Among families with young children in Temple Isaiah’s community, there is a “real, real hunger to attend meaningful programming that gives them opportunities to connect with other families,” said Rachel Petroff Kessler, a family educator at Temple Isaiah. And with the return of in-person activities like the shul’s Babies and Bagels program, families will have access to that type of experience again.
“I tell people that Babies and Bagels is an infant/toddler playgroup for parents to bring their little ones to, to have some fun and connect with other families,” said Kessler, a resident of Columbia.
The Oct. 24 session will be the first time that Babies and Bagels has met since February of 2020, as the pandemic forced the program to go on extended hiatus, said Kessler.
Kessler originally started the Babies and Bagels program after returning from maternity leave in January 2012.
“I think my own experience, becoming a mother, and seeing, sort of, gaps in our programming at the congregation and ways that we can serve families in this stage of life … certainly inspired that program,” Kessler said. “It’s been beautiful to watch it grow over the years, even though my children are now all aged out of the program.”
The community’s high vaccination rate played a part in the program’s reopening, Kessler said, as did the synagogue’s increased ability to provide low-risk programming compared to a year ago.
In past years, Babies and Bagels normally begins following the start of the school year, Kessler said, with the program taking summers off. The program might have begun again in September of this year, but the early High Holidays kept people’s calendars fairly busy, and so it was delayed until October.
The program plans to meet once a month from October through May 2022, Kessler said.
Babies and Bagels is meant for children from birth up to and including 3 year olds, Kessler explained. The program primarily gets toddlers, though some parents come with their infants. In the past she has told families that if a child starts the year at 3 years old, and turns 4 during the course of the year, they are welcome to keep coming if it’s a good experience for the family.
Before the pandemic, a typical session would welcome between 10 and 12 families, Kessler said, which could mean anywhere from 10 to over 20 children, attended by one or both of their parents. It would begin with a free play with an assortment of toys, followed by circle time with singing or a story. Older toddlers such as 2 year olds might have participated in a sensory activity involving art, while parents were able to chat with each other.
In the past, parents have expressed their appreciation that the group is not specifically a mommy and me program, and is open to parents of all gender identities, Kessler said.
This year, the program’s initial meeting will be held outdoors, Kessler said, noting that so far they’ve enjoyed the good fortune to have pleasant weather, in addition to plentiful outdoor space. She plans for the program to move inside the Temple Isaiah building when necessary, into a space that will allow participants to be as distanced as possible.
Despite the program’s name, Babies and Bagels, prepackaged snacks will be offered in lieu of bagels this year, in keeping with the shul’s COVID-19 guidelines, Kessler said.
While proof of vaccination will not be required at this time, universal masking will be required during the sessions for everyone 2 years old and up. Kessler emphasized that their COVID-19 policies are very much subject to change.
Though there is no official cost for attending, nonmembers of Temple Isaiah are encouraged to make donations, Kessler said.
While Kessler said it was difficult to predict what attendance would be like in future sessions, she noted that families with young children who have been attending the synagogue’s Tot Shabbat program had demonstrated an eagerness for these kinds of activities.
“They are really thirsting for opportunities to connect in person with other families,” Kessler said.