May is Jewish-American Heritage Month, a time to recognize the impact Jewish people have had on the nation’s history. Carrying on and sharing traditions of the Jewish religion is what Stefanie Kostenblatt strives to do at the Newburgh Jewish Community Center (JCC).
“Thankfully, we live in a country where there's freedom, and it's important to remember that freedom opened a lot of doors for a lot of cultures and religions over time, and Judaism is no different,” Kostenblatt said.
After growing up attending religious school and services at the Newburgh JCC, Kostenblatt became a religion teacher herself, eventually leading her to the role of executive director.
Her goal is to bring the community together.
What You Need To Know
- Carrying on and sharing traditions of the Jewish religion is what Stefanie Kostenblatt strives to do at the Newburgh Jewish Community Center
- The JCC is home to Little Friends Learning Loft preschool, which is open to children of all religions
- While they celebrate Shabbat, bake hallah and recognize other Jewish traditions, Kostenblatt said the focus is on raising good citizens
- Pew Research in 2020 estimated 2.4% of the U.S. adult population is made up of Jewish people, and 3.2% of U.S. children live with a Jewish adult
“I feel really proud. I feel inspired about the growth. All of our programing is open to all people, regardless of religious affiliation, economic status. It's part of ’tikkun olam,’ making the world better,” Kostenblatt said.
Combining Judaism and the Montessori method of education, the JCC opened the Little Friends Learning Loft preschool. While they celebrate Shabbat, bake hallah and recognize other Jewish traditions, Kostenblatt said the focus is on raising good citizens.
“We're asking for kindness. We're asking for respect. We're asking for the kids to make the world a better place,” Kostenblatt said. “Those are universal ideas that all of our families have signed on to, whether they're Jewish or they're not, and that’s where all people can come together.”
Kostenblatt’s 4-year-old son, Jonah, attends the preschool, and both of her kids go to Sunday school at the JCC. Jonah is learning the story of Noah’s ark. He’s able to understand it by using toy animals.
He’s also learning Hebrew and sings songs he’s introduced to, exposing other children to the culture. Kostenblatt hopes Jonah and all of the children learn the importance of peace, a major component of the Jewish religion.
“The greeting for hello is the same word for peace, ‘shalom.’ It's something that's repeated and reiterated and certainly very central to the religion and central to the wish,” Kostenblatt said. “I think if we can start with the kids, and we can open their minds and give them a strong foundation for peace and community and understanding the world around them, that we're off to a really great start."
Pew Research in 2020 estimated that 2.4% of the U.S. adult population is made up of Jewish people, and 3.2% of U.S. children live with a Jewish adult.