No Need To Fear, The J Is Here
It was March 16, 2020. I got an email from the Florence G. Heller JCC:
“School will be closed for the next 3 weeks.”
Panic set in. Two full-time working parents with two adorable, BUSY kids and no family in town – how would we survive the next 3 weeks without the J?
Florence G. Heller JCC is the place where our boys thrive. Our oldest son, Matan, who’s 4.5 years-old, and our youngest son, Nadav, who’s 2.5 years-old, are OBSESSED with the Florence G. Heller JCC Early Childhood program. It’s the place we all call a second home, especially after engaging in 2nd Friday Shabbats, Purim carnivals, connecting with old friends and meeting new families. It’s where we spend 45-minutes at pick up because Matan demands to play in Nadav’s classroom before leaving and the teachers embrace us while we get to know each other better.
Three weeks turned into four months. We thought nothing could replace being at the J in-person, but Florence G. Heller JCC was there to offer support during the lockdown period. They were amazing! Setting up classroom and community Zooms, providing us with at-home activities to try with our kids – they helped support us from a distance.
JCC Chicago announced they were re-opening Early Childhood programs on June 29, 2020, which just so happens to be Matan’s birthday, and it was a gift to the ENTIRE family! While my husband and I wouldn’t trade the experience of lockdown for anything because we got to see our sweet boys grow up and grow together as brothers, it was an impossible task to full-time parent and full-time work. So we had NO hesitations about sending our sons back to the Florence G. Heller JCC the day they re-opened. Sure, we paused for one moment to think about it, like good parents do, but we trusted the J. We trusted that they would only open back up when it was safe. Plus, we knew our boys needed the social interaction and educational stimulation that only an in-person classroom could provide them.
If I thought our family loved Florence G. Heller JCC before the pandemic, our love for them grew 1000 times once our boys returned. We saw our family and others adapt to the new safety protocols of mask wearing and pick up/drop off procedures. It became our new routine and we made the best of it! We now call our daily temperature checks, “getting Super Powers” and we wave goodbye in the morning and hello in the afternoon through the classroom windows! Nadav’s classroom window is right by the entrance and we have conversations and dance parties with his whole class every day at pick-up. Of course, we miss engaging with the kids in the classroom, getting to know the teachers more and attending in-person community events, but we really love having in-person school for our kids! We have been so incredibly impressed by the teachers’ love and energy they have brought to our children ever since they returned to the school. Our sons are connected to the teachers, they love Rachel Weber, the amazing director. They love Kobe the greeter; Dan, Kevin, and all the guards that keep them safe. Overall, our family loves our extended Florence G. Heller JCC family!
While we eagerly await a “normal” world, we cannot begin to express how grateful we have been to the J for bringing some normalcy to our family. We feel safe. We feel loved. That’s all that matters.
Limor Gildenblatt is the mother of Matan (in the Poppies class) and Nadav (in the Cherry Blossoms class) at Florence G. Heller JCC. She and her husband, Seth, have been sending their children to the J since the summer of 2019. They are beyond impressed by the balance of love, emotional attunement, and programming provided by the teachers and staff at the J. Professionally, Limor is a Family Therapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She works full-time as the Behavioral Health Faculty at the AMITA Health St. Mary’s Family Medicine Residency program where she teaches physicians about behavioral health topics in primary care, patient-centered counseling skills, and runs their wellness curriculum. In her free time she treats individual patients, couples, and families in her private practice. She enjoys loving on her boys (husband included), traveling when safe, spending time with family and friends, enjoying the wine & dine scene in Chicago, and engaging in any wellness activities such as spinning, yoga, and staring at the lake!