Monday, February 27, 2012

Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

While I knew many of the Parenting Through a Jewish Lens participants in our fantastic MetroWest class before Rabbi Dan Liben and I started teaching it, for the most part I had spent more time singing with their children than really getting to know them--our conversations were necessarily short as we had children in hand, under foot, or about to get into trouble. 

For 10 evenings we left our children home with spouses, parents, friends, and baby-sitters and enjoyed a full hour-and-a-half in adult conversation.  This magical opportunity enabled us to unpack and debate traditional and modern texts, and share relevant stories from our own experiences.  We always circled back to how the texts and our discussions could inform our parenting.  We talked about raising our children to be proud Jews while appreciating beautiful Christmas lights; we discussed ways of teaching our children about death, tzedaka, prayer, and mitzvot, and how to appreciate the qualities that make our children special (even if these same qualities sometimes drive us crazy).  But what felt most valuable was the opportunity to engage in Jewish learning at a serious adult level. 

On an airplane, they always tell adults to first put on their own oxygen masks before helping a child.  I think the same applies to our families’ Jewish lives.  We’re always thinking about our children’s education, both Jewish and secular, and what kid-appropriate activities we can do to help mold their character.  But even more important than what we tell them is what we show them.  When our children see us encountering serious Jewish learning, celebrating Jewish holidays, and figuring out what our Jewish identities mean to us on an adult level, they learn that these aren’t just kids’ activities and issues, but important things to attend to for our entire lives.  Though we spent time in class focusing on how to guide our children, I think the time we spent studying “Torah for its own sake” will prove at least as important to our children’s development. 

It was a great honor and privilege for Rabbi Liben and myself to accompany these incredible 18 women and men, representing 13 families, on this stage of their Jewish journeys.  May we, and all the PTJL class of 2011-2012, go from strength to strength.  I can’t wait to see where the next stage of our journey will take us.   

Cantor Ken Richmond is the cantor and family educator of Temple Israel of Natick, a klezmer musician and Yiddishist. He has taught in Parenting Through a Jewish Lens for the past two years.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Can We Measure Growth?

Sabrina Burger, long time Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructor, who is engaged in home schooling her four children, reflects on a critical pedagogic question:  How can we measure growth?

Within the context of our home schooling adventure and as we approach the middle of the school year, I am asking myself these days how can I assess growth—in the life of our family, and in our children.  Where might I see evidence of their flourishing in all domains?

We recently celebrated Rosh Chodesh Shevat, a date that our tradition considers to be the "New Year of the Trees."  Why is it that the trees' birthday happens in the middle of the winter and not in the spring? Our sages teach us that it is during this period that sap starts rising up in the tree; even though we see no external manifestation of growth, the process is on its way. It seems that the same can apply to our families and kids.  Sometimes the invisible striving of our personal sap to move up is in and of itself a measure of growth.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to Create Paradise

Julie Zupan taught this year's Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class in Sharon. Julie is the Jewish Family Educator for the Early Learning Centers of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston (JCCGB) and lives in Sharon with her husband, Rabbi Joseph Meszler, and their two school-age children.

A Hasidic Rebbe taught:

The trees in the Garden of Eden were planted from seeds of people's good deeds; each of us can create our own paradise through our actions.

This month, especially after having celebrated Tu B'shevat, the Jewish Birthday for Trees, we might think of each of our actions as a seed we are planting. Even the smallest kindness has the potential to grow to be a mighty tree.

What do you hope will grow from the "seeds" you plant this month?

How can we nurture and nourish what we have already planted?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Just Getting Things Done

Heather Ganitsky is a mom of two and participated in Parenting Through a Jewish Lens at Mayyim Hayyim in Newton.

Before I became a mom, I was a middle school math teacher. Every weekend, I spent time working and reworking my lesson plans to make sure my students would be able to understand the material. On week nights, I graded quizzes and tests to see how I was doing as a teacher in helping them comprehend the difficult concepts. Sometimes, I had to shift my plans for the following day if we did more or less than I expected.

However, when I became a wife and then a mom, I switched from a mode of reflecting to a mode of just getting things done. I spent little to no time thinking about what I was going to do or how things went after I did them.  I just did what I thought best at the time.  I have always loved staying home with my kids and take my job very seriously.  But until Parenting Through a Jewish Lens I rarely reflected on my parenting choices.

When my sister-in-law mentioned the program I realized it was what I needed to help me become more conscious of my parenting. My husband was not able to take the class but every Tuesday night he got a recount of the 90 minutes I had spent that morning thinking about parenting—raising questions, listening to others' thoughtful comments, and reading a range of Jewish texts.

When our instructor spoke with us about rituals, I knew this was something I wanted to try. I connected with the ritual of singing the sh'ma at bedtime. Now, every night when my husband and I put our kids to bed, we sing the sh'ma to them. If ever we forget, our 3-year-old son reminds us. When we first starting doing this, it was just my husband or me singing; after hearing it many times, our son often sings along. He also asks us to put our hand on his head and rub down to his eyes. He has helped make this moment a special and significant one for all of us.  It is such a calm and peaceful way to end the day and just recently when we were away and he was in a different bed, in a different state, my son and I sung the sh'ma quietly before he drifted off to sleep. We also sing to my daughter; she in only 8-months-old so hasn't responded yet to this ritual, but I am very interested to see how she embraces it as she grows.

I never would have thought to sing the sh'ma at night had it not been for this course and its focus on ritual seeking. Creating meaningful rituals for my family is more important to me than I had realized. This class has allowed me to slow down, take a step back from this very intense job of being a mom, and reflect on what I have been and am doing.  It has encouraged me to “rework my plans” as needed.

Thanks especially to my instructor, Judy Elkin, and the other women in the Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class at Mayyim Hayyim who came every week with insight, wisdom, and humor.