The Koeppel Family
Fostering Emanu-El’s Young Families
By Jaime Koeppel
When my husband Max and I were looking to join a synagogue in Manhattan, there was no question for Max that he wanted us to join Temple Emanu-El… after all, Max had become a Bar Mitzvah at Emanu-El, all of his siblings and his cousins had done so too, and he attended worship services there as a child with his family members, including his grandparents, who were long-standing temple members. But I wasn’t sure that I would be able to find my own way there, as I was not accustomed to such a large community and had no idea at that time that there were many programs and ways to include so many congregants and make everyone feel welcome. Since then, Temple Emanu-El has become such a part of our lives that I can’t believe I had any uncertainty only a few years ago; how wrong I was to question it, for even a minute.
When looking to join a temple, we were hoping to become part of a Jewish community and enrich our lives with Jewish traditions and experiences. In a short time, we have found that and so much more. As first-time parents to our now-21-month-old daughter, Vivian, we participate in many of the Young Family programs such as the New Parents/Toddlers Group with Dr. Juliet Cooper and Rabbi Amy Ehrlich, and the music class Baby Bop. Through these programs, Vivian and I have created special bonds with one another and with the other mothers and children in the community at Emanu-El. Much of the advice from Rabbi Ehrlich and Dr. Juliet Cooper has been helpful to us as we raise Vivian with a strong sense of Judaism, especially regarding morality. During the Parent/Toddler Group we learned about the importance of giving back and how it is never too early to begin imparting these lessons, whether it’s baking for the Thanksgiving eve meal at Temple Emanu-El or encouraging Vivian to pick out a Hanukkah gift she would like to donate to a child less fortunate.
As a family, we also frequent the monthly Tot Shabbat services, Jewish Story Time, and the New Parents Drop-In: Growing Together programs. Recently I attended a Drop-In: Growing Together talk on baby and toddler speech development. Andie Schneider (the guest speaker) demonstrated many different strategies to use while reading to your child — strategies that help with language acquisition. It was fascinating and taught me so much.
Getting involved with Temple Emanu-El in all these ways has inspired us to bring many of these Jewish traditions home. For example, Vivian experiences the joys of celebrating Shabbat in the Baby Bop music class. She gets excited to follow and imitate teacher Hadar Orishlamy, even covering her eyes with her hands during prayers. In fact, Vivian makes sure that I cover my eyes as well. Vivian loves the song “Bim Bom” from class so much so that it has become her favorite song at home, too. The highlight for Vivian, however, is when they sing the Motzi and pass around the delicious challah! As a result of this, we now follow the tradition of having Shabbat dinners at home on Friday evenings…. and, of course, sharing challah and apple juice together just like they do in Baby Bop.
Max and I consider Temple Emanu-El to be our home in so many ways, and while each of these classes differ, they provide the same warm, welcoming, community feeling throughout while celebrating Jewish traditions and our heritage. We look forward to continuing our involvement with Temple Emanu-El. We feel so fortunate to belong to such a wonderful and lovely congregation and look forward to many more special experiences there in the future.