December 12, 2002
Rules of etiquette suggest that one must whisper in a library. But for the Jewish Community Library of Greater Los Angeles, that rule is just the beginning.
The library recently held its culminating ceremony for a group of youngsters enrolled in its Children's Etiquette and Social Grace class. This is the first time that the institution has sponsored such a class.
The idea developed after the library director Abigail Yasgur and children's director Sylvia Lowe, children's librarian, enrolled their respective youngsters in an etiquette class.
"Libraries are not just about the books," Lowe said. "They're becoming meeting places for people in the community."
"Eating is such a big thing in the Jewish tradition," said Yasgur, who noted that such pointers in protocol will come in handy at Shabbat meals and seder tables.
At Pat's Restaurant, a kosher Pico-Robertson-area establishment, 15 boys and eight girls -- students age 6-10 at schools such as Temple Emanuel, Maimonides Academy and Canfield Elementary -- gathered for their fourth and final weekly class. They showed off their newly cultivated high-society habits, such as how to hold a long-stemmed glass, how to butter a roll, fold a napkin and other multicourse meal manners.
Contrary to expectations, Maggie O'Farrill, who for seven years has been teaching children etiquette, said that these restless years make the best time to teach kids.
"At this age, they're very easy," O'Farrill said. "When they get older, it's harder for them to break bad habits."
At the Pat's soiree, parents were over the moon over the effects these classes have had on their youngsters.
Mary Jo Schnitzer's daughter, Ariel, 9, is in her second year of etiquette class, having completed one at Hawthorne School last year.
"She learned to set the table and to speak properly on the phone," Schnitzer said.
"Children at this age want to be polite," O'Farrill said. "You can see that they're trying."
Based on the parental enthusiasm and the success of this first program, Yasgur wants to continue holding such sessions. She hopes to start another class in January for children ages 10 and up, as well as offer refresher courses.
Ariel's favorite lesson was "when she taught us how to walk."
Daniel Schwartz, 7, was less enthusiastic about the class."It's OK, but I just want to put food in my mouth."