Friday, September 13, 2013

Where's the Cozy Carpet Corner?

Kinneret in her classroom
Her classroom looks stark. There are pictures on bulletin boards in the back and one side of the room. The windows don't open very wide, presumably to keep kids from climbing on them and falling out. There's no carpeted area or shelves of toys. The kids sit at tables, and not at desks. They store their books and notebooks in magazine boxes on a bookshelf, because the children don't have a desk to store their things inside.

I looked around the room, first trying to find the light switch, then trying to open the windows or turn on the air-conditioning. Her classroom isn't anything like what I remember from my first grade class at Woodland Hills Elementary School in Lawton, Oklahoma.

The assemblies are held in an outdoor amphitheater. We had ours in a giant auditorium. The dress code requires skirts for girls, kippot and tzitzit for boys. We were told that shorts had to reach the ends of our fingers when our hands were at our sides.

It's so different. At first I was apprehensive. Then I remembered my own first day of first grade.

I don't remember the morning. I only remember what happened at lunch time. We all lined up to go to the bathroom to wash our hands. I took a paper towel, wiped my hands, and recited the bracha (blessing).

Then I didn't talk. I'd been taught that you don't talk between washing and eating bread.

I didn't talk when I came out of the bathroom, or when I walked down the hall to the cafeteria to buy my milk with my special milk token.  I didn't say a word even when people talked to me, while I walked back to my classroom, waited for permission to get my lunchbox, and took out my lunch. It was a complete ordeal. It seemed to last for hours. Everyone kept asking me questions and looking at me as if I were doing something wrong by not answering. When I finally made the 'hamotzi' and bit into my sandwich, I felt like I'd been to battle. I was the only religious Jew in my school. There were two other children who I knew were Jewish because they attended our services on-post. I don't think anyone else even knew that. They certainly didn't wash or make brachot. I don't remember what I did about bensching (grace after meals). I'm guessing I gave it up as a lost cause. Until I entered a religious school in 8th grade, I never washed for lunch at school. Not once after my first day in first grade.

My daughter is sent out to wash, and then comes back to the table to make the bracha with her classmates. She bensches with her classmates, loud and clear. Each morning, she davens in school. She will never need a note explaining why she cannot participate in the class activity of eating green eggs and ham, nor will she have to go to school with matza and hard-boiled eggs and be stared at by children eating ham and cheese sandwiches.

In this school, she will never be unwilling to share food with her classmates because she knows she can never eat anything of theirs in exchange. She will not be excluded from school activities because they happen on Friday night or Saturday. She will never be made fun of for being  a Jew.

So I think I'm ok with there not being  a cozy rug corner in her classroom.