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A few years ago, my then-boss–a yarmulked über-Jew named Yossi Abramowitz–asked if I planned to send my kids to day school. I don’t remember my response, but I can tell you what I thought: “Dude, are you kidding?” I was a secular public-school kid, my wife was a secular public-school kid, and my children, when they were old enough, would follow pedagogical suit. We didn’t pay those insanely super-high Newton, Mass., taxes for nothing.
Well, it’s the Winter of 2009, and my six-year-old little daughter Shoshi is in her second year at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston.
How in the name of Cynthia Ozick did this happen?
Friends of ours were looking at Schechter for their child, and Lisa was intrigued. After some husband-and-wife back-and-forth, I agreed to go with her and meet the friendly people at the school (it’s the kind of place where every morning the kids are greeted with a cheery “Boker tov!“). In the end, we decided to give Shecky–I sometimes call the school “Shecky” or “Solly,” because these terms are, to my ears, more heimish than “Schechter”–a shot. Plus it’s the kind of place that would make anti-Semites crazy if they saw it. I love that.
And you know what? Jewish kindergarten was cute. The songs were cute. The holiday celebrations were cute. The Israeli dancing, the never-ending stream of Jewish-themed art projects, even Shlomo the Bunny, a hand puppet who dramatized the kids’ day-to-day troubles: all of this was cute as a bright Jewish button.
Then came our year-end parent-teacher conference.
Shoshi’s teacher, Susan, told us that, starting in first grade, half the school day would be in Hebrew. Half the day! This wasn’t a total surprise–I knew that later on the kids did bilingual days, but I hadn’t, until that meeting, realized it started in first grade. My little girl would be living in a language I don’t really know (more on this later), and it now seemed not just a second language, but a religious one. As literary critic George Steiner recently wrote, “Hebrew is a calling by, a summons from, an address to God,” which, in this context, freaked me out a bit.
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