Planting the Roots for Jewish Education in Austin
From one mother’s vision to one father’s commitment, ECP remains an important part of Jewish life.
Photo: ECP families walking in the newly refreshed ECP hallway. Credit: Dave Hawks
By Allison Teegardin
In 1965, a dedicated group of parents came together to organize a fully-functioning preschool under the sponsorship of the Jewish Community Council of Austin. Sixteen months later, the J.C.C.A Pre-School opened its doors in a rented space at Congregation Agudas Achim which was then located on Bull Creek Road in Austin, Texas. Leading the group responsible for bringing the vision to fruition was Marilyn Stahl, of blessed memory. Stahl wanted her own children to attend a Jewish preschool and so along with the countless hours and help from other volunteers, she saw to it one was created. Serving as both director of the school and mother for many years, Stahl helped shape the school into what it is today.
In 1985, the school moved to the J on Jollyville Road and in 1988, joined the Jewish Federation of Austin.
In 2000, the school moved to the Dell Jewish Community Campus where it remains today as the Early Childhood Program. Quoted in a January 2013 Jewish Outlook article about the history of the J on Jollyville Road, Stahl said, “We had every aspect of a large community with a very small population and a very small staff.” As the Austin Jewish community continued to grow, so did the demand for Jewish education.”
Three years after opening its doors, the school’s enrollment went from 19 to 48 students. By 1990, the school had more than 100 students, 23 teachers and child care professionals, two directors, and a full daycare and summer program. Today, enrollment is at nearly 300, with a multi-year waiting list, and total staff of 69 dedicated professionals.
Now, 56 years since opening its doors to the first students, ECP is embarking on a new chapter with a new name as the first Generations capital campaign project to be completed.
In November 2022, Shalom Austin announced the school’s name is changing to Zeifman Family Early Childhood Program, recognizing the transformative gift made by Clifford Zeifman, a lifelong supporter of the Jewish community and Jewish education.
Through Zeifman’s gift, the ECP was able to make much-needed upgrades to its classrooms and facilities as well as the ability to provide even more experiences to families.
Growing up in a Jewish household and attending Jewish school himself, Zeifman knows firsthand the benefits of Jewish education. “I grew up one generation removed from the Holocaust. We are so fortunate to be able to send our children to a safe and secure campus where they are welcomed and can learn Jewish values.”
Zeifman’s transformative gift to the ECP, especially at a time when he no longer has children enrolled, demonstrates the same community-building mindset as Stahl had.
“I decided to make a major donation to ECP around when my youngest child was graduating from there. Even though I knew I would no longer have children at ECP, I believe in lifelong engagement with the community. I want to see all families have access to a safe place where they can send their children to learn Jewish values such as tzedakah (charitable giving),” Zeifman said. “My gift is intended to acknowledge the impact of the Early Childhood Program on my children by providing for its continuation for the benefit of future generations.”
As ECP continues to look forward, families who have been involved since the early days, reflect on the lifelong impact it has made on many lives. Susan Stahl, Marilyn Stahl’s daughter-in-law and former ECP teacher said, “There was always such a strong sense of community. Parents want a Jewish environment for their children and the ECP is that place. It started with love when Marilyn helped form it and today it continues to be fueled by love.”
Susan, whose husband was a first-generation ECP student and their sons were second-generation ECP students, said that the friends they both made when they were younger are still the same friends they have today. Now retired, Susan maintains her connection with ECP as a classroom volun–teer known as ozrim (helper). “Being in the classroom with the children is the highlight of my week,” Susan says.
In a 2010 interview with The Jewish Outlook, while reflecting on the progress of what is now Shalom Austin and praising the help from every volunteer and every donor that made it possible, Marilyn Stahl (z”l) said, “People have tried over years to give me credit for a lot of things. It wasn’t me. I might have been an organizer and a community builder but it was all the people in town who were involved.”
As it was then and will continue for generations to come, it is the dedication of time and gifts, like that from Stahl and Zeifman, that help keep the Austin Jewish community growing and thriving.
In addition to the high-quality early childhood education students receive, all ECP families are JCC members and have access to the facilities including the Rochelle & Stanley Ferdman Family Aquatic Center, Hurt Family Tennis Center, soon to open new state-of-the-art fitness center and much more.
To learn more about the programs visit shalomaustin.org/aboutecp
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