Dear Rachel,

Recently my husband and I have begun to increase our Jewish observance. From learning in our local Chabad house, we have begun trying to keep Shabbat and have started to eat only kosher food. We are hoping to very soon make our entire kitchen kosher as well. Our dilemma though pertains to schooling for our children. Our kids are enrolled in the local elementary public school, yet there are very few Jewish kids there. We have been debating whether to send our children to the Jewish day school, but it is Orthodox and we are not. I am concerned that if we keep our children in public school it will be hard for them to eat kosher food and not go to birthday parties on Saturdays, yet if we send them to the Orthodox school that they will not fit in as they are so new to anything Jewish. What do you suggest?


Dear Torn,

Firstly, mazal tov on your increased Jewish observance and the many incredible steps you with your family have taken in such a positive direction. You are fortunate that your children are young as you embark on this path of spiritual growth, as the older children are, the harder such changes are for them to incorporate in their lives. Young children are, for the most part, very flexible and can more easily adapt to new circumstances and situations.

There is no question that the longer your children remain in the public school setting, the harder it will be to switch them to a Jewish day school. Every year their friendships will only get stronger as well as their desire to remain where they are (unless of course they hate their school, but I imagine if that was the case this wouldn't be an issue for you at all!).

You will be able to say "yes" to their outings, friends, and events Transferring your children to a Jewish day school will have an incredible number of benefits, though it will not be without difficulties as well. The advantages are that your children will be surrounded by other Jewish children, will be learning about their heritage, will not need to worry about missing school for Jewish holidays, will have no issues with events or parties on Shabbat or kosher food at homes or gatherings, etc. Basically, your children will be in a situation where their Judaism will not be a detriment to their social and academic lives and where you will be able to say "yes" to their outings, friends, and events.

This is of monumental importance, because having children in an environment where you keep telling them "no" is very unfair and hurtful. It is hard, if not impossible, to put your children in a school where you are basically saying, "No, you can't go to that sports game; no, you can't eat that food; no, you can't go to the birthday party; no, you have to miss the play because it is on a Jewish holiday; no, no, no." You do not want Judaism to become a bunch of "no's" for your children or they will naturally come to resent their Judaism.

Speak to the school and explain At the same time, taking children out of a public school and putting them in an Orthodox day school will be quite a culture shock for them. Again, the younger the child, the easier the transition will be. However, I would highly suggest speaking to the school and explaining exactly your background and your situation, so that they can work with your children to help them adapt and feel comfortable. You children may also likely need additional help or tutoring in terms of Hebrew or their Jewish studies. The earlier you start this the better. From a social perspective, I would immediately start contacting other families in your children's classes and try to arrange play dates so your children can meet other kids and form friendships before school starts. Speak to the parents though and explain where your children are coming from so that they understand and are aware of how new this is for your entire family.

The Midrash teaches that kol ha'hatchalot kashot (cited in Rashi on Exodus 19:6): "all beginnings are hard." Yet we know that the greatest rewards come from our biggest challenges. This is a huge move on your part, but I have no doubt that by putting your children in a Jewish day school you will reap the rewards not only for years to come, but for generations to come. May you be blessed with an easy transition and continued strength as you grow in your Judaism!