Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Parenting Through a Jewish Lens Opened Our Eyes to New Ways of Thinking

Life changes when your first child is born.  All of a sudden you are whisked into a world where focus and priorities are forever altered and everything you do is accompanied by the thought “what is best for my child?” During the first year, there is so much to learn and do that new parents are often overwhelmed with the small things and little questions.  This was especially true for my wife and me as we moved to the Boston area from Montreal only a couple weeks before my first son was born. When that initial parenting stage passed, our lives didn’t become any calmer, rather new activities took over and questions now arise that are often much more complex.
                My wife and I were raised in Conservative Jewish households. While my wife felt comfortable with this branch of Judaism, I never quite did. When life settled down after moving and having a baby, we both wanted to find our way back to some sort of Jewish community and were open to exploring wherever we might fit in.   We joined a Reform synagogue, largely because we liked their kids programs.   Now I felt comfortable, but my wife didn’t.   As our son grew older and began attending the temple’s religious school and our daughter was at their nursery school, the question of how to include our faith and beliefs in our children’s lives became one that was harder to answer. This was especially true being in a community without our family and familiar surroundings to fall back on.  
When we heard that Parenting Through a Jewish Lens (then called Ikkarim) was being offered at our temple during the time my son was in religious school, and with babysitting available for my younger daughter, it was really a no brainer to sign up.   Not only could we tell our son that he wasn’t the only one who had to go to Hebrew school on the weekend, but we felt a need to dig deeper into the role Judaism played in our everyday lives.
                Our class was amazing!   While we read interesting texts, it was the discussions that came out of them that really broadened our horizons and helped both to reinforce ideals we already had and to open our eyes to new ways of thinking.   The people in our group were an eclectic bunch and to our surprise, the majority of couples weren’t made up of two Jewish partners yet wanted to raise their kids Jewish.  Navigating being a Jewish parent from a Catholic, Presbyterian or even Baha’i background is a big challenge and offered an entirely new perspective on our Conservative versus Reform debate.  
The wonderful thing was that the class did not push anyone into a particular path, but instead opened up our minds to how incredibly flexible Judaism can be and demonstrated that throughout history even the greatest scholars and prophets have not always agreed on their interpretations of the Torah. And, even after all the stimulating educational sessions and invigorating discussions, we were left with something that to us was far more valuable: many new friends within a community that we were still getting to know.  Several years later we remain close with a number of families from our PTJL class.

                I recently joined the Parenting Through a Jewish Lens Alumni Advisory Group.   While there are many great opportunities through Hebrew College, synagogues, and other organizations for continued Jewish learning, we still have a bond to PTJL and its concept of learning through the angle of parenting; and we have an even bigger bond to the families we met.   The experience of PTJL does not have to end when the class is over.  While the PTJL Alumni Advisory Group is a relatively new endeavor, there were two great inaugural events last year that we are building on by offering further opportunities to learn, grow and have fun together as parents and families.   I am already looking forward to the Latkes and Light event on December 4th (5-7pm at Hebrew College in Newton), a family Chanukah program for alumni, current families and friends. I hope you’ll join us.  

1 comment:

  1. You nailed it, Josh. PTJL was a great experience for us, too. It gave us Sunday mornings of interesting, thought provoking conversation that temporarily cleared away the fog that comes with parenting young children. And, yes, the best part was the friendship we formed with your family.