Baltimore, MD - Nov. 27, 2023 - I first heard of Khal Chassidim about two years ago. I had been living in Baltimore all my life, and I knew there was a Chassidishe Kollel group of families that had moved in the Pinkney area of town, but that's about it. I saw some chassidim at Seven Mile every once in a while, but that was pretty much the extent of my exposure.
The time came that I needed a preschool for my 3 year old twins (one of whom needed a specific style of learning). A few people told me some very positive things about Khal Chassidim, so I decided to do some research and find out more. Originally, we were just looking into the preschool, which is run by the amazing Mrs. Shoshana Sofer. My brothers had been in the TI preschool, under the capable care of Mrs. Sofer’s mother, Mrs. Fleurli Muller, so I knew that chances are Mrs. Sofer was running an amazing preschool there as well.
I scheduled a tour for my husband and myself at the preschool, and was curious what we would find there. To be honest, we did not expect to be nearly as impressed as we were. There were a few things that stood out to us immediately. First of all, my fears about my kids being the only litvishe children in the class were immediately wiped away when I saw how many kids from the general litvishe community were there as well.
Second of all, the purity on these kids' faces shone. Every kid there just looked so happy and so excited to be singing their aleph bais, making their parsha projects, and showing me all the colors and shapes they were learning. Yiras Shamayim was so clearly a part of everything that went on in school; The standards of tzniyus, the emphasis on middos and tefillah, the palpable excitement for every Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh… the list just went on and on. I just remember thinking to myself, “I wish my kids could have this level of excitement and enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit!”
Another thing I noticed was the staff. Baltimore B”H has amazing mechanchim and mechanchos in all of our schools, but there is something about the chassidishe warmth that is just oozing from everywhere in the school (despite the fact that many of the teachers in the preschool are from the litvishe community, but the chassidishe culture of warmth is infectious there). The way every girl gets greeted by name, the smiles and songs that are present all the time... it’s just really heartwarming to see.
I left there, and I was sold. I began to realize that although chassidim may appear different, we have a lot more in common than our differences. So... they wear tights in preschool. And the boys have longer peyos. And they pronounce some words a little differently. So what? Is that enough of a reason to look past a school that otherwise is a perfect fit for our hashkafos and represents everything I want my kids to learn?
As I was going to sign my twins up for preschool, I learned that for the following year, they were actually going to be sending the 4 year old boys class straight to the cheder, which meant that my son would not be part of the preschool after all. This was a whole new step for me- I wasn’t really intending to send my son to the big-boy cheder, where he really might be the only litvak. Gulp. But, after speaking to more parents and getting a feel for it, I was ready to give it a try.
The first day of school came. I was a bit of a nervous wreck, wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into by signing up my kid for a chassidishe cheder. I walked up to the cheder holding my son's hand, davening that he be able to find some friends here. As soon as I heard the upbeat music playing and the energetic “Gut morgen Aharon Yeshaya!” from the menahel, Rabbi Ganzfried, I smiled inside. The warmth and excitement on the menahel’s face welcomed my son in, and he ran inside excitedly. I watched him from the outside, and I knew my son would be able to find his place here. And to be honest, it’s been amazing ever since.
Was it a bit of a learning adjustment with the language shift since they came in without a word of Yiddish background? Yeah. But the teachers and Rebbeim translated as necessary, and my son (and my two other kids as well now) picked it up fluently by Chanukah. Kids are cool like that. I, on the other hand, still struggle sometimes to figure out what on earth their papers say, but it gets a lot easier with time, and the truth is, I have a whole bunch of chassidishe friends now who I can just call if I need clarification. They recognize that it's new for me, and they certainly don’t want me to feel left out.
I should also mention that this transition period only represents our experience in the Cheder. Since my daughter's class is half Litvish, and the girls speak to each other in English, there was a lot less of an adjustment. My daughter just seamlessly fit right in, and has had an amazing experience since day one.
Skipping ahead, I now have 4 kids in Khal Chassidim. Did my kids get ever made fun of for being different? Never. If anything, they have something cool about them that makes them unique. My kids have made such good friends, even at such young ages. Their friends are like their siblings, they play with each other, tackle each other, and hang out together almost every day after school. Because they don't play with technology at home after school, my kids come home, have a snack, and immediately ask if we can go back to Khal Chassidim to ride their bikes and play with their friends. The mothers often sit outside and watch the kids play , so it’s become a social outing for me too.
Sometimes people ask me about the level of education they get. So far, my experience has shown that the level of education there is potentially even higher than schools that are many times their size (others have commented that the kids here are even more knowledgeable than the kids in highly sought after New York schools) . In addition to the level of Kriah, Chumash, Parsha, Yomim Tovim etc, all the kids (including the boys) learn English, reading, writing, math, and all other necessary general knowledge and skills. But obviously, what defines education is different for different people. So yes, my kids will happily say “I don’t know” when they are asked at the doctor if they want the Thomas or Paw Patrol sticker. And yes, they might not know what color Elmo is or what a minion is. I can live with that. But my 4 year olds can tell you that Lot was Avraham’s nephew, and what day is Rosh Chodesh, and how to read with nekudos. And my 3 year old can tell you that Eliezer had 10 camels and gave bracelets to Rivka. And when they get older, my kids may not be able to tell you which president came after William Taft, or what was the date of the Battle of Antietam. But they will be able to tell you which masechta comes after Maseches Krisos, or what was the date that they started building the mishkan. Sometimes I wonder who is more educated.
My Father, Mr. Chananya Kramer, put it so well- “I sent my kids to TI and Bais Yaakov, and we had extremely positive experiences there. However, there is reinkeit (purity) that emanates from the kids at Khal Chassidim. When I took my grandkids to a farm, they pointed out all the shofars on the goats. They tell me that my pens are shaped like a Vav, or that the three frisbees are like the 3 matzos on pesach. Everything they see in the world is somehow connected to Yiddishkeit.”
I am putting myself out there by writing this article not only to share my experience about this hidden gem in our community, but also to make a point. It is no secret that Baltimore is big enough to support more schools, especially girls schools. And here is one, that is such an incredible institution, yet is so overlooked or misunderstood. There are many Litvishe families in the broader Baltimore community who I know would do so well in Khal Chassidim, and would love sending their kids there, but too many people have a mind block of “I wouldn’t send my kid to a chassidishe school.” I’m here to question that.
I hope this article serves to normalize the school as an option, to make it something parents should consider when choosing a school for their child’s chinuch. If you look at the Veitzner Cheder in Chicago, or Bais Dovid or Bais Rochel in Monsey, (and many other such schools worldwide), you can see that this model of mixing Chassidish and Litvishe kids is tried and true, and has already been proven successful in multiple ways. By helping this amazing school grow, we all stand to gain; as individuals, and as a community.
Please join me at the Open House this Sunday, Dec 3rd, from 10:30-11:30, at the Khal Chassidim Elementary school (6107 Park Heights) to hear about this truly beautiful school in our community. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to contact me at Adina@kolrom.com