With more than 3,000 young Jewish families living in the Stamford Hill neighborhood in London, it’s no surprise that quality preschool programs are in great demand. Since opening six years ago, the Lubavitch Children’s Centre has been leading the way with an educational program that is getting noticed by the community.
To that end, director Devorah Leah Sudak has begun providing guidance and training to educators from other Chassidic groups looking to enhance their own educational programs, including the Belz, Satmar and Vizhnitz communities. And she’s using teachings from the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—to do so.
“Lubavitch has two preschools in Stamford Hill that are very well-attended by children from the local communities,” says Sudak. “We run a high-quality preschool—one that meets all the legislative guidelines and maintains high levels of Yiddishkeit.”
Still, they wanted to take that to another level. Explains Sudak: “We wanted to actively share our good practices with leading professionals working in the local nursery schools in order to raise the quality of early-years education, so that more children can benefit from a better start in life.”
After applying for, and receiving, a grant from the local neighborhood council to conduct training for preschool directors, Sudak had enough funding to purchase a guidebook to accompany the class. She chose The Educator’s Handbook by Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Aizik Hodakov, the Rebbe’s chief of staff for more than 40 years. He was also heavily involved in education, working as the head of Jewish education in Latvia back in the early 1900s. The book contains ideas and thoughts from the Rebbe on teaching, working with students, and describing the role and responsibility of an educator.
“I always try and infuse Yiddishkeitinto my training programs,” says Sudak. “The Educator’s Handbook is a book we refer to for [guidance] on education that’s in line with our ethos. Therefore, we felt it was appropriate to hand it out to all participants.”
She started the training session by introducing the book, mentioning how it first came about and including the involvement of her late father-in-law, Rabbi Nachman Sudak, who had personally received much of guidance mentioned in the book.
The late Rabbi Sudak was a longtime leader of the Chabad-Lubavitchcommunity in London; he passed away last year.
‘Joined as One’
As part of the curriculum, each participant read a different chapter of the book and shared what they learned with the rest of the group. The result? Sudak reports that some very lively discussions took place on the role of educators in a child’s life, different modes of learning and more.
Rabbi Hodakov’s words on Ahavat Yisroel (“love a fellow Jew”) proved a particularly meaningful topic for some. As one participant said: “We have a duty to love our neighbors, co-workers, parents—and, of course, the children who have been entrusted to our care—as we would like to be loved.”
The educator further noted that, as Hodakov discusses, the Tanya—the seminal early work of Chassidic philosophy by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidism—describes that there is no “I” or “You,” but instead, “we are all joined together as one. … Whichever age we are in charge of, we must bring the message of Ahavat Yisroel into all our activities.”
In addition to the Tanya reference, what everyone found remarkable, according to Sudak, was how the information in the handbook—written decades earlier—remains so highly relevant today: “It was most interesting to note how the guidelines mentioned in the book are very much in line with the current national educational framework.”
As one of the preschool directors, who also preferred anonymity, summed up: “The Educator’s Handbook was very informative and relevant to my everyday practice. I will use it to reflect on my own work and refer to it when dealing with staff, children and parents.”