Cheder Yaldei Menachem in Hillside, a preschool for children ages 18 months to five years, is ready to welcome the first “class” to its new building in September. Prospective families are invited to tour the just-completed space while learning about the program, philosophy and faculty of the preschool at an open house on February 20 at 1128-1130 North Broad Street.
The preschool began 16 years ago in the basement of Bris Avrohom; the center was founded by Rabbi Mordechai and Shterney Kanelsky to give Russian Jews a Jewish education. Now, the school welcomes all Jews. With many young families moving to the area, the school has rapidly outgrown its three classrooms.
“For three years we looked at every possible place in the Hillside/Elizabeth area, where most of our families are located,” Mrs. Kanelsky said. “We found this building, that used to be a doctor’s office, and redid the entire building. It’s a brand-new structure inside.” After nine months of work, the space is complete.
The Cheder Yaldei Menachem curriculum is a blend of Torah subjects and secular education. “If we are teaching about the tevah in Parshat Noach, we will blend in science, experimenting by bringing things into the classroom and see if they sink or float,” said Mrs. Kanelsky. “The older ones will work with numbers: two kinds of every animal and how much that brings together, or with the alphabet, like learning T for tevah. We can bring all of it together under Torah aspects.” There is an indoor gym and outdoor playground, and the school offers music and yoga. The preschool day is from 8:30 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. Optional early care, including breakfast, begins at 7:30 a.m. Late pickup is available until 6 p.m.
The professionalism of the teachers begins with their credentials; all have degrees in education. But they also embody the values they teach, from the way they dress to the way they communicate with the children. “Our teachers are role models,” said Mrs. Kalensky. “The kids look up to teachers, identify with them. They get the proper impression so they can learn and absorb.”
The most important goal underpinning all education at Yaldei Menachem is to instill in the children a connection to and love for Hashem and Israel. Giving children a Jewish education is more than a profession for the Kanelskys; it’s fulfilling a vow. The Kanelskys grew up in communist Russia, where the practice of religion was forbidden. Stealth was a way of life to avoid desecrating Shabbat or revealing a family’s commitment to Judaism. But the hardships only made their faith in Hashem stronger.
As a 9-year-old boy, Mordechai Kanelsky lived in his basement where he learned Torah, only venturing out with his grandfather at night so he would not be discovered. Shterney became adept at providing excuses every week why she would not be at school on Shabbat, even missing a performance where she would have been a solo vocalist and violinist. Finally, both families were able to leave Russia, going first to Israel and then to the U.S. In The Jewish Link issue of February 4, the Kanelskys described their recent trip back to Russia and recalled all the ways they struggled to keep Judaism.
When Shterney and Mordechai first met and dated, they talked about having the same goal. “We wanted to dedicate our lives to helping Russian Jews who were not fortunate to practice Judaism in Russia because of oppression,” Mrs. Kanelsky said. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to become better Jews and Americans. To give them the best of the best, Jewish and secular education, with love, nurturing and excitement. This is what we have been doing for the past 39 years.”
While Rabbi Kanelsky is not involved in the school’s operation—he says education is his wife’s department—he is a guiding force. “The Gemara says an interesting thing,” he explained. “It says, ‘I want to plant for my children what my parents planted for me.’ Our parents gave us an education in Russia with tremendous mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice). Now, I want that to continue.”
The Torah says educate each child according to his way and that’s what Cheder Yaldei Menachem does; the teachers make each child feel special. Children are guided to develop a love of Torah and mitzvot, not just the practice. “Mitzvah means connection; every mitzvah is a connection to God,” Rabbi Kanelsky said. “And we build that connection with love—with compassion, music, stories, arts and crafts; that is how you give the gift of connection between a Jew and his Father in Heaven.”
For more information about Cheder Yaldei Menachem, call 908/ 289-0770 or visit www.chederyaldeimenachem.org.
By Bracha Schwartz