Shhh! Don’t touch that! Come here! Parents have all had the experience of bringing children to places that are not quite suited for them, places where everyone is expected to remain quiet and not touch anything–a reasonable request for adults but asking a lot for small children. Yet for 20 years, parents of the Five Towns have known there is one place they can go to pray, learn, and grow, while their children do the same using age-appropriate methods in a warm, welcoming environment.
Under the guidance of Rabbi Zalman and Rebbetzin Chanie Wolowik, Chabad of the Five Towns has witnessed exponential growth in all areas, particularly in relation to children. The highly acclaimed Gan Chamesh preschool has flourished under the leadership of Susy Adler and Suzanne Wallin, youth groups and clubs for all ages, stages, and every day of the week are planned by Youth Directors Rabbi Meir and Rebbetzin Hadassah Geisinsky, and Friendship Circle is lovingly coordinated by Batsheva Borenstein to ensure no children are left out of the picture, no matter what their needs are. These programs, along with many others created by Chabad, have impacted thousands, making sure children grow in chinuch, middos, and avodasHashem in a positive way.
Susy Adler, an expert educator who has run the Gan Chamesh preschool for ten years, explains, “The objectives of a good nursery program is to create a warm, healthy, and happy environment where small children can grow and develop emotionally and cognitively as well as physically. At Gan Chamesh, we strive to do this in a most professional and caring manner. Additionally, we endeavor to impart a love and flair for the beauty of our religion and culture.” Suzanne Wallin, a school psychologist who has worked with Susy for many years in running Gan Chamesh, continues, “In early childhood, the seeds of learning, Jewish identity, curiosity, and caring are planted. Our program spans a period of intense personal, social, and academic growth. Young children develop at different paces. Our teachers are sensitive to the wide range of abilities and developmental levels within this age group. They offer creative activities that fit into the broad developmental continuum represented by the students.” The results are evident in the smiling faces running to school each day, in the enthusiastic presentations of their learning at the Shabbat table, and many years down the road, in elementary and high schools when the enthusiasm continues. As one parent, Jonathan S., notes, “My daughter comes home excited from Gan Chamesh each day with loads to share! The quality education she receives surpassed our greatest expectations.”
But education is not a five-day week type of affair. Should children come to shul? Jewish parenting blogs can debate this issue all they like but at Chabad of the Five Towns, children have always been welcome. Chabad was the first shul in the neighborhood to host children’s groups. While their parents pray, children are escorted to a group of their peers where they are led by a teacher in davening, free play, games, and lessons. Mrs. Deena Teichman has created a lively program that little children look forward to, while the older groups are led by other youth leaders. This has been a win-win situation with major benefits–allowing mothers to participate fully in shul, while their children have a meaningful experience as well.
For a variety of reasons, not every Jewish home can provide a fully Jewish education. And that’s where Chabad’s Hebrew School comes into the picture. As explained by Rabbi Meir Geisinsky, the school’s director, “The Hebrew School provides an education that instills pride, a sense of history, and a genuine and meaningful understanding of what Judaism is all about. Our goal is simple: we want our students to view Judaism in a relevant and upbeat light.”
There is no shortage of things for children to do these days, so why the need for Chabad’s clubs? Precisely because there is no shortage of things for children to do these days. Electronic media with dubious messages beckon our children at all hours, and it is imperative that parents find meaningful alternatives for their children to become involved with. From Bagel Babies to Teen Talk, Prize Time to Chai Five, Skillsters to Difference Makers, along with Cheder Menachem Mendel and Bar And Bat Mitzvah Clubs, there is a club specifically geared towards each age and gender, which both engage and entertain the children. As Rebbetzin Hadassah Geisinsky, who tirelessly produces each event, explains the goal: “Connecting Jewish kids with each other while exploring Jewish traditions and values in a fun environment.”
While crafting these various programs, Chabad of the Five Towns has also been careful to include all children. Due to special needs, some children need specific programs geared towards them. Their needs may prevent them from receiving a yeshiva education or from having regular friends. Enter Batsheva Borenstein and the incredible world of Friendship Circle. The Friendship Circle extends a helping hand to families who have children with special needs and involves them in a full range of social, recreational, and Jewish experiences. The unique formula introduces teenage volunteers to the children and through shared experiences both lives are enriched. Friendship Circle is a national Chabad program which has been tailored by Batsheva to the Five Towns community. Thanks to the help of the many teen volunteers who also grow from the experience, the program includes at-home visits, Judaica Circle, Cooking Club, Homework Club, Sunday programs, Winter Camp, and more. There are also bonding opportunities for the moms and the siblings who are also impacted by having a child with special needs.
With all of these offerings, plus Sukkot and Lag Ba’Omer celebrations in the park, community Purim offerings, Camp Gan Israel, and more, we would be hard-pressed to find a Five Towns child who has not enjoyed a Chabad program or event. Now is the time to express your hakarasha’tov for the uplifting environment offered by Chabad to all in the community. You are invited to attend the 20th Annual Dinner Celebration on Sunday, December 14 at the Sands at Atlantic Beach. If you cannot attend, please consider purchasing an ad in the scroll of honor. Visit www.chabad5towns.com or call 516-295-2478 for more.