Messianic preschool in Jerusalem facing closure after devastating COVID shutdown

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Little Hearts Preschool (Photo: Facebook)

The only Messianic preschool in Jerusalem — a rare oasis where Jews and Arabs learn together — is in danger of having to shut down after suffering severe monetary losses during the COVID-19 closures here in Israel.

Little Hearts Preschool, home to 60 children from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, was forced to close for three months just like all other educational institutes in Israel. During this time the school waived tuition fees, but the lack of income has set the school back, perhaps irreversibly.

“If we can’t get through these summer months we will not be able to open in September,” Little Hearts General Manager Emily Shkedi told Kehila News.

The economic ramifications of the coronavirus shutdowns are reverberating throughout the entire country. Congregations, ministry outreaches and other nonprofits are not immune.

Shkedi said Little Hearts had to put the whole staff on unemployment and, even though the landlord delayed the rent, the school still has to pay it back. Now, Little Hearts needs to raise $68,000 just to stay afloat with rent, teacher’s salaries and miscellaneous expenses through August and then another $77,000 just to reopen in September.

Even without a pandemic, Little Hearts raises $20,000 a month in donations in order to provide scholarships for local families who would otherwise be unable to afford a faith-based education. The school charges full tuition to international families who attend the school.

“Our goal is to cover all of our local families,” Shkedi said. “The closer we get to our vision though, which is to enable these local families to attend the school, the more money we need to raise.”

Little Hearts is a non-profit, private institution that provides a faith-based, Montessori learning environment for children from 3 months to 6 years old. Though run by believers, the school is open to anyone and welcomes Orthodox Jews and Muslims as well as children from believing families.

“At the end of the day, we are here for the local families,” she continued.

The school was started by a Messianic Jew in 2010 and then a Christian Arab joined the leadership in 2011. The staff are all believers from both Christian Arab and Messianic Jewish backgrounds. Little Hearts has become a haven for believers and nonbelievers alike for both its academic standard and its natural atmosphere of harmony in a conflict-prone city.

“One thing we have in common is our faith in Jesus,” Shkedi said. “Every class has one Jewish and one Arab staff member. We are creating a positive environment and bringing the families of these kids together.”

Little Hearts is bilingual (Hebrew and English) and is a model of coexistence. The school is also upfront about its faith and that some of the teaching is about Yeshua.

“We are not trying to teach kids tenets of the faith — it is illegal in Israel to proselytize minors — but we are here sharing Bible stories, songs and crafts and hopefully through our interactions they will see that there is something different about us,” Shkedi said.

Five years ago, Little Hearts transitioned into a Montessori curriculum, one of just a few in the Jerusalem area. This popular academic model appeals to different cultures.

“It is a common baseline to do preschool,” Shkedi said. “The whole idea is about creating a home, real-life environment for the kids. Everything is their size they are capable of doing everything themselves and it gives them the opportunity to become independent.”

The model is a definite success. The school is full and even though public education is free in Israel from age 3, parents keep their kids at Little Hearts until first grade. The focus is on nurturing the whole child: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social and physical.

“We are building bridges of hope, opportunities for relationships and a future for our next generation,” Shkedi said.

To learn more or to donate, see the Little Hearts website