In her new story “Motherhood in the ‘Lean In’ Era for Lillith, former Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner takes a look at the childcare crisis and what the Jewish communal world should, and is, doing about it.
Daycare programs and tuition subsidies are arguably as good an investment as trips to Israel. And there are fewer unknowns. Jewish children are already in the picture. Their parents need quality childcare, and help paying for it. Synagogues and community centers need to engage young families—families that look and work a whole lot different than they did a generation ago. That means overhauling existing programming models, like preschools that start at age two, and assumptions, like that one parent is always available for a noon pickup and a $2,200 a month childcare bill poses no hardship.
Birkner discussed these issues with organizations like the JCC Association of America who says that they understand the rising need for daycare and, as a result, have begun to offer full-day care in 2/3s of its 157 early-learning programs in community centers around the country.
She also spoke with the Union for Reform Judaism, who says it is encouraging its 900 synagogues to reevaluate their preschool programs with an eye towards developing full-day care and figuring out how to make it affordable.
Chabad-Lubavitch says they are also looking into expanding into full-day childcare, and have even figured out how to allow children to stay longer on Fridays by transitioning them into youth Shabbat programs.
Organizational powerhouse the UJA-Federation said they understand that this is a big issue for families, both in terms of scheduling and affordability, and they are planning to research scalable solutions. One idea is developing or investing in more “family daycare” programs, which are run in homes and generally more affordable than larger, institutional ones.
As I’ve written about before on the Sisterhood in my “Birthright for Babies” post, it seems as though the Jewish world has put a lot of money and time in creating engagement opportunities for young adults, while young families feel deserted. As Birkner explains in her piece, we don’t just want affordable, Jewish daycare and pre-school, we need it. We need it to so parents, mostly women, don’t have to sacrifice our ambitions the minute we have children, and we need it so our kids can feel connected to a Jewish community. It is wonderful to know that the organizational giants are listening.
Elissa Strauss, a lead blogger for the Sisterhood, also writes about gender and culture for places like the New York Times, Jezebel and Salon. Follow her on Twitter @elissaavery.