As we walk, and sometimes run, through life, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect when we arrive at certain points along our journey. As our youngest son, Aaron, just graduated from CESJDS and arrived in Israel earlier this week, we have reached one of those moments. We are indeed quite grateful to have reached this point.
Amazingly, and somewhat symbolically, we began our relationship with CESJDS about eighteen years ago, when, after much discussion, we decided to meet the admissions director and take a tour of the Lower School. We were immediately impressed with the school's warmth, small and intimate classrooms, and the dual curriculum. For us, because we are fortunate to live in a community with strong public schools, the decision was not a reflection on the school system where Suzanne had taught for many years. Instead, it was a decision to provide our children with as strong a Jewish background as we could. After much discussion, we decided to give CESJDS a try.
A few months later, in the fall of 2000, our eldest son, David, started kindergarten. Two years later, our middle son Brian, followed. And, two years after that, Aaron began his journey.
We immediately felt at home at CESJDS and so did our boys. The teachers (too many to name here), not only cared about their students but they also cared about the Jewish values they were attempting to instill in our children. Of course, there were stressful moments along the way--but those were of a type that all students inevitably encounter no matter what school they attend. Overall, however, CESJDS was a place where all of our boys felt comfortable. In fact, at various points we asked each of them if they wanted to continue their studies at CESJDS--all of them always said yes!
Like many families, there are many events along the way where we would have liked to stop the passage of time so we could spend more time in those moments. The Lower School provided many beautiful, heartfelt events such as Haggigat HaSiddur and Haggigat HaTorah and where each of the boys received their first Siddur and Chumash, and charmed their parents and grandparents along the way. The Havdalah Saturday evening program in 4th grade followed. We continue to believe that the three Havdalah programs we attended were among the most beautiful and meaningful evenings we spent with the school. The Lower School experience was capped by the Tefillah Breakfast at the end of 6th grade, an event overflowing with ruach!
All of these events, along with others, created a sense of warmth and community. Our hearts swelled as we watched and we felt intense pride in what our boys were learning, how it connected them to their history and would go with them in the years ahead. The sound of our boys' and their classmates' voices as they sang the same songs that we had learned, and that our parents and grandparents had sung before us, was quite moving. It was especially moving to Josh and his father, a Holocaust survivor.
Our experience with the Upper School began with many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in 7th grade—where we celebrated with everyone and witnessed the benefits of a pluralistic school. As our boys went through high school, we were not in school as often, but we watched as they experienced other powerful moments and as they formed more nuanced connections to their heritage. The boys also created bonds to the school through team sports—cross country, track, and baseball—and The Lion's Tale. Outside of school, they had even more good times playing baseball, basketball, and soccer with their classmates, on teams coached and managed by CESJDS parents.
Back to school nights and open house visits deepened our ties to the school. As we wandered the hallways, it was always great to meet up with our CESJDS friends and kibbitz in the hallways! During Grandparents' Days, the boys and their grandparents made connections to CESJDS with their visits, too.
Time moved too quickly. As the parents of older children predicted, and for some unknown reason, it seemed to move much more rapidly as the boys progressed through high school.
Now that our youngest is in Israel and will travel to Eastern Europe next week, it is particularly meaningful that our boys will stand and have stood with their classmates on the sacred spot where so many of our family perished and study just a few minutes away from Ra'anana, where their grandmother was born.
Simply stated--although no institution is perfect, CESJDS is a terrific place and we would make the same choice all over again. We knew that the decision to send our sons to a Jewish day school was a significant one. We also knew that a strong Jewish education was a gift. Our boys emerged from CESJDS with the tools they will need to live committed Jewish lives wherever they end up choosing to live. No matter what happens, they have the knowledge and the skills to continue exploring Jewishly should they choose to do so. They also have a strong foundation to function in the broader community.
There are elements to a well-rounded education that may even be more important than the facts and figures. We are grateful that our sons and their CESJDS classmates have developed a passion for their heritage and a bond with Israel--Ahavat Yisrael. Those feelings are the result of families and the institution working together. At this point, the seeds that we have planted and the beautiful saplings we nurtured have grown into fine young trees. We hope and pray that the roots we helped them develop will give them the strength to form their own Jewish families, to pass their knowledge to succeeding generations—Dor L'Dor--and weather the storms that are an inevitable part of life.
We will always appreciate the education our sons received at CESJDS. Although our relationship with the school will now be different, we'll continue to support this school because it is imperative that community Jewish day schools survive. Our local Jewish community needs institutions like CESJDS to teach succeeding generations. Our national Jewish community needs to have a strong, vibrant passionate pluralistic Jewish day school adjacent to our nation's capital.
It is truly wonderful that we too, as parents, made friends that we cherish and intend to remain close with well into the future. This started when our eldest son David was in kindergarten and has continued through Aaron's graduation. Even now, we continue making friends! We are lucky that our boys learned so much at CESJDS. Those lessons, combined with what we did at home and with the CESJDS community helped our sons learn to be comfortable with their Judaism.
Finally, we move to the next phase, proud of our sons and confident that, in partnership with the faculty at CESJDS, we have done our part to connect the next generations of our family to what is often called the golden chain of our Jewish tradition. As an added bonus, we will still get to spend time with and have Shabbat dinners with a great group of alumni parents who will also have a bit more time on their hands!
Suzanne and Josh Schonfeld are the proud parents of CESJDS alumni David '13, Brian '15, and Aaron '17.