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Jewish Day Care—”Who Needs It?”

Tempers flared at a recent American Jewish Committee conference on day care, after two Jewish communal leaders suggested that day care centers for Jewish pre-school children may not be the answer to child care needs.

Barry Shrage, assistant director of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, stated that most Jewish mothers were middle class and did not work full-time; thus they were not seeking full-day programs. He recommended part-time programs, plus training sessions for nannies and baby-sitters who, he claimed, generally care for Jewish pre-school children of working mothers.

Stephen D. Solender, executive director, New York Federation-UJA, seconded Shrage’s contention and added that these programs were very expensive to fund. He challenged those in attendance to prove from a financial and statistical model that these programs were necessary. He claimed he had never seen statistics to prove that Jewish day care programs were needed.

Sharon Strauss of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Washington, D.C., countered that a United Jewish Appeal Federation task force there was indeed completing the very study that Solender was demanding. However, several conference attendees questioned whether JCC teen basketball supported by Federations around the country had ever been subjected to such a needs test.

Norman Finkel, executive director of the Federation Day Care Services of Philadelphia, noted that “Federations are all men and day care professionals out there are all women,” thus leading to a disparity in views. He stressed that the opportunities to provide a Jewish environment for children in day care “can’t be compared to a teenager playing basketball at a Y.”

Preceding the above exchange, several child care experts had discussed the pivotal nature of Jewish day care in the promotion of a Jewish identity among families. Ruth Pinkenson Feldman found in one study that 63 percent of the parents in Jewish day care versus 17 percent of Jewish parents in non-Jewish day care felt more involved Jewishly than before attendance.

Several other conference speakers mentioned cases of Jewish children attending non-Jewish or church programs. They questioned how the Jewish community could allow this to happen in light of evidence such as Feldman’s.