It was the right time, said Richard Tannenbaum, executive director of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley.
After all, the Woodcliff Lake synagogue had just hired a new rabbi, Loren Monosov — who has two young children of her own — as well as a new director of early childhood education, Debbie Wanamaker. And last year, TEPV had welcomed a new cantor, Alan Sokoloff. The stars, so to speak, seemed to be perfectly aligned.
“It was almost organic,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. Especially since the YJCC in Washington Township closed, “we’ve been talking to parents about the things they need.” With new staff in place to meet those needs, the synagogue was ready to go.
“We’re very excited, because in this area, a program like this doesn’t really exist,” Mr. Tannenbaum said, noting that while other institutions in the area do offer some parenting classes, TEPV’s new parenting center will provide a comprehensive, unified program “with a uniquely Jewish blend.
“I know that Hackensack Hospital has something for young parents, and there are programs at 92 Street and the JCC in Tenafly,” he said. (To be exact, he’s talking about the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.) But a dedicated parenting program with a uniquely Jewish blend certainly is a new addition to the community.
The center will include a parents lounge, where people with preschool children can drop in, have coffee, and speak to friends; a roster of speakers, drawn from experienced early childhood educators, and hands-on programming for infants and toddlers.
“Speakers will deal with things on parents’ minds, whether children with anxiety, child development, how to communicate with your child, or routines and rituals,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “We’re bringing a service to the community.” All community members are welcome and some of the programs, including the lectures, are free, he added.
“Rabbi Monosov is committed to this,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. The rabbi took up her position in mid-July, and soon afterward she created an outdoor classroom near the playground where children gathered to share stories and watermelon on Friday afternoons. “She calls it Shabbat in the Shade,” he said.
While organizers plan to target specific concerns already voiced by parents, “as the parents get together, we’ll listen to their needs,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. He noted as well that while the program is open to the community, “a lot of what we do will be in a Jewish context.” Just as some synagogue nursery schools serve both Jews and non-Jews, “it doesn’t alter the character of the program,” he said.
Debbie Wanamaker, the shul’s new early childhood director, said that the new center’s mission is “to offer insight into the experience of being a parent, serving as a unique resource providing support and education to parents faced with the everyday challenges of raising children.
“At the same time, it is a place where parents can spend time with their young children and socialize with other parents.”
Those parents may well include Rabbi Monosov, who envisions the center as “a partner in parenting.” In most cases, parents and children will attend classes together. The intention is that while children are playing and learning, parents will interact with peers and teachers.
The parenting center program will have three components.
Parents with infants through 12 months can attend a free drop-in playgroup, parents and toddlers 12 months through 18 months can participate in the Come Play with Me program, and parents with toddlers from 18 through 24 months will be offered a Toddlers-to-Be program, gradually transitioning to the On My Own class.
According to Mr. Tannenbaum, the playgroup “will give parents an opportunity to play with their children and talk to other parents. It will give them a sense of comfort,” he said. The Come Play with Me class, which the synagogue has run before, “will now be under the umbrella of the parenting center. There’s more foundation for learning and discovery. It begins the children’s experiential journey in learning.” Toddlers will be offered circle time, music, and, at some point, some separation from their parents. “The parents step back,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “Social interaction is the key.”
The parenting center will open officially in the middle of September and continue throughout the year. Based on the synagogue’s past experience with early childhood programming, Mr. Tannenbaum expects “at least a couple of dozen” participants initially, but he is confident that attendance will grow through word of mouth. “We’re the address in the Pascack Valley,” he said. “When parents move here, they call us.”
Fridays, twice monthly,
9:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Fall dates: September 23,
October 7 and 21, November 4 and 8,
December 2 and 16
Come Play with Me
Wednesdays, 9:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
September 28 to December 14,
Thursdays, 9:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
September 29 to December 15, 10-week session
All classes are held in the youth lounge at Temple Emanuel, 87 Overlook Drive, Woodcliff Lake. Registration is required. For information and registration, call Debbie Wanamaker at (201) 391-8329 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email Cheryl Mazen at email@example.com.