Not long ago, Maddy Mallis got a call from an unusual place. The head of Federation Early Learning Services, she regularly gets phoned by parents seeking information on every possible permutation dealing with Jewish child care. But what made this recent call different was its immediacy — the person on the other end, said Mallis, was actually in bed at the hospital, right after giving birth.
This mother wanted to learn more about the Buerger Early Learning Center, a joint project of FELS and Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City. The organizations are set to break ground for a new facility at 619 N. Broad St., north of the shul. When construction is finished this fall, the institution will open its doors to those between the ages of 6 weeks and 5 years.
With more and more Jewish couples putting down roots in the city these days, Jewish life in downtown Philadelphia has seen something of a revitalization. Along with it has come a demand for quality child care.
"The need for a full-time Jewish preschool program in Philadelphia is enormous," said Mallis, citing the considerable response that both Rodeph Shalom and FELS have experienced.
This point was echoed by Catherine Fischer, Rodeph Shalom's director of membership and former Center City Kehillah chair for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
"We've always had a hunch that there were a lot of families that needed this Jewish option in Center City, and it's proving to be true," said Fischer.
While FELS has eight locations throughout Greater Philadelphia, it has not had a presence in Center City since the mid-1990s; that was when the facility on Juniper Street was closed, said Mallis.
The new center — named for Alan and Constance Buerger, who have helped fund the project — will have six full-time teachers, as well as a few part-time educators, said Mallis. The curriculum will be determined by both FELS and Rodeph Shalom staff members, such as Rabbi Jill L. Maderer.
"It's amazing what kids absorb," said Fredda Satinsky, FELS vice president of program development. "Just having songs and rituals, and having the environment be Jewish, children absorb that."
For Rodeph Shalom member Rachel Labush, 31, the establishment of the center has kept her and her family at the synagogue, despite their move to West Philly.
"If the Rodeph place were open now, I would love to send him there," said Labush of her son, Jonah Pachikara, who is 4 months old. She called the center "a good investment in families with young children."
Capacity for the building will be 36 children. Mallis and Satinsky said that about 16 are already enrolled.
Classes are expected to begin after Labor Day.