At 9 a.m., we walked into Beit Shmuel, a preschool for three to five year-old children, led by the school’s director, Udi Cohen. We entered a small room with child-sized chairs and sat facing Udi, and a beautiful floral mural painted by the children. The room where he gave us this introduction was the school’s bomb shelter, thankfully used very little in the last few years.
The kindergarten is open to all Jerusalemite families and is attended by about 100 children total, who are Jewish Israelis as well as Ethiopian and Filipino immigrants. The school is a facet of Hebrew Union College, a Reform Jewish university. The curriculum at the school is designed to help children acclimate to Jerusalem’s vast culture and prepare them for the Israeli school system while supporting the children’s individual needs. Beit Shmuel places a strong emphasis on charity, which is fostered by the children’s natural curiosity and altruism, and helps them to be observant of the needs of others.
We were lucky enough to join the children as they celebrated Kabbalat Shabbat. We tasted a wonderful chocolate filled challah, studded with sesame seeds, which had been baked this morning by the classes. We listened to the children singing songs to welcome Shabbat. I became emotional listening to the children as they sang the same songs that I sing with my kids at the APJCC Preschool in Los Gatos. The children at Beit Shmuel are sweet, funny, and open, just as are our kids at school back home. Although the cultures and challenges are very different in many ways, our jobs as teachers are the same: prepare the children for the world at their feet, and try to understand their quirky personalities along the way.