There are many things people tell you before you have a child that you listen to, but don’t quite understand.
They grow up so quickly, people say, and you nod without really knowing what they mean.
Then comes the day where you’re facing down the decision of where to enrol your kid in school and realize you arrived here much faster that you realized.
It’s not as though we haven’t been thinking about the question for awhile. It’s just that now we have to answer it.
I know there are many who wish our choice was simple and already made – enrolment at the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS).
It isn’t. And here’s a bit of the why.
What are we, two full-time working parents with odd schedules, supposed to do with the early Friday closures at OJCS? What about all the closures for the Jewish holidays we may or may not mark?
For the record – I’m not arguing the school should or shouldn’t follow those schedules. I’m just saying a question we need to answer is how we make it work with ours. And to those who say you can make it work, I know we can. The question then becomes – do we want to?
On the flip side, after-care at OJCS is offered through the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, giving our child access to sports and arts programs we’d never be able to sign her up for during the week if she went to the local public school because neither of us reliably finish our work days early enough to pick her up and take her.
And that leads us around to a question then of whether we could make supplementary school work, given the scheduling constraints of after-school type programs. If not those, what of Sundays? Can we reliably commit to those mornings for the next, say, 10 years? And to those who say you can make it work, I know we can. The question is still – do we want to?
Then, what of the education?
Yes, there’s the question of French at OJCS, but I’ve got others. For example – what and how are Jewish schools teaching these days about women in Judaism? I can say I learned very little of the matriarchs during my days, and seem to recall a lot more about things I couldn’t do as a girl. I’m hopeful that’s changed. We’ll see in the coming weeks as we learn more about the curriculum there and elsewhere.
Then there are the broader, shall we say more existential, questions.
When I reflect on my own childhood in Ottawa, I realize most of the Jewish kids I knew and hung around with went to Hillel Academy (now OJCS).
In the years after that, my circle of Jewish friends and acquaintances expanded to include people I met at my public high school, or knew generally through synagogue or one of the Jewish youth groups I was sporadically involved with during my high school years.
When later I’d go on to meet other Jews of my vintage from Ottawa and realize I’d never met them before, it always struck me as odd. I mean, Ottawa’s not that big, there aren’t that many Jews. How could I not know someone my age?
The answer often boiled down to where, if anywhere, they went to Jewish school.
So upon reflection, the observations I shared in this space last year ago about divisions in our community that appear explicitly linked to where kids are going to school – those fault lines aren’t new (“When community isn’t what it seems,” March 6, 2017).
But what seems new to me – perhaps because now I experience it as an adult and a parent myself – is the extent to which one’s community becomes entirely made up of those with whom your child attends school.
So as we move forward in making the decision of where our daughter will receive a formal Jewish education, it’s about logistics and lesson plans but also very much in our minds is that it’s a choice about community.