Mother Goose gets Jewish touch at Beth Ams program for tots

Mother Goose is Jewish, and she's here to prove it.

Ima Avaza, which is Hebrew for "Mother Goose," is a six-week program that began in mid-October at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills where parents and kids learn Jewish rhymes, songs, finger plays and stories.

"It's never too early to start raising a Jewish child," said the woman who will portray Mother Goose, shaking her finger.

When leading the Ima Avaza sessions, Diane Rauchwerger, the program's founder and the synagogue's head librarian, will dress as the legendary and anonymous author of "Mother Goose's Tales," a collection of nursery rhymes first published in London in the 18th century.

Rauchwerger said that while many new parents already know that infants need to be sung to, touched and spoken to in order to develop emotionally, physically and socially, to her knowledge no one has previously come up with a program that incorporates Jewishness with these early learning processes.

The physical movements, she said, are necessary parts of the program because children learn best from listening, seeing and moving.

She has written Jewish lyrics for Mother Goose-style nursery rhymes and has written whole new ditties of her own.

For instance, while singing, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star," participants wiggle their fingers and the babies' fingers. The next line is, "A Magen David is what you are," during which participants point to their eyes, and help the babies point to their own eyes.

"A special star for you to see," the Mother Goose shtick continues, "That we are Jewish, you and me."

When reciting the words "you" and "me," participants point first to the babies and then to themselves.

Rauchwerger hopes the parents will learn about the festivals and other Jewish topics along with their youngsters.

"There are plenty of young parents who did not grow up with a lot of Jewishness in their families," she said.

But she plans to change this. One of the synagogue's Mother Goose programs serves infants aged one month to 11 months. The other is geared toward one- and two-year-old toddlers.

In the toddlers' program, youngsters bounce up and down and jump.

"We teach them to say boker tov [good morning], and to sing `Challah Baker Man' and `Shabbat Shalom,'" Rauchwerger said.

"Challah Baker Man" is her own original composition.

The toddlers also learn to recognize Jewish symbols, such as Sabbath candles, the kiddush cup and the shofar.

"This helps parents learn how to teach their children about the Jewish holidays on their own level," she said.

Since the program is also designed to bring young families together, she would like to see a new community take shape. As a sideline, Rauchwerger also hopes that parents will become familiar with her library's resources.

"We have Jewish parenting books which teach parents how to raise Jewish children and provide them with morals and ethics, and how to celebrate the holidays at home," she said.

Rauchwerger, a 55-year-old Sunnyvale resident, formerly taught pre-kindergarten at Temple Emanuel in San Jose and at Yavnah Day School in Los Gatos.

The Ima Avaza program is sponsored by the Beth Am Library Committee and the Beth Am Young Families Group.

"First there's chicken soup," Rauchwerger said. "Now there's a Jewish Mother Goose to help nourish our Jewish children."