For Lara and Joey Panish, sending their two daughters to the APJCC Preschool was a big step in their journey as an Interfaith couple raising their children as Jews. Lara grew up in a Christian family in a small town in California’s central valley, where there was no Jewish community or presence. But in college at UC Santa Cruz, she was exposed to a major Jewish presence and found herself making many Jewish friends, a trend which continued for Lara in graduate school and beyond.
Joey was raised in Berkeley and was a part of the Jewish community there as a child. He went to Hebrew school and had a Bar Mitzvah. As an adult, he went back to celebrate Jewish holidays with his family.
Lara and Joey decided to raise their children as Jews because, in their words, “we wanted our children to belong to a community as a venue for learning to be a good person, a mensch.”
Before Lara and Joey’s older daughter, Olivia, was born, they decided to join APJCC. “We lived just over the border in San Jose one mile from the APJCC,” Joey relates, “and we liked the feeling of community at APJCC.” Lara took to the pool at APJCC, Joey to basketball, and they both started working out here.
When it came time to decide on a preschool for Olivia, Lara and Joey felt there was little choice but to send Olivia to the APJCC Preschool, not only because of its strong reputation, but because of the way in which APJCC Preschool engages the whole family with open acceptance and without being judgmental. “For me,” Lara says, “I needed to be educated about Jewish religious practices along with my daughters, but without myself converting to Judaism. I am not a religious Christian, but I wanted to maintain my own spirituality while, at the same time, raising my children as Jews.”
Lara became very involved in APJCC Preschool as a volunteer many times over — as the coordinator of the APJCC Preschool Book Drive for three years, Project Cornerstone reader and ultimately leader for all the parent Project Cornerstone readers, member of the Sheva Committee and a helper with numerous other classroom and school activities. What motivated her was, she says, “the fullness with which the whole family was regarded as valuable. From seeing the teachers pour their hearts into the kids, to the emotional support Joey and I received from teachers, fellow parents and Cyndi Sherman, Preschool Director, when I was having health issues, APJCC Preschool is indeed a home for the whole family.”
With their younger daughter, Camille, having just graduated from APJCC Preschool, Lara and Joey remain committed to raising their daughters as Jews through their family membership at their synagogue and as continuing members at APJCC, where Lara continues to swim and Joey takes Krav Maga.