In Lubavitch circles in Crown Heights, Yocheved Sidof is known for being both a “dreamer” and a “doer,” traits she attributes to her Iranian, chasidic upbringing.
Her father came to St. Paul, Minn., to study electrical engineering, got involved with the campus Chabad, and raised Sidof in a household with both “Sephardic sensibility” and chasidic “passion,” she said.
The psychology doctoral student-turned-video producer’s upbringing served her well when, four years ago, she set out to build a nontraditional preschool in the very traditional community of Crown Heights.
The hip, chasidic 35-year-old mother of four began the project when her oldest son started at her local preschool. “It was fine, it was great — he had a wonderful teacher,” she said. “But I also started sending him to an afterschool program, which was really child centered and calm, and someone said, ‘It would be really cool if we started a school like this.’”
“I don’t know why, it just kind of clicked,” she said. “I thought: ‘This is totally possible.’”
Not that she knew what she was getting into. “I think the only way to do something like that is to be a little bit naïve,” she said.
Sidof recruited other families and in 2009 they opened Lamplighters Yeshivah with 12 preschoolers in the rented first floor of an Eastern Parkway brownstone. Now the school has its own building, extends to fourth grade, has nearly 100 students enrolled for next year and runs a teacher-training program in the summer.
But Sidof remains modest about the achievement. “I don’t really feel like I founded a school,” she said. “I feel like we created this living, breathing miracle where children, teachers, staff and parents are all working really, really hard to create something meaningful and special.
“The bottom line is that, yes, it is a school, kids are learning how to read and write, but it’s not just learning about stuff,” she added. “It’s learning how to be a person who is flourishing in all aspects of themselves and is ready to contribute back to the world.”
Stunt shooter: During her decade making videos for Jewish nonprofits, Sidof filmed footage from a racecar, a garbage dump, a helicopter and — while four months pregnant — a hot air balloon.