Izzy the iguana

November 7, 2014, Written by Geula Zamist

The  Early Childhood Center at Congregation Agudath Israel is a warm environment and we always enjoy welcoming guests.  Parents are invited to join us for Shabbat celebrations, cooking in the classrooms, and accompanying us on school trips.  Our active class parents see to it that everyone has the opportunity to visit at some time.  With a well organized calendar, filled with many different events, our busy parents are always given ample time to clear their schedules to participate at their convenience.

Recently at our school we welcomed a most unique visitor– Izzy the Iguana.  Izzy is one of the “Mitzvah Pals” that has been traveling around the county to United Synagogue early childhood programs.  These stuffed animals will travel this year to a total of 65 USCJ and Schechter preschools. 

Through their journey, the Mitzvah Pals connect young children to the larger Jewish world of which they are a part, demonstrating that children just like them all over the country celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish things. The pals come with a journal in which teachers and children in every school write. The pal also brings a book, Bim and Bom, donated by the PJ Library. There is a map on which the children can chart the journey. Each school adds their own gift to the Mitzvah Pal’s luggage: a school T-shirt, tote bag, or even a pair of wings. The journey of the mitzvah pal is recorded on Facebook as each school posts about their visit: http://www.facebook.com/bennythemitzvahbear

Here at Agudath Israel, Izzy the Iguana spent two weeks visiting each of the fours classes and Izzy, the teachers and the children all found it to be an enriching experience.  At Agudath Israel, one of the six principles that we stand on is Klal Yisrael -  Connecting to Jews in the USA, Israel and All Around the World.  Participating in the Mitzvah Pals program gave our young children an opportunity to experience this in a meaningful and developmentally appropriate way.  As they read through Izzy’s journal and looked at the photos of children in classrooms in Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the students were able to see children just like themselves celebrating Shabbat, shaking a lulav and etrog, baking challah and lighting the chanukiah.

While Izzy was visiting CAI our fours classes he had a chance to enjoy many holiday celebrations with the children; eating snack in the sukkah, dancing with the Torah in the sanctuary, and gathering for Shabbat in the chapel.  They included pictures of these events and narrative in Izzy’s journal.  As part of our literacy program, each student in the fours writes in their own journals on a regular basis.  Writing in Izzy’s journal became a natural progression for them.

All the children and the teachers loved the idea of Izzy coming from other schools and going on to continue his travels.  We are grateful to USCJ for organizing this project and helping our students have a special understanding of being part of the greater Jewish world.   

The children and the teachers offered their own comments on the experience as well.

“We looked at the notebook and noted how similar other children were to our school. We reinforced his "friendship" with other children at other schools.”

“The children learned that Shabbat was celebrated in the other schools too... the children noticed that, and we helped them realize how Shabbat is a common denominator for Jewish people: "all Jewish people celebrate Shabbat not only us!"

“The children in the journal looked just like us! They celebrated Shabbat and went to a school that looks like our school”

“We discussed that there were Jews all over the world. The children shared where their Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles lived.”

“The mitzvah pal helped the children see that there are Jewish children just like themselves in other places.”

Sun, November 19 2017 1 Kislev 5778