A couple of weeks ago, our very own Associate Director, Ilisa Cappell, had a Skype interview with the author of Family Ties, Shoshana Banana, a parent at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Queens. Read below to find out more! The students of the first grade of the El Paso Jewish Academy loved learning about the Shoshsana Banana’s diverse family background and her nickname.
What inspired you to write “Family Ties?”
My family is trilingual. My son (Theodore, second grader at Solomon Schechter School of Queens) and daughter (Orly, kindergartener at SSSQ) speak English at home with me, French with their Dad (my husband David was reared in Paris), and are learning Hebrew at an incredible pace at school. The Judaic studies curriculum is wonderful and actually works. I looked around and realized that we are not at all unusual in our school community. Most of the kids come from families that speak a third, or fourth language at home, beyond the English and Hebrew of the school day. We are lucky enough to have speakers of Russian, Bukharan, Farsi, Spanish, Portuguese, and more– many more that I’d never guess– enriching our cultural experiences with each other. All of these languages come along with diverse sets of cultural practices that are so much fun to compare and contrast, all within the coziness of our shared Jewish traditions. The diversity we enjoy is at odds with a perception some may have of “the Jews” as a monolithic block, a homogeneous group, so I wanted to draw attention to the reality that Jewish day school education is also about embracing diversity.
What do you believe schools could be doing to honor and educate about the diversity of our Jewish community?
One thing we do at our school is highlight the various regional variations in celebrating the holidays. For example, a central theme of this year’s model Passover seders was the variety of traditions in arranging the seder plate and the myriad of recipes for the feast components. My kids, who are of Ashkenazi and Sephardi lineage, were pleased to recognize familiar practices and learn about new ones there.
How has your experience as a Schechter parent reinforced the core values and messages you are teaching your own children?
Our enrollment at SSSQ has both deepened my family’s attachment to Judaism and Israel and made my job as a parent more enjoyable. I see the Schechter school as a parenting partner to my husband and me. The curriculum runs in tandem to the Jewish calendar and creates a positive feedback loop with our home practices. By contrast, when I was a kid going to public school, I often felt left out of holiday celebrations; my Jewish life felt sequestered to the home. My kids today are lucky to have the benefit of a diverse cultural environment– friends of different skin colors and ethnicities– that also flows seamlessly into their home lives.