Friday, December 20, 2013

Milestone Moments by Rabbi Julie Zupan

I was stunned when each of my children, on separate pediatrician’s visits, ran from the doctor’s office without even glancing at the sticker bucket. On many, many previous visits, choosing the perfect sticker had been a 20 minute ordeal. Suddenly it seemed, the sticker stage was over.  

One of my favorite questions to ask groups of parents is to share a recent family milestone. My sticker bucket story is the story I love to tell. While I had anticipated many of our children’s milestones – the first step, the move from crib to the big-boy bed, the first day of kindergarten, the first drop-off playdate…there are even more that I didn’t anticipate. These are milestone moments that surprised me: when my kids gave up on the sticker bucket; when they first rode their bikes to the library without me; when they joyfully jumped off the diving board, without drama, again and again; when our cat no longer fled but let himself be petted by their small hands; when they started to wake for school by the sound of the alarm clock.

In Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, we reflected on the life course we anticipate for each of our children. We also reflected on what a Jewish life course would include. This winter, my husband and I will take our children to Israel for the first time. This is a moment I have thought a lot about; I’ve been anticipating this one for years. I want them to love Israel the way I do, to feel a connection to the people and the place.  

The traditional Jewish prayer, shehechiyanu,* acknowledges the passage of time and expresses gratitude that we are alive to experience each new season and new stage. Customarily, this particular blessing is said at the start of each Jewish holiday, when tasting fruit for the first time in its season (like strawberries in the summer), for wearing new shoes or clothing. I try to remember to say a blessing as I enter each new stage of parenting; often I enter those stages without even realizing it.

What’s the family milestone you’ve experienced most recently?  What is the blessing that you would like to say? 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Joy As Sustenance

I was recently visiting my family in Spain. My mother, sister and I were ordering some drinks in an outdoor bar, enjoying balmy Andalusian weather, when my mother, starting a conversation with the waiter asked how the financial crisis is affecting the business. He responded without missing a beat: “As long as there is money for food and laughter everything is okay”. I was struck. Really? All you need is food and laughter? That is all? What about a house? What about health? What about a Jewish education? And then I considered the lesson in this waiter’s words. A complete stranger had brought me to a new understanding of what joy is and the place it can take in our lives. We are all so busy, with long to-do lists, work, social commitments, and responsibilities. Where is there room for joy? If we think of joy and laughter as sustenance, then its pursuit takes on new meaning. It lightens our spirits. How much time do we spend doing things that are fun with our families? Are we teaching our kids the value of being “b’simcha” being in joy? My son came home saying that he learned in school that when we smile it actually makes us feel better inside; it makes us happier. Lately we are making a point of smiling at each other at home. Just because. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It Takes a Village by Behzad Dayanim

There is no concise manual for how to be a good parent. No matter how many hours of pregnancy classes or how many books one reads in preparation for this amazing adventure rife with challenge and revelation, from the first day a child enters the world, s/he changes it. No matter what we think we can expect, rarely a day goes by that doesn’t bring a surprise of one form or another. And parenting doesn’t end once our children graduate from infancy, or childhood, or adolescence. Just as we think we might be mastering a particular stage of our child’s development, a new stage emerges, often with new expectations, and no two children experience these stages the same way. So where does Parenting Through a Jewish Lens fit into the picture?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I began preparing for our first session this year. Having served in a number of educational capacities and worked with diverse populations, I anticipated that this would still be something new and I was certainly correct in that assumption. The past four sessions with my cohort from Kadimah-Toras Moshe in Brighton have been extraordinary. I do not presume to evaluate my impact as the facilitator but rather to reflect on the overall contributions from everyone in attendance. As a modern orthodox community with a diverse population, our cadre is comprised of a range of current and future parents, some with young children, some with teens, some anticipating becoming the parents they hope to be. Each member of our group adds color and depth to our conversations, often promoting deeper understanding and sparking new questions.

I anticipated that this type of learning environment would be different. I did not fully understand to what extent I would be benefitting from the process of learning with such a dynamic group of individuals. Rarely is one presented with the opportunity to truly learn among peers and to wrestle with and sometimes be inspired by the amazing resources that the Torah and our heritage provide. One of the most rewarding aspects of this “chavruta” (learning group) has been the aggregate wisdom shared and the sense of strengthened community resulting from our collective and collaborative learning. We may not become perfect parents as a result of participating in this program but I certainly expect we will become better able to face the exciting challenges and opportunities that parenthood presents. It could be a song, a prayer, an inspiring passage, or any of the many wonderful conversations and stories that we share that reminds us that we are not alone in our efforts.

PTJL is no panacea for the parenting challenges we all face. It is a wonderful outlet to learn and share, laugh and cry as we work together to help foster the next generation. It reminds us of how influential each person can be and how important our roles as parents and as children can be as we strive to be meaningful contributors to the world around us.

Shabbat: A Turning Toward Each Other

What am I grateful for? This question has come up at many of the community Shabbat celebrations I have attended. Sometimes the question comes in the form of a request to name a highlight of the week, to which most people answer, “I am most grateful to be here, with all of you!” And I am sure it is true. Shabbat can feel like a relief, and it feels nice to share that sense of relief with others who value this time enough to have attended such a gathering. Each of us is there, trying, in our own capacity, to press the stop button, to add some sense of humanity, of belonging, and perhaps a little bit of the sacred to our lives, and it feels good.

And yet, I have also felt this expression of gratitude for being together to be low hanging fruit, grabbed out of convenience in the moment the question is asked; if the highlights we shared with people who don't know us were more personal, this might actually make us feel more unique and isolated, just when we were trying to feel connected.

I never suspected, though, that taking the ritual of talking about highlights of the week into the home setting would change this dynamic so profoundly. It helped that in our Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class it was suggested that we might want to use the Blessing of the Children as an opportunity to recognize our kids for one of their personal triumphs that week, and then for parents to turn to each other and share an appreciation of each other. Hearing a reflection of what stood out for others about our behavior set a tone for subsequent conversation that helped bring the sacred sweetness of Shabbat into our relating with one another. It helped us to see the best in each other and focus on the personal strengths we bring to the things we do. Highlights were no longer about good things that just happened to us, but more about actions we had taken that had a positive impact on ourselves and those around us.

May these rituals and conversations continue to help us grow, reflect, and take positive actions that strengthen our relationships within and beyond our families. Thank you Parenting Through a Jewish Lens.