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For the past ten days we’ve had the pleasure of participating in the 2017 Early Childhood Morim Project, organized by SOS International: Bridging Jewish Communities. This project is targeted at educators and teachers who work in Jewish nurseries and kindergartens. Delegates from three countries have been invited to join this year’s edition of the project: Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania. We, Olga Danek and Małgorzata Pustuł, representatives of JCC Krakow’s ECC „Frajda,” have been fortunate to enjoy the company of fellow educators Dalia Golda („Gradinita Gan Eden,” Bucharest, Romania) and Vanessa Cameron („Gan Balagan,” Sofia, Bolgaria).

We started our trip by taking part in the Jewish Early Childhood Education Conference, organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. As many as 750 teachers gathered together at the conference. Our group attended sessions led by Mark Horowitz (Director of the Sheva Center for Innovation in Early Childhood, Jewish Education & Engagement) and Dr. Erika Brown. At the conference, we met directors and educators from various kindergartens, who invited us to visit their educational institutions during our stay. Dalia and Vanessa worked at the Beth Sholom Early Childhood Center, and we got assigned to the Sondra and Howard Bender Early Childhood Center at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington. Ora Cohen Rosenfeld, Director of the Sondra and Howard Bender Early Childhood Center, and the Center’s teacher Sandy Levine Lanes told us a lot about their work, shared their best practices, and demonstrated how the Reggio Emilia approach was being implemented at their school.

The Reggio Emilia approach, which has evolved into an educational system, is a teaching method focused on preschool and primary education, based on the philosophy of Loris Malaguzzi. It was developed in Italy in 1945, spearheaded by the residents of the town Reggio Emilia, who wanted to open a school that would differ from more traditional educational institutions. According to this approach, teaching is an ever-evolving process, subject to constant changes and transformations depending on the needs and observations of teachers, parents and children. Teachers who practice this method should be open to new knowledge, and the wellbeing of children is both a starting point and a goal.

We’ve been observing the work of the Center’s teachers for a week, while also working with children ourselves. Everyone has been very understanding and patient with us, answering our many questions. In addition to our work at the Center, we’ve also had the opportunity to see other nurseries and kindergartens that use the Reggio Emilia approach: we’ve been given a tour of The Rose and George Teller Preschool of Shaare Tefila (a Jewish religious kindergarten in Maryland), led by Beth Adler, and a tour of Rodef Shalom Preschool, led by its former director Fran Pfeffer.

Our stay and program of events were organized by Mara Bier (Senior Education Officer for Early Childhood Education, Greater Washington area; EC Morim Project Advisor), Glynis Rosenberg Smith (Chief Operating Officer), Alan M. Reinitz (Chief Executive Officer) and Fran Pfeffer (EC Morim Project Advisor). 

JCC Krakow celebrates opening of Early Childhood Center "Frajda"


JCC Krakow celebrated the opening of its Early Childhood Center, Frajda, today. A ribbon cutting
ceremony officially marked the first time in over half a century that a pluralistic Jewish nursery school has opened its doors in Krakow. Frajda was made possible through the generous lead grant of Eric and Erica Schwartz of New York City, who spoke at the ceremony about the revival of Jewish life. “The preschool years are the ideal time for learning about Jewish culture, values, and traditions. We are so pleased to make it possible for Krakow’s Jewish families to send their children to a school that focuses on providing this foundation for the youngest members of the community,” Erica Schwartz said.

JCC Krakow Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, President of the Jewish Religious Congregation of Krakow Tadeusz Jakubowicz, and Frajda parent Ewa Kodymowska also offered remarks at the ceremony. “I am thrilled to see Krakow’s Jewish children learning together in a Jewish school,” Schudrich said. “Today is a special day in our community’s history. I salute the Schwartzes, Friends of JCC Krakow, and the JCC for bringing this amazing project to fruition.”

Consul General of the United States in Krakow Walter Braunohler attended the ceremony with his mother and two daughters. “I’m incredibly proud of the friendship that we have with the JCC,” he said. “With the opening of Frajda, we are investing in young people for the sake of Polish Jewish heritage.”

Polish Undersecretary of State Wojciech Kolarski, President of the World Jewish Congress Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, and Elizabeth Szancer, donor of Frajda’s Szancer Family Reading Corner, provided remarks to be read in their absence.

The Early Childhood Center’s name, Frajda, means “joy” in both Yiddish and Polish. Created in
consultation with leading Jewish early childhood education experts from Poland, the United States, and Israel, Frajda’s state-of-the art facility can serve up to 22 students. Three dedicated teachers will deliver instruction this year, and the JCC will provide transportation to students from across the city.

The outdoor Taube Family Playground and the Shana Penn Garden to be opened in Spring 2018 will be sponsored by Taube Philanthropies and will augment Frajda’s activities. Frajda’s annual security needs will be underwritten by The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

Frajda’s opening would not have been possible without the contributions of Jeff and Janet Beck, Alan and Cindy Golman, Susan Lerner and Michael Roffer, Sam and Gina Rosenberg, Judy Wolf-Nevid, Michelle Ores, Elizabeth Szancer, Agi Legutko, and the entire Friends of JCC Krakow board.

The JCC is immeasurably grateful to Eric and Erica Schwartz, as well as to these friends and supporters from around the world whose love and dedication enabled the establishment of Frajda. Their enthusiastic support will help future generations of Jewish Poles to connect with Jewish traditions, holidays, history, and values from the day they are born and to celebrate their Polish Jewish identities.

JCC Krakow was opened in April 2008 by His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales. It has quickly
established itself as the focal point of Jewish life for Krakow’s residents, as well as for thousands of visitors from around Poland and the world every month. Today, the JCC has over 650 active Jewish members, including 70 Holocaust survivors.