Why I Went Back to Sunday School

As a young Jewish girl growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, I attended Hebrew School three times a week for two hours each day from preschool to seventh grade. That is when I had my bat mitzvah and became a woman (in the eyes of the Jewish people, of course). I attended Hebrew school after school on Mondays and Wednesdays, and then I had to go on the dreaded early Sunday mornings. The early weekend mornings got worse as I got older, and as Saturday nights got later. All the kids were half asleep, making crafts such as Sukkahs out of shoe boxes and paper macheé apples. I said to myself that after I didn't have to go anymore I would never go back, much to my grandmother’s dismay.

Fast forward six years to my freshman year of college and I’m sitting in an interview for a job as a Sunday school Hebrew teacher at a synagogue in Denver. After I eventually got the job when I had to wake up at 6:30 every Sunday morning for at least my entire sophomore year of college, I thought to myself, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I immediately called my grandmother and told her about my new job. She was floored, so excited that I would be attending synagogue services weekly, and passing on and remembering our traditions to younger generations. Her biggest fear is that I will forget traditions and holidays of the Jewish people, even though she has nothing to worry about because I make it a point to call her every Friday to wish her a good Shabbos, and write down every Jewish holiday in my planner so that I remember to call her on the holidays. I do this so she knows that I care, and that is also why I attended the interview in the first place. My Omi means the world to me and if all I have to do to make her happy is wake up early on Sundays, then you can bet anything that I will most definitely do it.

So, it’s the first weekend of sophomore year and I go to bed early on Saturday night preparing myself for the early morning ahead. My alarm goes off at 6:30 am, I shower, and throw on the outfit I set out the night before, knowing I’d be too tired to pick out something appropriate to wear to a synagogue that early. I confidently put all my materials and a water bottle in my big brown “teacher bag” and head to school.

As I’m setting up the chairs in the classroom, a little seven-year-old boy wanders in and I think to myself, “Alright, here we go.” I introduce myself to him and hand a name tag to color, and as he sits and colors his name tag, I feel like this will a breeze. My mindset starts to shift as ten more seven year olds wander into the room. They sit down to color, but once there is more than one in the room, screaming starts. Screaming out of joy, tiredness, hunger, missing their mom, and not sharing. There are the shy kids in the corner, the kids who raise their hands every two minutes, aggressive little boys, and sweet little girls. And then there’s me. I try to my hardest to exude confidence because kids can smell uneasiness and fear. I want to be a fun teacher, but I also want to have things under control, so I establish rules. We must always raise hands, never hit, pull hair, or bite (yes, bite), and when walking to services at the end of the morning, we must stay together or I will lose them.

My job is very hard and I was never really into kids. I never babysat in high school when everyone else was, but here I am as a second grade Sunday school teacher with 17 seven-year-olds who would rather be outside. My job is very hard, but incredibly rewarding.

There is one little, red-haired, very shy girl in my class. She brings stuffed animals everyday to comfort herself and often likes to sit alone or on my lap. Last week, we had a guest come in class to speak to the kids about Israel. He asked for volunteers and, of course, the kids who always raise their hands get up and start working with him. He wants to give everyone a chance and calls on this sweet, shy girl to come up and do something in front of the class. As I prepare for her to come to sit on my lap, she instead gives me her stuffed animal and goes up the board. I was in shock and excitement. I knew this girl to not talk to anyone but me and her mom, and I knew that I had been doing my job right when she went up there. At the end of class, when her mom came to pick her up, I raved to her about her accomplishment and how proud I was of her. She was shocked and unbelievably happy. That made the 6:30 am wake up entirely worth it.

I’d say that the early morning is the only downside to this job, but the positives make up for it. Getting to spend time with these individual, amazing kids is incredible, and knowing that I’m shaping their lives is unbelievable. Also, getting to connect to my family’s history and traditions is a great opportunity and my grandma is happy and proud of me, making everything totally worth it.