Tuesday, September 24, 2013

With the Smell of Fresh Challah, Shabbat is Here

Each Friday morning, children and families arriving to school at the Bernice B. Godine JCC Early Learning Center are greeted with the smell of fresh challah and are invited to take a small taste of the warm bread.
My office sits next to the entrance to the preschool and I’ve come to anticipate both the glee that Friday morning challah brings, and the oft-repeated conversations of parents and caregivers Mondays through Thursdays, patiently explaining to eager toddlers and preschoolers: there’s no challah today, sweetie, it’s Tuesday.

These repeated exchanges illustrate for me at least a few important points about toddler development:
Toddlers learn through the five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting. Spiritual practices that engage the senses have the greatest impact. Toddlers who cannot yet articulate the word “challah” recognize it by sight, taste, and smell.  A simple song like Shabbat Shalom (Bin Bam) indicates that “Shabbat is Here!” (another musical hit with the toddler and preschool set). 

It doesn’t take much to make a big impact. But it does take repetition and routine.  I’ve seen many a toddler sing “happy birthday” to the Shabbat candles.  If Shabbat candles were as common as birthday candles, it will be the opposite. 

Young children have not yet developed a sense of time. “Yesterday,” “next week,” and “Friday” are not yet meaningful concepts. Harried parents already know this: think of the futility of telling your toddler you need to leave in five minutes, or ten. Toddlers live fully in the “now,” in the present (an enviable spiritual state, but frustrating when you are late for work!).  Ritual is one way that we help mark time for young children. Repetitive ritual creates consistency and feelings of safety and security.

What children (of all ages) want and need most of all is the whole-hearted attention of loving and caring parents and caregivers. The Sabbath gives us permission to set aside the to-do list and everyday stresses, to stop being productive. Whether you make challah from scratch using your great grandmother’s beloved recipe or can barely manage to defrost a mini bagel from the freezer, who you are, right now, is more than enough.   

My fifth point speaks not to what is developmentally-appropriate for toddlers, but rather, what is “developmentally-appropriate” for families with toddlers:
It’s natural that parents of young children feel that they have little time for themselves, or for their partners.

Taking time for yourself as an individual helps you to be the loving parent – loving person - you wish to be.  Everyone tells you to get more sleep and exercise. I want to encourage you to pay attention to your intellectual and spiritual needs. Make time to talk with peers and with your partner about what matters most, not just what’s most urgent.  These are the conversations that strengthen your family and feed your soul, and if you’re partnered, will remind you of why you fell in love in the first place. 

Each Fall I meet with parents of young children in the ten week course Parenting Through a Jewish Lens www.hebrewcollege.edu/parenting.It’s never simple for individuals or couples to carve out time to take the class – even with the free on-site babysitting – but once there, they find that the Jewish wisdom we explore can transform their personal and family journeys. 

Rabbi Julie Zupan serves as the Jewish Family Educator for the Early Learning Centers of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston (http://bostonjcc.org/Home.aspx) and is on the staff of Reform Jewish Outreach Boston (http://www.reformjewishoutreachboston.org/). She is an instructor for Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, a ten week course offered by Hebrew College.  Rabbi Zupan can be reached at rabbizupan@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Jewish Parenting Group Shapes My Road Map

Five years ago this week I started on my Jewish parenting journey when my son was born.  As an interfaith couple we had decided to raise a Jewish family, but neither of us had specific traditions we felt we had to observe, and therefore we had an open road map for the paths we might take.  We knew we were having a boy, but we didn’t know whether we wanted family from far and wide to come and visit a mere week after his birth, as they would if we held a bris according to the traditional schedule. We consulted with a Rabbi with whom we had studied in a class offered through the Union for ReformJudaism.  She talked to us about the traditions of a bris, and gave us suggestions for how we could integrate them with our family’s needs, beliefs and abilities.  Through these discussions we were able to honor our newborn son in a way that was comfortable for us, and that gave him a starting point for his own Jewish journey.

Shortly after he was born, I started attending a Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class, then known as Ikkarim.  Through readings of a range of Jewish texts and thoughtful discussions with my classmates, our family road map started to take form and my husband and I were able to begin our own family traditions.  As parents, each day we encounter decisions we have to make for our children, and there is rarely only one right answer.  I found PTJL helped me make choices that guided us along a path that was right for us. 

Recently, I was asked to chair the Alumni and Friends of PTJL Advisory Group, working with an enthusiastic staff committed to assisting all who have taken the class, and those considering what the class is about.  We have an exciting year of events coming up for the entire Boston Jewish community, including our Latkes & Light Hanukkah party, and Matzah Matters, our family Passover event.  For those on the committee, aside from planning the events, we use our time during meetings to have text-based discussions with exciting leaders, and to talk about issues with which we continue to struggle with as parents.

When the course is over, the experience is not.  I continue to be involved with PTJL because my family benefits from the learning experiences and support offered through the Alumni Group.  We welcome all who are interested in joining the committee.  Please contact Marcy or Elisha at parenting@hebrewcollege.edu for more information.

For me, being involved in the Alumni and Friends of PTJL Advisory Group is a way that I can stay connected to learning and continue to be an active part of my son’s Jewish journey.