Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Parenting Through a Jewish Lens Experience

Avivah Goldman, and her husband Paul Green, participated in 
Parenting Through a Jewish Lens at Temple Isaiah in Lexington.

Sunday mornings spent attending the Parenting Through a Jewish Lens program led by Dr. Ronit Ziv-Krieger, such a wise and inspiring teacher and highly skilled group leader, have been a real treasure.  Any resistance to rising early on a Sunday morning was fast overcome upon entering the wonderful learning environment of our classroom. 

Our discussions, anchored by the reading of short Jewish texts, gently ushered me and my fellow learners into thinking about questions of meaningful and mindful parenting, through the lens of Jewish teachings and practices.

Session #8, which tackled complex questions concerning the meaning of G-d and prayer,  is one of many that has stayed with me.  Each of us explored our struggles with and our conceptions of  G-d.  It was truly a privilege to hear the ways in which my classmates make meaning of that which is divine. Speaking my own rendition aloud was an act of discovery. It is hard to describe the atmosphere of deep listening and respect that was present that made this highly personal discussion possible.  From our adult ideas, we then addressed the equally complex question of how we speak  to our children about  God. 

In this session and throughout the course,  we talked about the manner in which we can bring Jewish practices into our homes in ways that feel appropriate for each individual participant and family.  With the grounding provided by Jewish texts, my classmates and I wrestled with our ideas in a way that exemplifies the very Jewish tradition of engaged struggle and discourse. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sleepless Nights

Layah Lipsker, a beloved local educator and Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructor, shares what is keeping her her up at night these days. 

Having a large family has its perks, but a good night sleep is not one of them.  Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of my six children, ages 10-20, is often overwhelming.   Lately I am finding that it is the nourishing of six souls that keeps me up at night.  Am I doing enough to maximize their spiritual growth?  Am I bonding with each of them individually in ways that will inspire confidence?
In case I was not causing myself enough grief, I chose to watch a disturbing film this week, one that triggered every worry I ever had about raising emotionally intact children.  Though I had read the book “We Have to Talk about Kevin” years ago, viewing the movie now, as a parent, was especially painful. The film depicts the aftermath of a fictional high school massacre and its devastating effect on the family of Kevin, the teen who is convicted in the shooting.  Having lost everything dear to her, Kevin’s mother faces a life of self-doubt and the overt animosity of her community.  The director makes clever use of flashbacks to help us feel her desperate desire to do it all again to avoid her son’s crime.  The movie explores the challenge many parents feel in bonding easily with one child but not with another, and the terrible guilt and pain that ensues. 
The movie is most disturbing in its simple truth.  Some children are easier to bond with than others.  Parents do the best they can, but often, relationships become complicated from too much trying.  As these children become teens, the tenuous bonds break and there is little real communication. 
I believe that our children are “Bashert,” (destined for us) and they find their way to the people who can best raise them to fulfill their potential.  But let’s face it.  Our children do not always share our temperament and interests and many parents struggle with a child whose behavior is so unfamiliar that they have trouble connecting with him/her in authentic ways.  The only way to do so is to truly see the world through our children’s eyes.  We have to understand their pain, the way they think, and learn to appreciate their strengths, even if these are different from ours. 
Imagine a world in which we all took the time to do this for every person who comes into our lives.  Unfortunately, most of us cannot.  Our busy lives leave little time or energy for people outside our inner circle.  We reserve our love and devotion for those closest to us, our partners and our children.  For the well-being of our children, we will expand our emotional range.  That is our gift to them and their gift to us. Some might say that our children are sent to us by G-d because we somehow hold the key to their souls.  The Chassidic masters teach that often the reverse is true.  We need our children to help us break out of our rigid views of others - thus they hold the key to our spiritual growth.  For that, I thank each of my children.  The lessons they teach me are worth every sleepless night.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

“I Couldn’t Be More Inspired”: What participants are saying about Parenting Through Jewish Lens

  • This is my first experience with adult Jewish learning and I couldn’t be more inspired and happy with how the material is presented, how the discussions are handled, and my decision to be here.
  • The program has created a place for me to think through critical things that get lost in the day to day. It has opened conversations between my spouse and me and has given me access to ideas and texts I hope to pursue long after the class ends.
  • I now remember to celebrate my children in the morning, hug my partner at night.
  • Our instructor brings to each session incredible depth of knowledge, broad-minded perspectives, thoughtfulness and experience as a parent.
  • Parenting Through a Jewish Lens has inspired careful consideration of how to teach my children. I am now better able to pass along tools that will help them face the challenges of life.
  • Being new to Jewish culture and tradition I found this class to be very helpful and informative. This is a wonderful way to spend time with my spouse, thinking and discussing big ideas that are related to Judaism and parenting.
  • I love the carefully selected texts, all of which are thoughtful and relevant. I feel a renewed interest in adult Jewish learning and am thinking about what the next steps for me will be.
  • This excellent class addresses my concerns as a person and then helps me reflect on my role as a parent. It provides opportunities to reflect on parenting challenges, successes, and strategies through Jewish texts that speak directly to our issues and experiences. It is great to meet others thinking about the same issues.
  • My role as a parent belongs within spheres of relationships, both inward and outward. Parenting Through a Jewish Lens has given me this sense of context and has given me a special opportunity to take a step back and think about parenting and meaning in life more generally.
  • The program has given me perspective. I now understand how to let my children be themselves rather than who I want them to be.
Online registration is now open. Secure your spot for the fall of 2012 in the program that everyone is talking about. Locations throughout greater Boston. For more information and to register visit

Monday, March 5, 2012

Jewish Feng Shui (Rhymes with Oy Vey!)

Rabbi Samuels with members of the class at Temple Beth Elohim

Benjamin Samuels of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Newton is not only a long-time Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructor, he is also one of the co-curriculum designers.
On the Wednesday morning following our Winter Break and the New Year, eleven members of our Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class of twenty-two, showed up at our usual time at Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley. Fifty percent attendance turned out to be an amazing showing considering that Wednesday was not scheduled as a meeting day! Luckily, I too did not check my calendar, and I also came eager to study and schmooz about Jewish parenting. The Temple was phenomenal and secured our regular meeting space for us. Since we were a smaller group than usual, we decided to sit more informally in a circle in the available cushioned chairs. A large bin of toys arrived shortly thereafter, and given that we had no pre-arranged child-care, we invited those parents who had brought their children to have them play in the center. While I value every member of our class and regretted that we were missing half of our participants, as an instructor, I looked on our impromptu group of parents enthusiastic about their children’s Jewish upbringing with a teacher’s pride.

Not wanting to continue on with our regular curriculum absent full attendance, I decided to lead a conversation about what I like to call “The Architecture of a Jewish Home,” or in more heimish (homey) terms, “Jewish Feng Shui.” What I was inviting within our group was a conversation about how we utilize within our homes form and flow, i.e., Jewish symbols and behavioral patterns in space and time, to create an environment that orients and nurtures our family’s Jewish values and identity. 

Here are some of the ideas that emerged from our discussion:
  • Jewish Symbols: A mezuzah on our doorways; proudly displaying Judaica, like Shabbat candle sticks, Kiddush cups, Havdalah sets, Seder plate, Shofar, in our dining room breakfront or on the credenza; artwork with Jewish themes or images of Israel; a Tzedakah box in our children’s room; the PTJL Sh’ma Card next to our child’s bed.
  • Jewish Time: Finding family-friendly ways to celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holy days within our homes, like lighting Shabbat candles and sharing a family dinner together. Morning and bedtime rituals including Jewish story-telling and singing the Sh’ma. Putting coins in the family tzedakah box at regular intervals and fixed times.
  • Jewish Space: Inviting family and friends into our homes to share Jewish rituals, observances and especially Shabbat and holiday meals. Joining a Temple-sponsored chavurah and being part of the rotation for hosting the group. Using Hebrew and Jewish words for items, foods and activities in our homes.
There were so many great ideas that people shared about their current practices, as well as innovations that they would like to try out. Upon group reflection, we affirmed that Jewish symbols and space do indeed create a home environment of Jewish form and flow. Jewish Feng Shui is interior decorating for our family’s inner world and identity, or better yet, it’s parenting our children and building our homes through a Jewish lens.