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“IMA SHEL SHABBAT” AND OTHER GENDERED MOMENTS IN JEWISH PRESCHOOL

Guest post By Eve Sacks, originally posted at The Center for Jewish Feminism By Eve Sacks My two oldest children attended four different Orthodox Jewish nursery schools (kindergarten / gan) in four consecutive years. Of these three were affiliated to Jewish primary schools and one was a stand alone nursery. All four had Shabbat parties where parents were invited. In my work with JOFA I have also spoken to others about their gender experiences in other London Orthodox Jewish schools and nurseries, so I am aware of the issues in many London primary schools. My first Jewish nursery school experience was nine years ago when my daughter started nursery just before she turned three. We chose a nursery that was local, and connected to the synagogue we were members of, an orthodox synagogue with a mixed membership, including both shomer shabbat (religiously observant) families and also those who rarely attended and were not observant. The nursery had a great reputation; the children in the nursery came from a mixed of religious backgrounds; indeed at the Chanukah party most Dad’s did not wear kippot and in the summer the mums didn’t think twice about collecting their children wearing vest tops or gym leggings. Less than a quarter of the 18 children would have been from shomer shabbat homes and it’s also worth noting this was a reasonably affluent suburb of London. Within a few weeks of starting she was asked to be Shabbat Ima – the Shabbat “mother”. I was very excited and took my mother in law with me. My daughter was also very excited to be Shabbat Ima. But I was shocked with what I saw, and as this was the first time I set foot into the nursery I began to worry about what else she was being taught. “So”, said the teacher, “let’s start with getting ready for Shabbat. Will all the girls now stand up? The Mummies are going to do the cooking and the cleaning for Shabbat.” My jaw dropped in amazement as I saw the little girls all stand up and pretend to be first cooking and then cleaning for Shabbat. As the Shabbat Ima my daughter was also given props, some play food and then a broom! “Now”, said the teacher, “the boys can stand up as the Daddies are getting ready for Shabbat! They are all at work and will be coming home soon. Daddies please all march around the room to come home for Shabbat!” So the boys all stood up and marched around the room. It continued, my daughter lit the candles and the 3-year-old Daddy went to shul. I don’t remember much more, I just remember being totally shocked that I had chosen a nursery for its orthodox yet inclusive nature and this is what she was being taught? And who knows what else they were teaching the rest of the time? It was even more surprising as the nursery teacher was young; certainly younger than the mums! Later, my mother-in-law commented on what a “traditional” nursery...

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