By Deb Silverthorn
Esther Wolf, who has served as director of the Lil Goldman Early Learning Center since 2015, retired her position earlier this summer in anticipation of making aliyah this week with her husband, Harold.
“We’ve been so fortunate to have Esther, her expertise and dedication to these young learners and their families over the last seven years. Her work is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Michael Strausz, Lil Goldman Early Learning Center board president, whose children Natalie and Jacob are Lil Goldman alumni. She truly followed in the footsteps of Lil Goldman’s vision for early education.” Goldman helped create the first preschool for Fort Worth’s Jewish community in 1952 and was a pioneer in early childhood education.
The Ahavath Shalom community had originally planned an in-person tribute to Wolf, but canceled it due to COVID-19 related concerns.
Lil Goldman Early Childhood Center, housed at Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth, opens its 70th year this fall for students aged 2 months to pre-kindergarten. The year-round program has 83 students enrolled for the next school year. While nearly 70-percent of the enrollment is not Jewish, the curriculum includes Friday morning Kabbalat Shabbat and Monday morning Havdalah celebrations.
“Children learn blessings in Hebrew and English and experience tastes of all the Jewish holidays,” said Wolf, laughing lovingly at the memory of a non-Jewish parent who reported her child singing brachas in Target and at bible study. “People send their children to Lil Goldman because of its overall program and they appreciate our values of kavod, respect, and of tikkun olam, repairing the world.”
Wolf, who has worked in Jewish education in the Dallas area for more than 30 years, served as director of early childhood programs at congregations Beth Torah and Shearith Israel (where she also served as assistant director of the religious school). She taught at the JCC preschool and served in a number of roles at Solomon Schechter Academy (now Ann and Nate Levine Academy).
Wolf earned a bachelor’s in education from Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel and a master’s in education, specializing in early childhood, from North Texas State University (now University of North Texas).
“Having moved to Israel for college, I always thought I’d teach English to Israeli children,” said Wolf. “Instead, I’ve spent my career teaching Hebrew to Americans. Most important to me is the nurturing of Jewish souls.”
Wolf and Lil Goldman were a match, cleared only after she assured leadership that the nearly 50-mile commute wouldn’t be an issue. Indeed, her drive from Dallas, and her drive to give her students her best, were never anything but in high-gear.
“We’re sorry we couldn’t say ‘thank you’ in person but we are so appreciative for her making the trek, and being all the wonderful she is, for all these years,” said Naomi Rosenfield, who has chaired a dedicated farewell to Wolf, originally scheduled as an in-person tribute, that canceled due to pandemic-related concerns. “Her hard work and love will be long-remembered.”
“Esther brought incredible inspiration to the children and their families,” said Ahavath Sholom’s Rabbi Andrew Bloom, who calls his Friday morning visits with the children among his favorite parts of his week.
“God puts people in certain places, at certain times, and I believe the school needed Esther and she needed the school. Now, Israel needs Esther and she needs Israel; all are better for the chance to be together.”
A search is being held for Wolf’s successor.
“I’ve always felt educating the next generation to be holy work,” said Wolf. “My greatest gift is to lay a foundation of Yiddishkeit and to instill a passion for our rituals and traditions, a pride for what being a Jew really is.”