“Are you excited that gan is almost over?” I ask my little girl as she cuddles up to me.
“Umm…yes…no…no!” She’s uncertain and for a moment I think she doesn’t really understand what summer vacation is.
Her face scrunches up as she digs into her mind for the words to express what she means.
“I’m really not excited because I don’t want to say goodbye to Gila. Cause I love Gila and Yochi. They come every day…so I love them the best. The other gannenot only come a little and also Ayala already isn’t coming anymore and we clapped for her….but I’m gonna miss Gila.”
She rambles on a bit more as I brush her hair. And then she’s out the door and I am left reflecting on the experience we all had this year at her kindergarten.
She wasn’t yet three when we put her in a gan in the chareidi (ultra-orthodox) area we were living in. Kindergarten is kindergarten; I didn’t think I should care too much about the religious level of the gan she was going to. All I knew was that it was an all girls gan and the mothers were asked to wear socks. To me that wasn’t a big deal.
She went every morning cheerfully enough and I was satisfied.
Then we got the call around Channukah time that our daughter, while lovable and sweet, wasn’t actually communicating in gan and was speaking gibberish to the teacher. They were convinced she had difficulty picking up Hebrew and that she had major sensory issues that were inhibiting her development. It didn’t make sense. She was speaking Hebrew in the parks with her friends. Everywhere I went people commented on how flawless her Hebrew was. I couldn’t understand so I went along with their suggestions and tried to register her for a special gan for the following year.
In February my request was denied unless I would go to a few different evaluations with her to confirm other learning issues. They wanted her exposed to Hebrew for at least another year before they approved a special gan for language issues. I wasn’t going to start looking for problems I knew didn’t exist, so I decided that we’d wait another year.
The teacher had a baby and a substitute teacher finished the last few months of the year with the kids. She was young and loving…and she though my little girl was so smart and advanced. She even walked her home every day and whenever she saw her on the street she’d give her a treat. My daughter suddenly started talking. It turned out that she had been acting like a baby with the gannenet that treated her like one. Babies speak gibberish.
Then we moved and registered her in a public gan. Religious…not Chareidi…
She had a great year. She speaks Hebrew like a purebred Israeli.
But that’s not all.
Last year she had a party to celebrate all that she learned. It was called a Mesibat Shabbat. It was all about what you can and cannot do on Shabbat. The girls did projects with their mothers depicting the Lamed Tet Melachot (39 Laws of Shabbat). We did Borer. We wrote out the word with beads…the first letter was all three colors, the next three letters were each color separated. We showed how you can’t separate things on Shabbat.
Borer is a complicated law. You can take the good from the bad, but not the bad from the good…but that’s just for food. When it comes to organizing and putting things away, it gets confusing. I mess up with that most of the time.
She was three.
She also learned about death. And she learned about reward and punishments. She talked about Mitzvot (commandments) and Aveirot (transgressions). She was told complex stories about Rabbis that didn’t make sense. She was taught the kind of Judaism that ties you down and beats you for being human.
This year she had a party too. And they sang songs about Hillel and Akiva…and about Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). She sang V’Ahavta Le’reiacha Kamocha…love your friend like yourself…and they chanted “Ezeh Hu Ashir? HaSameach B’Chelko…Ezeh Hu Chacham? Halomeid Mi’Kol Adam” (Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot…Who is smart? One who learns from everyone…)
Then they danced and sang and ate breakfast with all the parents.
We used to think that we wanted to raise our kids in the Chareidi system and that we could teach them to chill out a little. That was before we had this year.
I watch my daughter skip off happily to her third-to-last day of gan. She knows a different Judaism now. She loves Hashem and knows that He loves her. Yesterday she told me how much she loves this ‘Aretz’ (land). She sees things in brilliant colors and although she’s still afraid of death, she is no longer scared of growing up. Cause when she gets big she wants to be an Imma and then a Savta, and maybe even a Gannenet.
And I…I am different now. I see the world the way she is being taught to see it. I am no longer resentful of Chareidi society. I don’t judge them, but I no longer care to join them.
Mistakes are hard to acknowledge…embracing them and learning from them is even harder…but when the greatest changes come from the worst mistakes…we somehow begin to appreciate how wrong we were…because it makes everything we are doing now seem so incredibly right.