CRC readies nurturing child care Nest for littlest kids

 Central Reform Congregation 


Before Susan Talve became the first rabbi of Central Reform Congregation, she helped start Ohio’s first licensed infant child care program in the workplace. 

During Talve’s graduate years at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, a classmate who was the school’s first female rabbinical student was about to drop out to care for her baby because she didn’t have access to affordable, high-quality infant care. But Talve helped change that with the founding of the Jewish Early Learning Cooperative, which allowed the student to balance her studies with raising her child.

In a recent message to members of CRC, Talve said she dreamed of the day when the congregation could similarly offer “a kind, nurturing, enriching…early childhood education program that would support children and their families.” 

With the help of CRC director of congregational learning Maxine Weil and CRC member Karen Olson, this dream will become a reality when the shul’s early childhood program, called the Nest, opens Aug. 20.


The Nest will be open to infants and toddlers from six weeks old through pre-kindergarten. It will operate year-round on weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is located in CRC.

Weil said CRC saw a need in the community for the Nest, as there are no Jewish early childhood education programs offered in St. Louis east of North Hanley Road. Weil said Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Jewish community demographic study, released in 2015, showed a need for such a program in the area. 

The Nest will offer high-quality early childhood education with a focus on each child’s development, Weil said. 

“Our program will utilize developmentally appropriate practices to provide children with opportunities for learning and growth. Our goal is to provide a safe environment where children can be comfortable in their own skin,” she said.

Weil and Olson began working on the Nest about two years ago. They said it was essential to align the program with CRC’s core values, such as Sukkat Shalom (shelter of peace), Kavod (the practice of modeling respect), Simcha (“joy” for learning), Nora (“wonder” of discovery) and Tikkun Olam (repair the world). 

Weil said the Nest will fuse Jewish education with these values.

“Children will celebrate Shabbat and the Jewish holidays,” she said. “The Nest will teach children about acceptance, tolerance and appreciation of other religions. The parents I have talked to are thrilled to have their children enrolled.”

Weil said everyone at CRC is looking forward to having children in the building during the week.

“[Rabbi Randy Fleisher] said that this building was built to have the sound of children running through it,” she said. “Having the young ones here is a really wonderful thing.”

Weil and Olson have been working on the Nest for two years. It was approved by the CRC board of directors last August. Prior to its approval, CRC’s exploration committee spent an entire year researching early childhood education and addressing questions from the congregation.

“We did not go into this blindfolded,” Weil said. “We tried to be mindful about the decisions we were making, based on research and reading.” 

When the pair went to the board with an official proposal, the Nest was unanimously approved. For Weil, seeing the Nest approach its August opening is exciting.

“It’s really been a labor of love for the two of us in getting it started,” she said. “It’s very exciting that it’s coming to fruition because who thought that when I came on board two years ago, that it would happen this fast. I thought it would happen in the next three to five years.”

Olson said the program’s name came from a board meeting in early 2017 in which she described its safe and cozy environment.

“It just came to me when we were sitting there and I was trying to describe this end of the building. I said, ‘Just imagine, down by the offices we have this little … this little … nest,’ ” she exclaimed, “ ‘where the kids will be … It will be a loving place where they’re safe.’” 

Weil and Olson said they are thrilled by the support for the Nest from CRC’s staff, congregation and community. For example, a member of CRC’s facilities team changed the garden’s flowers to those that will attract butterflies instead of bees. CRC’s tikkun olam committee will assist in gathering supplies for the Nest in July. The Nest is currently hosting an online virtual baby shower through Amazon, and people responded immediately.

“That’s just the generosity of the community in support of this project to say, ‘We’re behind you and want to help you get started,’” Weil said. “Just to open the doors in August and have that kind of love and support is incredible.”

As the Nest nears completion, Weil said they are looking to hire an administrator and two teachers for the program’s first year. The Nest is expected to have about 10 children in August. 

Olson said she is excited to open the Nest for the same reason Talve opened the Jewish Early Learning Cooperative more than 30 years ago: to provide an opportunity for parents and their children to succeed.

“[The Nest] really springs out of a social justice need for working families,” she said. “It’s an issue of providing for working families when both people have to work and child care is so expensive. How can you provide those opportunities, especially when we know good early childhood education gives them a step up? … We need to provide [those] opportunities for children.”