rabbi at the Chabad Jewish Learning Centre. I explained who the rabbi was, mentioning his grandchildren, who were my sons’ preschool classmates.
Then it hit me. They don’t understand theology! Their focus is mainly dinosaurs, Lightning McQueen and Sesame Street. Once I got past feeling embarrassed, it was funny.
It got even funnier when I bumped into Rabbi Altein again. I mentioned the conversation to him. After all, he had grandchildren – he’d understand. The Rabbi said he’d heard my son talking, but hadn’t caught the details. Afterwards, I said something like “I don’t know, maybe it’s an honour?” With a twinkle in his eye, he replied, “that’s a lot of expectations. I don’t know if I could handle the responsibility!”
I feel the same way about parenting Jewish children…sometimes I’m overwhelmed with the responsibility.
When I was two, I was lucky to go to a liberal Jewish preschool in Virginia. The rabbi of our congregation, a Holocaust survivor, enabled his new congregation to offer Jewish learning for all ages, and he started the preschool in 1970. My mother, an early childhood educator, was the first director. When I came along a few years later, I had a place to go – and so did some non-Jewish friends. Those friends surrounded me with a love of Jewish ritual and learning even as we headed on to public elementary school. My Methodist friend, Sarah, was first to speak out in grade one music class during December, saying “…but where are the Hanukah songs?”
I wanted my kids to have the same strong foundational Jewish experience. Yet, when faced with the need for daycare in Winnipeg, Jewish options were few and far between. We were put on the waiting list for the Rady JCC Day Care when our twins were 5 months old. We were offered one emergency space, with the provision that I wouldn’t be able to alternate babies in care. Although they shared a crib at home, they weren’t allowed to share a space at daycare. Since I wasn’t doing a social experiment where one twin had child care and the other stayed home with me, we passed up the offer. The last time I checked in with the Kaufman Child Care Centre, we were 156th on the waiting list. We were very grateful when our boys turned 2 and Chabad Torah Tots offered us two childcare slots.
I’m an egalitarian, liberal Jew at heart, but I take Jewish learning seriously. I discovered that those with spots at the Rady Centre Day Care often signed up before their babies were born, something I wouldn’t consider. Twin pregnancies are high risk. Jewish tradition teaches that “it isn’t a baby until it’s born/had a bris, etc.” I wasn’t about to sign up fetuses for day care, but that’s what the system encourages.
I think it’s super that Jewish child care spots will be available at the Grosvenor St. Fire hall someday in the future. That’s great, but the thing is – a kid is only two years old once. By taking so long to prioritize Jewish day care spots, Winnipeg lost valuable opportunities to offer kids (and their parents) Judaism when it counts. I’d send my kids to a Jewish daycare at Herzlia or Temple Shalom – wherever I could get two spaces and make it work out geographically. With so much competition for so few spots, many Jewish families send kids to daycares where they learn about Christmas, Santa, and the Easter bunny.
My boys correct my Modern Hebrew pronunciation, because they learn Ashkenazic accents. I remind them that it’s all an accent. They sound like Winnipeggers, Mommy sounds like a Virginian and Daddy is from New York.
Reconciling what’s on offer, what we believe and maintaining religious continuity feels daunting. After bath time recently, I was getting one kid into his jammies and we had an interesting conversation. He says he is not sure who he is going to marry. He thinks he will probably marry either his twin brother, Mommy or Daddy. He wants to have 18 children and he will have them all in his tummy. He is planning for Rabbi Shmuley (Rabbi Altein’s son) to do the brachas at his wedding.
Well, ok then. My mother says she will even sit behind a mechitza for that one. We’ll work out the other details later.

Joanne Seiff is the author of two books and the mother of twins. She lives in Winnipeg.

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