Celebrating First Traditions

August 22, 2013

By Julie Lookatch, Family Engagement & Outreach Coordinator

Working in Gan Ami for the past five years, I have learned so much from the early childhood educators that I am privileged to call my co-workers. I enjoy helping them put together newsletters and documentation and see all of the creative ways that they share our Jewish values and traditions with the children and families in our program.

A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to jump in and find a way to share the way that Gan Ami learns about holidays with other JCC families through a class called First Traditions. The First Traditions class is a free holiday exploration program for children ages 1-3 and a parent. We meet on select Wednesdays corresponding with upcoming Jewish holidays from 11:30 am to noon.

With such a young group, our classes mostly focus on ways to explore the holidays with our senses. One of my favorite classes was Simchat Torah 2011 when we used green finger paint to make handprints on a big, long piece of butcher paper. While we felt the squishy paint go between our fingers, we talked about how our Torah is a tree of life. When we were done painting our leafy handprints, we took some big paper rolls, and put them at either end of the long, painted scroll. Moms and their toddlers got down on their hands and knees to roll the scroll to the center, just like the Torah.

And, of course, every class has a food component, because we can’t celebrate a holiday without food. One year, for Tu B’Shevat, we sampled all different types of toddler friendly foods that come from trees and looked at big color photos of the trees that produced each food that we ate. Our last food was a banana that had birthday candles stuck in it. We sang “Happy Birthday” to the trees, blew out the candles and cut up our banana to share.

This year, I am excited to begin the fourth season of First Traditions by taking advantage of how early the High Holidays fall on the secular calendar. Our Rosh Hashanah class will take place at the JCC Waterpark on Wednesday, August 28. See the full schedule for this programming year below.

While First Traditions classes are free, I do ask that you RSVP at least one day prior to each class, so that I can be sure to have enough supplies and plan activities appropriate to the ages of the children attending. For those on my First Traditions email list, a reminder is sent out in advance of each class, and a recap with photos is sent out after the class. To sign-up for these notifications, or if you have any questions about First Traditions, contact me at jlookatch@jccmilwaukee.org or 414-967-8230.


Exploring Rosh Hashanah – August 28 @ JCC Waterpark

Exploring Sukkot – September 18 @ JCC Sukkah

Exploring Hanukkah – November 20 @ JCC Yeladim Playroom

Exploring Tu B’Shevat – January 15 @ JCC Yeladim Playroom

Exploring Passover – April 9 @ JCC Yeladim Playroom

Exploring Shavuot – May 28 @ JCC Yeladim Playroom