By Patrick Bowers P’25, ’25
Leora and Youni, our 4-year-old twins, were starting their final year of preschool, and we had to get moving to find a kindergarten. This being New York, we regularly heard about how the right kindergarten translated to future enrollment at Harvard, so we felt the unique pressures of picking a kindergarten in NYC.
To be honest, we were utterly unprepared to vet NYC kindergartens. And we’d never heard of Rodeph Sholom School. Even David, who is the Jewish half of our interfaith marriage and who’d attended Ramaz on the Upper East Side, was scratching his head when our Kindergarten Selection Consultant (you read correctly) said that RSS would be our school if we wanted a Jewish education. Yeah, right. First of all, we needed to know how probable Harvard matriculation was if we chose RSS, right? Next, we didn’t know if we really wanted a Jewish school. We didn’t know anyone at RSS. We didn’t know how they’d handle same-sex parents. And we questioned whether we wanted to schlep the kids all the way uptown from our Chelsea home. Much research to be done. David and I were clear about raising the twins Jewish, yet we had to really think hard about whether a Jewish school was best for the kids and what kind of institution would be the best fit for our non-traditional family. And of course, what would get them into an excellent college?
Then David’s father passed away. It was fairly sudden and quite tragic. One of the kindest souls I’ve ever known, Younatan was not only the quiet cornerstone of our happy extended family life but also the foundation for Youni & Leora’s exposure to religious tradition. Coping with the loss was difficult. We had relied on this extraordinary man for so much – his love, his spiritual guidance, his beautiful generosity, his calm. All of a sudden, that was gone.
Sometimes people say a single event changed their life. Always sounds trite. But with hindsight, I think Younatan’s passing was just such an event for our family. With swift realization, we felt the absence of our religious anchor. Ironically, at that time, the whole kindergarten selection process got a lot easier. It became evident that we wanted a religious education for Leora & Youni. We wanted them to learn in an environment such as Younatan, their cherished Saba, created every time we visited his home. It was in fact how David and I had learned. Both of us attended religious schools – David’s Jewish and mine Catholic. In adulthood though, we had grown into ‘enlightened’ citizens of the world, with a particular skepticism toward organized religion. It took a loss like that of our dear Younatan to appreciate the truth that a religious school – the right religious school – was a beautiful way to include ethics and social responsibility into the kids’ everyday school experience.
After this, we took the RSS application much more seriously. We researched. Visited. Found friends there. Talked to alumni. Got to know the neighborhood and Congregation Rodeph Sholom. We began to appreciate how truly inclusive they were. We studied the other Jewish schools in NYC carefully, but nothing compared to RSS for sincere inclusion. Probably most impactful was the RSS staff – their warmth combined with cool savvy blew us away. I got the sense they knew what we needed possibly more than we did at the time.
The balancing of social responsibility and academics at RSS grabbed us. It was exactly what we hoped for Youni and Leora, within the Jewish context that we sought. The final kicker was when David’s mom, Younatan’s widow, attended an RSS applicants’ reception. It was a busy wine and cheese pitch event. But she enjoyed herself. After all she’d been through, we saw she could be at peace with this fraught educational choice for her grandchildren.
We are so grateful that the RSS community invited us in. During the application process, we could not possibly have known how much we were going to admire the RSS teachers & staff. Or how thrilled we’d be by the blossoming of our kids at RSS, both socially and intellectually. Or how truly included we would feel among the RSS families. Maybe Younatan was guiding us through that difficult time to the right school and the right community. It kind of feels like he had a hand in it.
No, we don’t know where Leora & Youni will end up at for college and that’s okay. But we do know that we chose the very best way to educate our kids so that they grow up to be more like their beloved Saba.