A Personal Note of Gratitude (November 16, 2018)

This note is for every one of you that makes up our strong and diverse community, but particularly for the families and teachers at ECDC who are not Jewish.

Three weeks have gone by since the October 27 atrocity at Tree of Life Synagogue. I thank you for your expressions of sorrow, for your hugs and tears. Each shared moment of grief brought healing and hope for a better future. For me, grief has subsided and gratitude has grown.

In an article that was published in the Washington Post, Rabbi Dan Schiff reviewed the history of violence rooted in antisemitism. He said that this time was different – because of the love and support of our neighbors.  You made all of the difference. I will forever be grateful for your kindness.

On Rosh Hashana Rabbi Locketz gave a sermon about gratitude. She emphasized that gratitude is a choice that requires determination and cultivation. It is also an obligation. To celebrate Thanksgiving with you, I want to express my good fortune in spending my days with you – ECDC parents, children and teachers – and in working with you to build a better world.



ECDC Parenting Book Library

October 2018

An Initiative of the ECDC Advisory Board in Honor of Alice Mahler

Alice Mahler served as the Rabbitzin of Temple Emanuel – and as a member of the ECDC Advisory Board—for 38 years. Our school benefited from her expertise as a Social Worker and her commitment to Jewish education.

In honor of Alice and in gratitude for her dedication, the ECDC Advisory Board is launching a library of parenting books for families of ECDC/Temple Emanuel. The Advisory Board chose this project as a way of sustaining Alice’s interests and contributions.

At a lovely brunch for Alice on September 16, each member of the Advisory Board presented a book for the library and a reason for having chosen the book.

  • Laura Young, who hosted the brunch, chose Happiest Baby on the Block, because it helped me to survive ‘the witching hour’ that happened every night from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.
  •  Mike Bihary chose Toddler 411. It was my go-to book during my daughter’s toddler years. It had the right balance of information and humor that helped to defuse and relax when dealing with some challenging or frustrating problem.
  • It’s Not About The Broccoli was chosen by Amy Zahalsky. It is one of the best books I have read in regards to feeding children. It offers sound advice in constructive, helpful ways.
  • Irene Luchinsky purchased When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. This book has a lot of meaning for anyone experiencing a tragic time in a person’s life.
  •  The Blessing of a Skinned Knee was donated by Kate Louik. It offers practical parenting advice rooted in Jewish values and has been helpful at many times in my parenting journey. I look forward to going back to the book as my daughters grow and our needs as a family change. 
  • Parenting Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) was the book that I chose. P.E.T. is a classic parenting book dating back to 1970. The book is a great primer on how to listen actively. I first read it when I worked with Alice at Parent and Child Guidance Center (now FamilyLinks) and it embodies much of what I learned during those years.
  • Sarah Levinthal chose Protecting the Gift. Sarah says that this is one of the most important books she has read as a parent. The author encourages children to trust their instincts instead of suppressing them in the name of politeness or social norms.

With these books and many more, we will soon establish the Parenting Books Library in the WRJ Room and will announce an event to introduce the library to the ECDC/Temple Emanuel community.

For decades Alice Mahler served as a leader who cared deeply about children and families. We hope that the parenting books donated in her honor will be helpful to families for years to come.

Image of the Child

October 2018

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of a child? We asked this question of one another at a meeting of ECDC teachers. Some responses were “creative”,” curious”, “open”, “innocent”, “beautiful” and “capable”.

It is a simple but worthwhile question. If we think of children as unruly and naughty, we will surely have a teaching style that reflects a negative image. We can look at history when a scolding might have included the phrase “children should be seen but not heard”. Children suffered in such environments where humiliation and even abuse accompanied the attitude.

Fortunately we have a strong history of viewing children in positive light.  From a Jewish perspective, children are prized as the hope for the future. It was told by Rabbi Meir that the Almighty entrusted the Torah to the Jewish people because the children would guarantee continuance.

Moving forward 5000 years, we begin with “the image of the child” when studying the Reggio Emilia approach to early education. We are taught by Reggio Educators that it is important to reflect on the image and even to make a conscious choice. If we define children as capable, then we must offer the corresponding encouragement and opportunities.  The choice is followed by daily close observation of the children.

When we watch and listen carefully we will be continually surprised at what children can do! Babies and toddlers can communicate their recognition and delight when recognizing a face. Children can make up dances, rhythms and songs and teach them to one another. They can construct a block building that is too big to be contained in the classroom and must continue into the hallway. They can make up stories and change the stories as their friends add new dimensions. They can remember their stories and projects from months ago and jump right back into the experience to keep it going in a novel direction. They can use paper and glue in a way that no one has thought of before. The capability of each child is endless.

Children thrive with positive support and an engaging environment. At ECDC we see growth in front of our eyes. We see the children build relationships, ideas, skills and confidence. A positive view of children breeds positive growth.  As said in Song of Songs Rabbah 1:4, “Our children will be our guarantors.”

When we think of children, a word that comes to mind is “Hope”.


September 2018

ECDC Open Advisory Board Meetings – Three Years of Preparation

Three years ago when ECDC first received the Pittsburgh JECEI grant, the Advisory Board began to think of ways to share leadership with the wider parent community. After all, collaboration among children, teachers and parents is the hallmark of the Reggio Emilia approach to education. But such transformation does not occur in a day. Over these past three years, ECDC has made countless adjustments in approach and in practice that made way for the first Open Advisory Board meeting that took place on the evening of August 7, 2018.

Some of the past lessons-learned were about how to invite others in truly welcoming ways. “Open advisory board meeting” sounds important, but does not exactly convey welcoming, so we came up with the title “ECDC Community/Kehillah\Gathering”. Even the punctuation / \ represents a sense of safety! We sent out email invitations that included the outline of the agenda so that people knew what to expect. We reached out to many parents individually.

Thirty seven teachers, parents and members of the board packed into the WRJ Room (aka Music Room) while others provided care for the children. (One thing we have learned is that we cannot welcome parents to an evening meeting without offering babysitting.) A beautiful spread of wine, cheese and fruit was prepared by Melinda Freed and a wonderful slide show was prepared by Ellen Drook. Both Rabbis of Temple Emanuel introduced themselves as “Rabbis of all – whether Temple member or not, whether Jewish or not”.

Like all Temple committees, the ECDC Advisory Board consists of Temple members. At any given time a few current ECDC parents may sit on the board. All ECDC parents are, by default, members of the Parent Teacher Partnership (PTP). The purpose of an open board meeting is to share dialogue between these two groups. We began the August 7 meeting with background information to bring everyone to common understanding of history, goals and vision. Then the meeting was open to questions, suggestions and comments. Parents also completed a form to indicate their interests, suggestions and ways they wish to be involved. We were happy to receive many offers for participation from gardening, woodworking and music making to data analysis! And two parents even offered to co-chair ECDC annual fundraising event Designer Bag Bingo.

CDC Community/Kehillah\Gatherings will take place on a quarterly basis. The next meetings will be on the Monday evenings of Nov 19, Feb 18 and May 20. The topics will be based on parent suggestions and the teachers will help to facilitate. ECDC will continue to welcome dialogue at these meetings and every day in between.



Social Action Project

August 2018
Temple Emanuel Early Childhood Development Center and Social Action are partnering on a campaign to raise funds for the Humanitarian Respite Center of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

How did we choose this campaign? We were inspired by a “sister Temple Emanuel”, located in McAllen, Texas on the border of Mexico and a few miles from the respite center. Also known as Temple Emanuel of Rio Grande Valley, it is located a few short miles from Catholic Charities and partners to raise funds for the respite center.  The respite center opened in 2014 and with the help of volunteers the center has provided assistance in form of food and clothing to over 100,000 immigrants and refugees. We learned of these efforts on the web site of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

In Pittsburgh we do not come face-to-face with the humanitarian crisis at our border. We therefore welcome this opportunity to partner with Temple Emanuel of McAllen, Texas.

Mike Blum, the Chair of their Social Action Committee sends this message: We have received financial gifts from more than 70 congregations across the USA which has been astonishing, and a true demonstration of tikkun olam. An equal or greater number have sent truckloads boxes of toiletries, diapers, wipes, clothing items, blankets and small toys which has been a logistical challenge for our congregation. Thank you and all of your fellow members. It is good for the heart to give for those who are in need, regardless of where they come from or why they’re here.

Welcome Ellen, ECDC Assistant Director!

July 2, 2018

I could not be happier in announcing that ECDC now has an Assistant Director, and better yet, that the Assistant Director is Ellen Drook.

Many of you know Ellen as a Temple member and as an ECDC Teacher. Ellen in fact grew up at Temple Emanuel where she celebrated her Bat Mitzvah and those of her two daughters Cosette and Cara.

Ellen taught at ECDC for the past four years and proved herself to be a most dedicated and talented teacher. In 2017 she was in fact the Pittsburgh recipient of the esteemed Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.

Even more important, Ellen is loved by her peers. As ECDC adopted electronic formats for communication, Ellen was the go-to-person for help with technology. At all hours of day or night, she could be found making instructional guides for peers or posting updates on her classroom blog.

The Assistant Director position is 20 hours per week, but Ellen works fast and hard. In her first week on the job, she converted the annual multi-paged welcome packet from hardcopy to digital!  This is the first of many ways in which Ellen will help ECDC to become more efficient and user-friendly. Welcome Ellen!


Shabbat Assembly

June 2018

Friday Assembly – when the whole school sings together – is a strong tradition at Temple Emanuel ECDC. It’s an occasion for enjoying community (the Hebrew word is Kehilah) and expressing that joy through song.

We plan Assembly for the purposes of:

  • Welcoming Shabbat
  • Celebrating holidays
  • Enjoying music together – signing, listening, moving, creating
  • Learning musical skills
  • Expressing and affirming our values
  • Creating community


This school year parents have had an open invitation to our Friday morning Assemblies led with talent and spirit by our Music Teacher Rebecca Closson. We also introduced Thursday morning Assemblies for the Twos classes and the children have responded with amazing enthusiasm. These weekly events have increased opportunity for Kehilah! We start with the song Boker Tov – Good Morning. We sing songs of the season and for every Jewish holiday.  One of our favorite songs, Hinei Ma Tov, expresses our joy of being together. We sing songs from around the world to learn about our unity and diversity. With the help of our music teacher and musical guests, we have been introduced to the guitar, ukulele, piano, violin, accordion, flute and zither!

Over the course of the year we have built a repertoire of 50 songs, some of which are listed below.

Boker Tov

Hinei Ma Tov

Bim Bam

Bring in the Light

Gili Gili Good Shabbat

Attitude of Gratitude

Apples and Honey

On This Sukkot Morning

Twinkle, Twinkle Hanukah Lights

Celebrate Purim (to the tune of Apples and Bananas)

What Are the Things We Need for Our Seder Table?

Toom Bah Ee Lero

Haru Ga Kita

Oh Mr. Sun

Today is Friday/Temple Spirit


One of our favorites is “Hello to All the Children of the World” which you can find at this link:  Yes, the children really have learned to sing hello in French, Spanish and Japanese, to name just a few.

In 2018-19 we will continue to sing together every Friday morning. We invite you to join us and we guarantee that your spirits will be lifted.

Hineh ma tov uma na’im Shevet achim gam yachad.

How good and pleasant it is for brothers & sisters to dwell together

In Honor of Our ECDC Teachers

May 8 is National Teacher Appreciation Day. As with each special occasion and holiday at ECDC we start with the question of how best to celebrate.

The question is of national importance. In recent weeks we have seen state-wide strikes of teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Across the country hundreds of school districts are underfunded resulting in deteriorating facilities, a lack of resources, and poorly paid teachers. The cover story of the January 9, 2018 issue of the New York Times Magazine focused on the plight of early childhood educators in an article entitled “Why Are Our Most Important Teachers Paid the Least?”

The situation for early childhood teachers is severe, as early childhood programs generally receive no state or federal financial assistance. Schools for children under six years of age – whether for-profit or non-profit – are funded largely in form of tuition payments by parents. Tuition fees prohibit access to early education for a significant percentage of children.  Yet research studies show that the most critical brain development occurs from 0 to 6 and that high-quality early education offers children a good start in social, emotional and cognitive development that provides a life-long foundation.

At Temple Emanuel we take seriously the issues of quality education and teacher compensation. Over the past five years the Congregation has approved expense budgets that included increases in hourly rates along with compensation for additional weekly teacher preparation and meeting time. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh plays a leadership role in setting high standards and in contributing with grant support. ECDC teachers have expressed that these measures make a significant impact in achieving high quality and professionalism. ECDC teachers actively engage in learning and dialogue about relevant topics including child development, educational philosophy, curriculum and behavior. We greatly appreciate Temple Emanuel for supporting these improvements and are proud of our teachers for approaching their roles with unwavering dedication.

Let us recognize that:

1) Temple Emanuel has championed improvements in teacher compensation, and

2) Early Childhood Education remains one of the most under compensated professions in the United States

Each year Temple Emanuel devotes a special Simchat Limud – Joy of Learning – Shabbat service in honor of teachers. This year the service will be held at 6:30 pm on May 4. Let us truly celebrate teachers on May 4 and throughout the year by advocating for local and national measures that improve teacher compensation.

A Holiday Every Day

Tu B’Shevat was on January 31, 2018, but at ECDC, Tu B’Shevat is….well, every day!

How exactly is that possible? By planting seeds, eating fruits, and taking nature walks! By appreciating what trees give us – shade, beauty, paper and wood! By learning facts about trees and interpreting trees with pencil or paint. By respecting our environment and being guardians of the earth, Shomrei Adamah. And by singing songs about trees…day-in and day-out!


At ECDC it is our intention to interweave Jewish values into what we do – not only on holidays – but every day. This is our challenge and purpose. But even if we can achieve our goal for Tu B’Shevat, can we also celebrate other holidays every day?

With the help of Rabbi Locketz, ECDC Educators are reflecting on these questions. Currently we are studying Purim. Admittedly Tu B’Shevat makes it easy for us – Purim does not.  How would it be possible to celebrate Purim every day? Certainly we are not baking hamantaschen and shaking groggers at the name of Haman on a daily basis. However, as we study the sources, we learn the underlying precepts:

In the Book of Esther, we read that Purim is a time for “feasting and merrymaking,” as well as for “sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor” (Esther 9:22). In addition to reading the M’gillah (Book of Esther), celebrants dress in costumes, have festive parties, perform “Purim-spiels,” silly theatrical adaptations of the story of the M’gillah, send baskets of food (mishloach manot) to friends, and give gifts to the poor (matanot l’evyonim).

These are known as the four mitzvot of Purim:

  • Reading (and listening to) the M’gillah (Book of Esther)
  • Feasting and merry making
  • Giving baskets of food to friends (Mishloach Manot)
  • Giving gifts to the needy (Matanot L’Evyonim)

Suddenly it becomes clear that we can celebrate Purim at ECDC every day – by reading and listening; facing each day with good cheer; by giving to friends, by thinking of others who have greater needs.

Daily interweaving of Jewish values is a foundational tenet of the Pittsburgh Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative (JECEI), a program supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. We are grateful to Rabbi Locketz and the Pittsburgh JECEI consultants for their partnership on this journey. Rather than beginning and ending celebrations strictly by the calendar, we are in search of the values that apply on a daily basis. As we next prepare for Passover, we will continue to ask “how do the lessons of the holiday apply to us every day?”

Early Childhood Seminar in Italy!

When Julie Silverman and I embarked in October for an early childhood seminar in Reggio Emilia, Italy, our bags were packed, not only with layers of clothing for various weather conditions, but with a list of questions from our ECDC teachers. Today I’d like to respond to those questions. First I’d like to offer gratitude for the generous support of the Dr. Solomon and Sarah Goldberg Memorial Endowment Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. What a gift it was for our Pittsburgh educators to receive support to visit Reggio Emilia, perhaps the only city in the world that specializes in the field of Early Childhood Education.  Though it would take special research to study the history of Reggio, it was obvious that over the decades their educators, citizens and civic leaders have made countless thoughtful choices that have supported the growth of extraordinary schools.  As students of Reggio, we experienced the intentionality that was apparent in every aspect of our visit. As educators in Jewish schools, we were reminded of the meaning of kavanah – the Jewish concept of focus and concentration in words and action – in this case on behalf of the welfare of children.

There are 23 infant-toddler centers and 21 preschools under the umbrella of the municipality of Reggio Emilia. Most of the schools have three classrooms with 26 children per classroom. Each classroom has two teachers with a possible third teacher if there is a child with special needs, which Reggio educators refer to as special rights. Each school also had a fully staffed kitchen which serves the nutritional needs of the school, including hot lunches and an amazing array of food choices for visitors and events. It is always startling for Americans to see how children set the tables in the dining room with real porcelain plates and glasses.

Our adventure begins on a water taxi in Venice!

Reggio schools are made beautiful by an array of natural materials, interesting use of spaces, irregular classroom layouts and exceptional art work. The classrooms are arranged with a wide range of materials, including duplos, wooden train tracks, cars, plastic animals of all sizes, and lots of loose materials – small and large. Materials are pre-arranged on much of the surfaces. In the center of one table, for example, was a collection of pomegranates, grapes, leaves and oranges.  Baby food jars of paint with corresponding colors and sheets of paper were set along the perimeter of the table.  All of the materials, especially the art materials, were of high quality. Surfaces in the classroom are of multiple heights.  Outdoor areas were large and grassy with few pieces of equipment, possibly one slide. The outdoor areas had lots of large loose materials, including logs and rocks.

Pittsburgh group of 12 in the famous piazza of Reggio Emilia

While visiting one preschool starting at 9:00 am, children were in small and fluid groups. They were drawing, building, engaging in imaginative play with plastic figures and natural materials, and playing outside. The multi-shaped building was designed as a school and each classroom has direct access to the outdoors. Children may go in and out independently. One teacher explained that they can allow the children to be independent because they know them so well based on staying with the same group over the years. For me, one highlight was watching a group of three at an easel. Two girls were drawing at each side while a third child, a boy, sat on a chair and posed for his portrait. One of the girls traced the boy’s face with her finger to get a feel of the shape, while the boy was smiling beatifically, obviously enjoying the contact and attention.  It was a joy to watch the drawings emerge on the paper and the delighted expressions of the children as they compared results.


Learning to think critically is central at Reggio schools. Experience with even the youngest children has taught the educators that children have questions about the world and can learn to view things from multiple viewpoints. Investigations are the vehicles for such learning. The learning is not linear and does not consist of a fixed sequence of steps.   Words and phrases used by the Reggio educators to conjure the learning process were: spiraling; ping ponging back and forth; multidimensional; involving multiple viewpoints and using at least two materials or mediums to represent the learning.

Our trip to Italy opened new vistas!


I am struck with how far we have come at Temple Emanuel ECDC in our own investigation of the Reggio approach.  We are fully engaged in dialogue, in seeking and listening to multiple points of view.  This is the path of intentionality – of kavanah – of focusing thought conscientiously on what is best for our children.  I am so very grateful to participate in this investigation with our school community.