Mishkan’s Director of Development and Engagement on how her twins’ time in NICU followed by months of COVID isolation inspired her to start a Small Group for other toddler families.

My twins were born in October 2020. After 15 days in the NICU, they emerged from the hospital into a world of isolation. We had learned to adapt to COVID loneliness as a couple, but my husband and I found that social distancing was even harder on a family of four. And since these were our first kids, we had no experience to compare this new parenthood against. We yearned to introduce our girls to extended family, friends, and even distant acquaintances. We longed for community.

When Mishkan returned to indoor family programming — cautiously, as vaccine rollouts have yet to reach the youngest among us — our family slowly but surely worked up the courage to take our girls to their first real social gathering of their life: Rise & Shine, Mishkan’s Saturday Morning Shabbat program for families with kids 4 and under. We walked out of JCYS, the venue in Lincoln Square, beaming! We already could not wait for the next opportunity to gather for music, light ritual, snacks and friendly chatter with other parents (!!!) again soon. And sure, we’re Builders (paying members), but this program is free and open to anyone, and I’d take the joy of Rise & Shine over an expensive music class for kids any day.

Introducing: Toddler Shabbat Playgroup

Of course, a Rise & Shine doesn’t come along every weekend, so what to do? Toddler Shabbat Playgroup, that’s what! This new small group for toddler families begins May 14th, and I’ll be hosting the first play date at my home in Wicker Park. We hope this becomes the first of many Shabbat Playgroups for Mishkanites around Chicagoland to be hosted by other families who want to keep building and strengthening the community. We’ll be meeting monthly on a Saturday that does not already have a Mishkan service planned so that we can keep the connections rolling, even without Rachel Mylan serenading us on her guitar or Rabbi Deena popping in or everyone’s favorite puppet, Shleppy, to greet the kiddos.

I’m coming up on my 4 year anniversary as the Director of Development & Engagement at Mishkan, which means 4 years of getting to know our people. I now get to watch with glee as my 18 month old twins interact with the people I’ve grown to love over the years, and to get to know their kids. My girls get to play with Magnatiles & puzzles in the middle of a circle of Mishkanites singing Mah Tovu around them, turning to face us as we all clap along and smile underneath our masks. This is the good stuff. We’re raising tiny Jews in the spirit of celebration, appreciating each of these moments all the more because of the months it took to get to this place together.