“Parenting Through a Jewish Lens.” Rather self-explanatory course name, one would think at first. A course on parenting, that is, raising your kids, through a Jewish lens, meaning...well, what exactly? Perhaps not as self-explanatory as one might think at first, given the broad experiences and backgrounds one can fit into the idea of being Jewish. After all, while some of us consider ourselves Jewish because of the full observance of Judaism we bring to our lives, for others eating bagels is what defines us as Jewish.
My wife Nomi and I follow what we would call an observant lifestyle under Modern Orthodox auspices. To a great extent, it would seem as if a course on parenting through a Jewish lens would be almost redundant. When our rabbi, Yonah Berman, first told us that this course was being offered at Kadimah-TorasMoshe (our shul in Brighton), we weren’t entirely sure that it was something we needed. However, the premise sounded interesting enough, and we thought that it might not be a bad thing to take this course. Although our twin preschool daughters know that we live a Jewish life, we’re always looking for more ways to emphasize how important Judaism is to us and our family. At the very least, taking the course would stress that point to them, since we would be bringing them to the site every Sunday morning for the concurrent babysitting.
As it turned out, the course has ended up being much more valuable than I ever realized.
Each week, there is a different topic on parenting that we are supposed to explore. However, our class ended up with a makeup that lends itself well to digression. Pretty much everyone in the class is a friend from Kadimah who is either a parent of young children or a prospective parent. So not only are we dealing with the same issues a lot of the time, but we’re all friends who knew each other before the class.
Even close friends, though, don’t know everything there is to know about each other. What we have found through our classes is that our instructor, Behzad Dayanim, has done an excellent job of keeping us on track while at the same time allowing us to digress. Through these digressions, we have been able to share parenting strategies and advice about raising our kids to love Judaism – both the religion and the culture.
Behzad quickly seemed to identify our areas of interest that overlapped with his own. As Nomi reminded me, for our first session, Behzad – himself a musician – brought samples of music that we could integrate into our homes and teach to our children. He quickly learned that music played an important role in the homes of almost all of the participants in the class. He has also tapped into unique elements of his own life to illustrate ways we could incorporate Jewish concepts into our daily interactions with our children. Whether it is through music or through Persian cuisine, Behzad has managed to weave his interests and ours into the curriculum provided for the class.
A few years ago, shortly after our twin daughters were born, I brought the question of Jewish parenting to a Shabbat afternoon gathering at our synagogue. I noted that I wanted to raise my kids to observe Jewish life the same way I do, but I had been struck with the realization that I myself do not live the lifestyle that my parents might have expected. I’ve met many people who grew up in observant families who became non-observant as adults; conversely, I’ve met many people who grew up non-observant – or even non-Jewish – who became active observers of Judaism as adults. How can I ensure that my kids will grow up the way I want?
Well, the answer is easy. I can’t. But what I can do is give them the tools of Judaism, the knowledge, education, and background that will allow them to more easily maintain an observant lifestyle. I can let them know through my own actions and words how important it is to me, and hope that, as they become adults, they will find the same things in it attractive to them.
Michael A. Burstein is a science-fiction writer and science curriculum editor. You can find out more about him at his website, http://www.mabfan.com. For a few years, his wife Nomi and he co-wrote the Brookline Parent column for Brookline Patch.