My mother made me believe that princesses were strong women with an agenda. When I stayed home sick from school, she comforted me with imaginative stories about practical princesses who were kind to animals, saved their kingdom from evil princes and ruled with integrity. Stories were an important part of my childhood. At dinner each night we all shared vignettes of our day and when my grandparents visited from New York, my Poppy told us about what it was like to grow up on the lower east side in New York. Full of pride, he described the paper route that he started at the age of 11 to help support his family. With love and awe, he told me about his mother, whom I’m named for. She immigrated from Poland and sold ladies’ undergarments from a pushcart. She spent her evenings listening to her neighbors’ stories while mending and washing her children’s clothing. She taught my Poppy, who then taught me, that the most important way to help others was to listen with an open heart and mind.
My family’s immigration story is not unique. They fled eastern Europe in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s searching for a better life for their children. After arriving at Ellis Island, they settled on the lower east side working mostly in the garment industry. Life was hard but filled with hope. My grandparents were all born in New York and went from living in poverty as children to fulfilling the “American Dream” of purchasing a house and sending their children to college.
Stories play a vital role in the life of a school. Last week at Generations Day, Kitah Gan read the stories that they wrote and illustrated to their grandparents and special friends while Kitah Dalet conducted interviews to learn their visitors’ stories. Today, Kitah Vav traveled to San Mateo for a program with Holocaust survivors through Jewish Family Children’s Service, JFCS. Not only did we prepare them to lead singing and activities, but we discussed how to ask questions and actively listen to their stories.
This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with parents of potential Kindergartens for next year. Each family told their own story – some shared how their family came to this country or area, others focused on how their family spends time together, and a few mentioned concerns about raising children in this digital age.
Over the next few months, I look forward to hearing your story and promise to listen with an open heart.