Challah and Grape Juice

I loved Chuck’s preschool. It was exactly like mine—the nursery school at the synagogue. They learned the same Hebrew words and songs that we did, learned about the same holidays, and every Friday they celebrated Shabbat with challah and grape juice. There are few food combinations more perfect than challah and grape juice.

The preschool could have been a little more diverse—OK, a lot more diverse—and it retained remnants of the old days when most families didn’t have two working parents: they closed at 3:00 p.m. every day, at noon on Fridays, and there was no school in the summer. When the fall Jewish holidays fell on weekdays, it seemed like the kids missed school every other day. But it was a warm community with many of our favorite families. They brought us meals when Ted was born; I still remember every single one.

The fact that our kids’ first day of preschool was September 11, 2001 may or may not have contributed to the closeness of the group. We dropped off our kids that morning, thinking that leaving our babies with others for the first time was the most significant pain we’d face that day. At dismissal three hours later, the parents—most of whom came to Northampton from New York City—were red-eyed and in shock, whispering with each other and trying not to broadcast their trauma to the kids.

We followed with two academic years of playdates, field trips, crafts, and plenty of challah and grape juice. When they were ready for kindergarten, the kids went in many different directions. Some went to the local Jewish day school, others scattered to the various elementary schools in town. It’s a small city, so we’d see each other often, but only a few continued to be regular parts of our lives.

Last week, at a parent’s meeting at the high school, I realized that most of the preschool parents were in the room. With the exception of a few kids, all of our children are back in school together for 9th grade. We haven’t aged a day, but oy, those kids got old. They aren’t all close friends, but there is no doubt that the connections are still there. You can see it especially when they gather together every Friday morning in the high school’s cafeteria for challah and grape juice.

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2 Responses to Challah and Grape Juice

  1. Bill Emmons says:

    For us, it was Wednesday night covered dish dinner before prayer meeting, in a small community where the widows competed for honors “best fried chicken” was my consistent interest. 80 or so neighbors, kids and parents I grew up around: my coaches, scout masters, social hosts. I remember never wanting to go, and never wanting to come home when choir practice was finally over.

    And I remember, firmly, belonging, knowing and being known. All the small town graces, a dozen miles from downtown Miami. With bikes offering more freedom after school than any time until college, in another small town.

    Last month, I returned, to commemorate what would have been my father’s 100th birthday, with an anchor he raised off San Salvador in 1954, an Island fixture, now to remain forever, as my brother and mother move to his retirement, her – dotage (??) -near his college in central Florida. So, after 60 years, perhaps a final visit to a place that was, as it is for so many lucky children, more “home” than any other place could ever be.


    • litlc says:

      Such a great way to grow up – I’m glad I can give my kids a variation on this. Thank you for the snapshot of your small town life.

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