Over the past 50 years, the youngest members of Temple Israel of Great Neck’s congregation have provided a captive audience to some of Judaism’s most important lessons as part of their preschool Beth HaGan’s curriculum.
“You’re not just teaching them to pray,” Temple Israel of Great Neck Executive Director Leon Silverberg said. “Because Judaism is an ethnicity, as well as a religion, there is a culture. There’s songs that you learn. There’s holidays that you celebrate.”
“They do things that are meaningful,” he added of the preschool’s students. “You grow up and a lot of things stick with you.”
On Sunday, Temple Israel of Great Neck’s congregation will come together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its preschool and the meaningful role Beth HaGan Executive Director Rachel Mathless said her program has had on the synagogue’s community for half of a century.
“We are a program that focuses on meeting the individual and unique needs of every child,” Mathless said. “Our school is designed as a child-centered atmosphere that stimulates self discovery. We have a balance between very open-ended, very creative, very interactive and collaborative styles of learning.”
Beth HaGan preschool’s 50th anniversary celebration will be held at the Temple Israel of Great Neck at 108 Old Mill Road from 12:30 until 3:30 p.m. on Sunday,
The festival, which is being called “Cirque du Oy Vey,” will feature the acrobats “The Twins from France” along with a kosher lunch, raffles and various other activities.
“It’s open to the entire community,” Mathless said. “It’s basically a celebration.”
Tickets to Sunday’s festival cost $20 prior to the event and $25 on the day of the celebration for adults, while children’s admission is set at $10 in advance and $15 at the door.
In addition, raffle tickets are being sold for a chance to win an all-expense paid trip to Walt Disney World for a family of four, along with various other prizes.
“All proceeds go to rebuilding (the Temple Israel) playground,” Mathless said.
Temple Israel of Great Neck opened its doors in 1948 and congregation member Eva Sussman, 14 years later, established the Beth HaGan preschool in 1962, Silverberg said.
During its first year, the Beth HaGan preschool had between six and 15 students with 120 on a waiting list, Silverberg said.
“It’s kind of the beginning of the education process here at the synagogue,” he said of the preschool. “It’s an intricate part. We have in essence three schools here, a nursery school a grade school and a high school program.”
Beth HaGan has grown considerably since its first year of existence to now include 145 students, ranging in age from two to four years of age, Mathless said.
“We’re really based on cooperation and communication between parents, the teachers
As a student of its inaugural year, I am proud and privileged to write this article acknowledging the 50th anniversary of Temple Israel of Great Neck’s Preschool, Beth HaGan.
Currently under the leadership of Rachel Mathless, Beth HaGan has been a cornerstone for Jewish learning for thousands of students over the past half century.
In celebration of this important milestone, an exciting celebration open to the entire community entitled “Cirque du Oy Vey,” (named by the very witty Rabbi Stecker) will be taking place on May 6 from 12:30-3:30 at Temple Israel. This event, chaired by Temple Israel board member and past PTA president Joanna Eshaghoff, will feature “The Twins From France,” an amusing acrobatic duo sure to entertain audiences of all ages.
Lunch will be served to all and there will be several exciting raffles taking place including the grand prize of a Disney vacation. Additionally, past and present Beth HaGan students along with temple members are being offered the opportunity to have their names permanently etched onto Temple Israel’s new playground fence. All proceeds will go towards enhancing the temple’s playground. Please visit tign.org/bh50 or call 482-7800 for more details and to purchase event tickets, raffle tickets or pickets.
Now, I want you to try to imagine a different time, when things were just, well, simpler. I have attempted to incorporate in my memories some nostalgic references to a “time gone by.”
Many words we now use on a daily basis were around back then too, only with different meanings. A nook was something we sat in to eat. An apple was a snack. A KINDLE was something we did to get the barbecue fire going. We were on-the-line not on line and clicking was something we did with our tongues. The web was where spiders lived and you could find a mouse scurrying in the basement. Today, cars now come with GPS. In my day we were grateful for FM radio! Televisions now come in HD. When I was a kid, color was considered manna from heaven and a cell was something we looked at under a microscope. I could go on for another 50 years …
My personal memories, which will be forever engraved, begin with a rabbit in the principal’s office, that we used to visit every morning, and a veterinarian who made house (or should I say “shul”) calls. I remember the rabbit’s exam being part of a class learning experience.
Eva Sussman, the first Beth HaGan director, was a no-nonsense lady. When she said to do something, you did it. Afternoon rest time was mandatory. I can remember watching her checking in on the classes to see how the day was progressing, and if she ever saw you in the corridor “unattended” she would get you back into your room in two seconds flat. I remember that part from personal experience.
Music class was held once a week around the piano with Miss Rose, who was a teller at the White Stone Savings Bank when she wasn’t singing with the kids. It was always fun to see your music teacher at the bank when mom was banking. We didn’t have ATM machines or online banking back then, and banks always closed at the stroke of 3 p.m. I can still remember running countless times with my mother to make the closing.
Children at the time attended either the a.m. or p.m. session. The morning kids went home to eat lunch and continue their day while the afternoon children had lunch at home and then arrived for the afternoon. We would take the bus to and from school. The driver would pick us up or drop us off at any friend’s house that was on our route. All we had to say was “I’m going to Mark’s house today” and it was good enough for the driver. Imagine that.
Friday was the day to prepare for Shabbat. Some things never change, nor will they. Time to make the challah. Back then though, we didn’t have challah dough delivered to the school like we do today. We had to make it from scratch. One child was responsible for cracking and beating the egg, which was, of course, before we knew about egg allergies. The dough was then divided amongst several kids to “neat” the dough, followed by each student braiding their own individual challah. I still remember the feel of the dough and the flour and that delicious smell of the dough baking. It was so special to leave school each Shabbat with our personal challahs to bring home to our families. My sister Vivian still remembers how good that challah was.
My fondest memories though were the faces of my friends whom attended Beth HaGan with me for two years from 1963 to 1965. (The cat’s out of the bag now, I guess.) I still see some of them around Temple Israel or town now and then, and have connected with some via social media. Sometimes, when dropping off or picking up my teenage son Noah, I’ll pass by a house and remember playing there with my Beth HaGan friends 50 years ago, and a warm smile comes to my face. For all of you who have been through Beth HaGan or are students there now, I hope you too will share that same warm smile a half century from now.
Here’s looking at you kid!