I don’t remember how the topic came up, but I’ve never forgotten the answer to what must have been my question.
“No, we don’t do infant care here,” the preschool director’s voice, trailing off. “I don’t know how we’d get them out in time.”
She didn’t have to say any more; I knew what she meant. She meant in the worst case scenario. Not a fire, like every organization might drill and prepare for, but an anti-Semitic attack. A bomb threat, or worse.
This was in 2008, pre-Sandy Hook, before mass shootings reached our peak level of consciousness. My husband and I were touring a new preschool/daycare facility for our daughter, then four years old, who had a new baby brother and a current daycare program that was struggling with high turnover and a lack of leadership. Hers was also a Jewish program, but a smaller one, nestled far down the street in an office park. In my mind, it was less likely to be attacked, or at least I told myself that. This new program we toured was in a JCC, a Jewish Community Center, more than 100 of which across the U.S. have been the targets of bomb threats in the weeks since President Trump’s inauguration.
More than one hundred times, babies had to be evacuated during these cold winter months. And not just toddlers, but senior citizens in these buildings for social interaction, swimmers while dripping wet, and employees and members of all different ethnicities and religious backgrounds (JCCs are open to all). Had it been during the summer, my now nine year old son might have been pulled off the stage of his arts and science day camp that is also held at the JCC.
“I don’t know how we’d get them out in time.” Honestly, it’s not much more comforting to think that at least my son could run and hide. That he’s been trained in this type of exercise at his public school.
I’m sure I asked other questions on the daycare tour that morning so many years ago. I probably asked about swimming lessons, school vacation schedules, the late fee policy in case we ever missed the pick up deadline. I asked about Jewish content in the classroom, as I attended a Jewish preschool myself, and had fond memories of dressing up for holidays and spending Friday mornings preparing for the weekly Sabbath. While having a Jewish tie wasn’t our main criteria in choosing her program, it was definitely a great bonus.
And yet, I asked myself, what if? How would I live with myself if something happened to her there, when there are lots of other daycares she could have gone to instead?
But what kind of life would I be living if I decided only out of fear?
I looked at my life up to that moment. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, the fear of anti-Semitism hadn’t made me shy away from Jewish opportunities, but to embrace them further, because I had the chance that many of my relatives did not. I went to Jewish overnight camp and filled my high school weekends with youth group events. I went to a college with a large Jewish community and spent two years on the Hillel board there. I sought guidance in a synagogue after 9/11. My husband and I had named our daughter and entered our son into the covenant, and they were Tot Shabbat regulars before they could even speak. I hadn’t lived my life in fear. I wasn’t about to start with my daughter’s preschool choice.
I still wish I hadn’t heard the answer to that question, though. I wish she hadn’t verbalized what was a nagging fear I tried to push to the back of my mind. Something I still push to the back of my mind all too often.
My daughter enrolled at the JCC, and attended without incident, as did her brother for many years. It was the right choice for our family, but I know that some families have left their JCCs because of these incidents. It’s a shame, but I understand their concern.
They eventually made some renovations to the building and did add an infant room to our JCC. Infants who had to be evacuated when our facility was threatened back in January. They deserve better. We all deserve better.
Cheryl Pollock Stober is a wife, mother of two, VP and product manager at an investment firm, and blogger atBusySinceBirth.com. Cheryl has been trying to figure out how to have it all, at the exact same time, for as long as she can remember. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Motherlode blog, Kveller.com and Boston.com. In 2014 and 2015, she co-produced and performed in Boston’s productions of the internet phenomenon, “Listen To Your Mother.” She can be found on twitter at @cherylstober.