Congresswoman Grace Meng Responds To Jewish Community

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve strived to give my children as much a normal life as possible, while reinforcing the new norms of social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks in public. My daughter’s kindergarten graduation this past Sunday was a celebration not only of her academic progress, but also adjustment to the changed social reality of the world.

In the first two weeks since her last in-person class, she made birthday cards for her classmates and had them mailed. We share the sentiment that a written letter is preferable to a text or phone call. By our third week, we could no longer accept the limitations of virtual friendships. We practiced spelling on Friday afternoons by writing “Good Shabbos” on the porches of our friends’ homes, along with birthday messages, and expressions of thanks on sidewalks next to parked Hatzalah vehicles.

Five weeks into the pandemic, we requested “porch play-dates” where we stood on the sidewalk and the other families stood on their porches and stoops to share conversations. Seven weeks into the pandemic, my daughter recognized the importance of keeping distance and I no longer felt like a soccer referee shouting at the children every other minute to keep their distance from each other.

At that point, I felt comfortable enough to ask Michael Poulad, whose youngest son attends my daughter’s class, to sit across from me at his backyard table and learn Daf Yomi together. Our children played with each other while maintaining a safe distance. When children run on their own scooters, play only with their own toys, make their own chalk drawings, and manage to chase each other without touching, then the school lockout does not feel so isolating. When our children accept the mask sewn by their parents, eat only their own food, and wash their hands without being told to do so, we feel more confident about their ability to interact safely this summer and for the remainder of this pandemic, however long it may last.

“These past three months were better than I expected,” said Poulad, who has two children at YCQ. “All the teachers were so amazing and so energetic. It was very important for the kids not to feel any issues. They kept the children engaged even at that age, when it is hard for them in general.”

For having trust in her and in themselves to practice social distancing while playing together, Rachel Kadinsky thanks her friends Jason, Bracha Leah, Ariella, Yehudah Aryeh, and Leah for being there in person. Likewise, we thank you from one parent to another, although the thank you is for opening your front doors at a time when we cannot open our homes.

Rachel’s teachers at the Yeshiva of Central Queens, Morahs Suri, Sara, and Jamie, also rose to the challenge of online learning in their ability to address each of their 26 students during the three 45-minute classes conducted each day. Keep in mind that YCQ began its online learning regimen the week after the school building closed. Public schools in New York City took much longer to adjust to the new reality. Many other yeshivos and day schools also needed time to develop their online learning platforms and train their staff on how to use them. For YCQ, this quick transition alone demonstrates the value of a private school education, accounting for the tuition paid without a single day of school being cancelled.

Likewise with Rachel’s therapists, who adjusted their schedules so that their sessions do not conflict with her classes and those of her brother, who has his own roster of classes and therapists.

Admittedly, we did not partake of all the specialty classes, scavenger hunts, concerts, photo contests, and reading challenges that were offered by the school, as we felt overwhelmed by our children’s daily screen time in the regular classes. During “breaks” between her classes, Rachel sometimes rested and other times acted as a teacher’s assistant for her brother’s classes, making sure that he was paying attention and pronouncing new words correctly.

Considering the geographic spread of the student body that includes residents of Queens, West Hempstead, and Great Neck, and our diverse backgrounds that includes Ashkenazim, Bukharians, and Persian Jews, I did not think that the parents could maintain the sense of school community without seeing each other at assemblies and concerts, but we did through the WhatsApp group. Rachel’s insistence on making cards for each classmate with a birthday and delivering them in person gave me the opportunity to meet other parents, and speak to them on how they are coping in balancing their jobs at home while educating and parenting.

Our Zoom graduation this past Sunday brought all of these parents to the screen, and again we felt the camaraderie and community that we’ve maintained during the pandemic. With the summer upon us, some of the children will be in day camps following strict safety guidelines; others will be at home participating in virtual day camps. Our kindergartners have demonstrated their knowledge of Hebrew, reading, math, health, and science, and they’ve also shown notable growth as people.

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