Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The First Day of Parenting Through A Jewish Lens

Anyone who jogs or swims knows that the hardest part is usually that first step, that first plunge into the pool.   As an adult who recently signed up for a Parenting Through a Jewish Lens (PTJL) class, I felt that same anxiety about beginning something new and unknown.  But in this case it was coupled with the unpleasant feeling of being a kid again, back in school, not knowing things - a tough feeling when you're in your early thirties.  But I was surprised and relieved about how the first day went.

Our class met at a temple and the teacher was warm and welcoming to the fifteen of us around the table. The teacher had us introduce ourselves and our families, and answer a question to break the ice: what was our most favorite and least favorite part of the day?  Some parents loved ending the day snuggling with their kids or reading to them in bed, some fathers in particular said they loved picking their kids up from preschool.  But for least favorite, there were two biggies: making lunches, and getting kids to brush their teeth before bed.  This last one got the whole group talking, and laughing!  We all ended up sharing tips about how to keep kids on task long enough for them to get any benefit (the best idea I came away with was to have the kids dance to music they liked while brushing--but the music has to last exactly as long they need to brush!).

The composition of the group was also a pleasant surprise.  It was more diverse than I anticipated; it included an African-American woman married to a Jewish guy, an Indian-American man married to a Jewish woman, and a lesbian Jewish mom.  As people talked it became clear that we had much in common: we were looking to get better at parenting, and to learn things about Judaism that could help us raise more thoughtful kids.  One of the participants, whose partner was not Jewish, said she wanted to learn more about Judaism in order to discover what was moving and deep about her own tradition and then pass that on to her daughter.  She worried that her daughter would know otherwise only her partner's culture.  It felt to me that she also wanted to make sure that her daughter really knew her, really knew who her mother was.

It was inspiring, and educational, warm and friendly.  And best of all, it was much more fun than I had thought.  If you're raising a Jewish child, you should put this class on your “to do” list.   

Parenting Through a Jewish Lens classes begin in the fall and run for 10 weeks, with free on-site babysitting for morning classes. Outstanding instructors are adept at facilitating meaningful discussions and provide information and tools while building community. Learn more at www.hebrewcollege.edu/parenting

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Generosity

Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructor Sabrina Burger shares her insights – and a challenge to you – regarding generosity. Sabrina lives in Sharon and is teaching this year’s Needham class at Temple Beth Shalom. Her thoughts are especially pertinent in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the approaching Thanksgiving holiday.

Our tradition teaches that acts of loving-kindness are fundamental to sustaining the world. While each of us have an obligation to perform these acts of loving-kindness, in order to do so we need to open our hearts. Sometimes being in close contact with those in need can arouse a feeling of empathy and care; seeing the recent images of people suffering after a natural disaster prompts many to give assistance. But the question that interests me is not what opens my heart to an occasion, but how can I cultivate habits of mind in myself and in my children that will encourage a generous response? 

Rabbi Dessler, one of the leaders of the Mussar movement of the 20th century, asked an insightful question: Do you give to the ones you love, or do you love the ones to whom you give? 

Our sages teach us an important and surprising principle in Ethics of the Fathers (3:15): “All is in accordance to the abundance of the deed.” In other words, the sages believe that it is better to give $100 bills to 100 people than to give one single $100 bill to a single person. Why? 

Because, if the action of giving arouses our hearts, then the action of giving 100 times is spiritually transformative. Here, our external actions can bring about internal change. 

Since we’re discussing action, I might suggest that you take on a challenge this week: perform two actions of loving-kindness, two selfless acts, every day. You don’t have to be generous only with your money; it can be with your time, your energy or your possessions. See what happens.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Striking a Balance

Liz and Dan are currently participating in Parenting Through a Jewish Lens at the JCC in Newton. They are finding the class gives them time to contemplate their hopes for their child and the values they want to embody in their household.

It has always been important to us to build our lives--individually, as a couple, and as a family—in such a way that we incorporate the richness of our Jewish heritage, and the community of both our religious and secular worlds.

Now that we are parents, this balance seems increasingly more important, and increasingly more difficult.

Our son is young, but he is becoming old enough now to understand what is going on around him—he is able to recognize familiar songs, familiar people and familiar routines.  Our hope is to teach him about Judaism and establish traditions with and for him that will allow him the fluency necessary to ultimately create his own meaning for himself about what role Judaism plays in his life. We want him to grow up with a strong and proud Jewish identity, and to honor his history and the history of his people. We want him to feel a sense of responsibility to the world as a Jew—and also engage his secular community, family, and world without judgment or arrogance, and with humility.  We want him to engage his Jewish world with curiosity, adventure, and strength—in fact, that’s what we want for him throughout all parts of his life, religious or not.

We just celebrated Halloween—a decision our household is admittedly somewhat divided on (as are Jewish leaders). Aside from being the cutest turtle around, our son had an opportunity to join in our neighborhood Halloween parade, hand out candy to his neighbors, and “oohh” and “ahhh” at the big kids in their impressive costumes.  Is it Jewish? No.  Is it difficult to explain? Sure.  But the truth is that our son is growing up in a world full of opportunities and choices, and we hope to guide him through a set of experiences that will enable him to be a thoughtful member of his multiple communities. We want him to be happy, we want him to be good to people, and we want him to love his Judaism.