Two Rockland synagogues are combining their nursery programs.
The new Shalom Rockland Early Childhood Center, which will be housed at the New City Jewish Center, will be run jointly by that synagogue and by Temple Beth Sholom, which also is in New City, about 1.8 miles due west.
“This is something we probably should have done a long time ago,” Lori Scott said. Ms. Scott is early childhood director at Temple Beth Sholom; she will be co-director of the new program, along with Jackie Binstock, now the director of NCJC’s early childhood program.
“We will be a stronger entity together than if we continue to remain separate,” Ms. Binstock agreed.
The New City Jewish Center is Conservative and Temple Beth Sholom is Reform, and the merger of their programs for little children is seen as “the first step in the two synagogues creating a new kind of community,” Ms. Binstock said. “In nursery school, Judaically it’s the same across the board because it’s so basic.”
At the level of a four-year-old, “There’s no conflict in belief systems between Conservative and Reform Judaism,” she continued. As for general educational philosophy, “We’re very much in the same place.”
Ms. Binstock and Ms. Scott have been meeting almost weekly since the beginning of the school year to plan for the new combined school. “We’ve been working to take the best pieces of curriculum from both schools and put it together so it works,” Ms. Scott said.
Ms. Scott started at Temple Beth Shalom’s nursery program 31 years ago, as a toddler teacher. “I worked for seven years as a teacher: toddlers, threes, fours, I was even a dance teacher for a while,” she said. Then the school’s director retired, and she took over.
“One of the things that has always been outstanding about our school is virtually every one of our teachers had children who went to our school,” she said. “Including me. My son came here — he’s now 36.
“The children who come here have a sense they’re coming into a family. From what I know about the New City Jewish Center, I think the feeling is similar there. It’s one of the things that will make us successful going forward.”
Ms. Scott said that at Temple Beth Sholom until now, and Shalom Rockland going forward, “We try to integrate Jewish values in everything we do. In the morning kids say the Pledge of Allegiance and also say the Shema. We celebrate Shabbat every Friday with our fours.”
One Temple Beth Sholom program that she and Ms. Binstock have agreed will be taken up at Shalom Rockland is the mensch cape.
“It’s a superhero cape that says ‘Supermensch’ on it,” she said. “Whenever a kid does something that’s kind and caring they get to wear the mensch cape. We take a picture and put it on the bulletin board, and they get a special blessing from the rabbi or cantor.
“It makes them want to be caught doing nice things and being kind and caring. A child will see someone helping and yell, ‘So and so is being a mensch! They get to wear the mensch cape!’”
And Ms. Scott is looking forward to taking part in the STEM unit that has long been part of the Jewish Center’s Chanukah curriculum; it explores lights and candlemaking.
“There are good things we can bring out from both programs,” she said.
Ms. Binstock has been at the New City Jewish Center school for eight years.
“The school is developmentally based,” she said. “Kids learn holistically through play and experiences. We emphasize social skills and being able to function as a person with other people. How to negotiate. How to cooperate. How to stand up for yourself. How to use your words and not your hands. Also, self-help skills, learning how to put on your coat by yourself, how to go to the bathroom by yourself. We also have a very big social action, social values curriculum. We do a lot of tzedakah projects.”
After closing last spring because of covid, NCJC’s early childhood center reopened in September, “and we haven’t had to close for any significant amount of time,” Ms. Binstock said. “We’re very strict. The three- and four-year-olds wear masks except when they’re eating or outside. The two-year-olds are too little; they kind of throw their masks across the room.”
With all the teachers now vaccinated, she’s breathing easier. Parents still are not allowed in the building, and the high level of cleaning continues. It’s too soon to know what procedures will be in place in the fall; those rules will be set by the Rockland Office of Children and Family Services, which licenses the program.
The combined programs will premiere this summer, with a 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. camp program. “It’s mainly outdoor play,” Ms. Binstock said. “We have a blacktop area behind the school where we take the bikes and hoops and balls out from the gym. We also have water play — water tables and sprinklers.” There are no wading pools, because then they’d need lifeguards. “It’s just a lot of fun summer playtime activities.”
Joining the two programs “is going to be a really good shidduch,” Ms. Binstock said. “I think it’s going to be a very strong school.”