Written for the October PJ Library enewsletter
In this month’s PJ library selection, The Only One Club, a young girl discovers that she is the only Jewish child in her class after being asked by her teacher to help decorate the classroom for Christmas. She eventually creates a club that recognizes and celebrates that everyone is the “only one” of something – that uniqueness is something to be proud of.
My children love this book. Apparently, lots of children do. As a teacher, and a parent (and a writer, but I’ll keep quiet about that part), I have some issues with it. I don’t like seeing a teacher in what appears to be a public school decorating her class for Christmas (Oh yeah, and for Chanukah. A little bit, anyway.) As a parent, I don’t like the way the mother and father accept this as a matter of course. I understand that this isn’t a book about the issue of separation of church and state, but I’m uncomfortable with the celebration of Christmas in the public schools being presented as completely normal.
My two children both attended a secular preschool, where they were essentially the “only ones.” (They weren’t the only Jewish kids, but they were the only kids from an observant family.) As I wrote in a column last December
, the school made a decision not to teach about or promote any
religious holidays. Instead, all families were encouraged to come into the classroom and share something about their own traditions, Consequently, my daughters learned about St. Nicholas and Easter eggs, as well as solstice, and Ramadan (and Rosh Hashanah and Passover) without my ever feeling threatened or uncomfortable as a Jewish parent.
This very positive experience might have led me to continue my daughters’ experience as “only ones” and send them to public school. And while I’ve heard some horror stories about extraordinarily blatant promotion of Christmas and Christ (their word, not mine) in some allegedly secular schools, my guess is that in our progressive and pc-to-a-fault town, this would not have been a problem. Nevertheless, we chose to send our daughters to a Jewish day school, where they are definitely not the only ones.
Choosing a day school was not an easy decision. It means that we pay for school (albeit with some generous financial aid) when there is a very good free school literally two doors away from our house. It means that our children have many fewer classmates with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and it means they are no longer experiencing daily the kind of diversity that enriched their preschool years. I acknowledge that these are real losses.
Our choice of day school was not a rejection of the public schools or of diversity. It was a choice to help us, an interfaith couple, instill a positive Jewish identity in our kids – to give them a chance for six or seven years of school for their Judaism to be completely normalized instead of the exception to the rule. I’m glad for all information and skills they are learning, but I’m even more glad about how natural Judaism feels to them. When I overhear Zoe belting out Hebrew songs while taking a bath, or when Ella chose to create a book about Passover
as her very first piece of writing, I’m literally moved to tears. They will have the rest of their lives to be the only ones. For our family, this feels like the right start.
The PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age eight. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.