By Rachel Gross Weinstein
For the past 60 years, the Lil Goldman Early Learning Center in Fort Worth has fostered academic excellence in a fun learning environment, while also teaching basic Jewish traditions. What started as the Preschool of the Fort Worth Jewish Community with six students has blossomed into a year-round institution with 92 students that is well known throughout Tarrant County.
The preschool will celebrate its 60th anniversary Oct. 18-20. The weekend will include Shabbat evening and morning services honoring teachers and students, a champagne and nosh donor event and a community-wide picnic.
The celebration offers a way to honor the rich history of the school and also look to the future, said Karen Johnson, who is co-chairing the weekend with Marvin Beleck. Quality programming and demand have led to the school’s longevity, Johnson said.
“It’s the oldest preschool in Tarrant County and it’s been the only Jewish one there. Having that type of foundation for the Jewish community has been invaluable,” she said. “For the kids, it’s a home away from home and an unbelievable learning environment. I love that Tarrant County has come together to celebrate these 60 years. That speaks volumes about the support over the years.”
Johnson’s son attended the school, as did Beleck’s children. His niece, nephew and grandson are current students.
The LGELC is housed in Congregation Ahavath Sholom, and students range in age from 2 months to 5 years old. The goals are to encourage children’s physical, social and emotional development; their sense of identity; multicultural exposure; Jewish traditions; the ability to get along with others; and more.
“This is a school we have been devoted to, supported and think very highly of,” Beleck said. “We expect a great turnout for the celebration weekend, and about 400 people are already expected at the picnic.”
Lil Goldman (of blessed memory) opened the preschool as a new graduate of New York’s Bank Street School of Early Childhood Development. She taught six students whose parents paid $12 a month for tuition. It was the first preschool in the city that focused on child development and education.
Enrollment jumped to 14 students within three months, and in 1956 the preschool — located at Ahavath Sholom and sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County — became non-sectarian and opened enrollment to all. By 1988, there were 100 students and the school included extended day care programs for working parents and classes for children from 18 months to 5 years old.
Goldman’s daughter Jena Hall, who now lives in New York, said her mother not only touched the lives of the children, but entire families. She was thrilled to bring a vast curriculum to young children that included art, music and Judaism.
“My mom served as the founder, teacher and director of the school in the beginning, and was the religious school principal at Beth-El and the founder of a Jewish day camp,” Hall said. “She never wanted to stop working and had a vision that the school would live on for a long time. I am very touched and proud that they are celebrating the 60th anniversary, and the most important thing for the school today is that it can financially survive. I give credit to all of the people who have kept it alive. This is a lovely honor for Mother, but also a very important event.”
Throughout its history, the center has had many different names: It opened as the Preschool of the Fort Worth Jewish Community. Then it became the Dan Danciger Jewish Community Center Preschool. In 1982 it was renamed the Lil Goldman Early Childhood Learning Center.
When the JCC closed in 1999, the school was renamed the Jewish Community Play and Learning Center and operated under the Jewish Education Agency of the local Federation. The LGELC name was reinstated in 2001, after Goldman’s death in 2000.
Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger of Congregation Beth-El wrote about Goldman’s impact in a recent issue of the synagogue’s newsletter. He said the school is deeply rooted in both Fort Worth congregations and the overall Jewish community, and it’s great to celebrate the 60th anniversary together.
Mecklenburger’s son was a student at the school after the family moved to Fort Worth 30 years ago.
“It’s been a basic part of growing up Jewish in Fort Worth,” Mecklenburger said. “Lil was already retired when I got to town, but she was a delightful person who had a twinkle in her eye. She was a bright woman who made this a great place to live. It’s appropriate for the whole community to be celebrating, because everyone was involved with it in some way.”
Former student Jennifer Ratner believes attending the LGELC gave her a good Jewish foundation and solid background; both of her daughters were students as well. Ratner went to the Fort Worth Hebrew Day School from fifth though seventh grades.
Being a small Jewish community, everyone recognizes the importance of the school, Ratner noted.
“Finding my Jewish identity was established in the beginning, and I was able to foster that throughout school,” she said. “The Lil Goldman school had big impact in my life and made me want to continue the traditions and marry someone Jewish, and having my daughters have the same experience was special. I am looking forward to celebrating the milestone for the school. In Judaism, we learn to never forget the past and to celebrate it. [The weekend] really encompasses what the school is all about.”
The school has also influenced the lives of teachers Elaine Legere and Arlie Herreros. Legere has taught there for eight years and loves the engaging environment.
“We have a lot of fun and it’s the community, leaders and staff that’s allowed it to be around for so long,” she said. “Lil did a great thing when she started this school and I wish I could have met her.”
“It’s really all about the quality of what we offer,” added Herreros, who has taught there for 14 years. “It offers a Jewish education, but also basic morals and ideas that any child of any faith should get.”
For more information, call 817-737-9898 or visit www.lilgoldmanschool.org.
Below is the schedule for the Lil Goldman Early Learning Center 60th anniversary celebration weekend, occurring Oct. 18-20.
Friday, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Community Shabbat service honoring past and present teachers, followed by an oneg at Beth-El Congregation, 4900 Briarhaven Road, Fort Worth.
Saturday, Oct. 19, 9:30 a.m.
Community Shabbat service honoring past and present students, followed by Kiddush luncheon at Ahavath Sholom, 4050 S. Hulen St., Fort Worth.
Saturday, Oct. 19, 8 p.m.
Champagne and Chocolate Nosh, a donor event for Lil’s Kids Club members, with a musical performance by Misha Galaganov, at the home of Rachel and Michael Goldman.
Sunday, Oct. 20, 12:30 p.m.
Community family picnic with food, pony rides, face painting, a photo booth, bounce houses and more at Ahavath Sholom. A commemorative tribute book will also be sold that afternoon.
The entire celebration, except for the Saturday evening event, is free and open to the community.