My experience in parenting has been a mix of small triumphs and an unexpected and often overwhelming sense of love and pride…. coupled with the somewhat ongoing question of whether my husband and I are doing this “right” at all.
Five months ago my eldest son (age 5) asked me about G-d. Who was he? Who made him? What happens when you die? Is there really a light inside of us? Does G-d live in your heart? (He asks a lot of questions). And when I found myself staring at him caught between what I “think” I believe, what my parents taught me, what my husband believes, what his family taught him, and what we want our sons to believe – well I basically replied with a giant “hmmmmmm…I need to think about that overnight.”
I actually need to think about that over many nights – and Parenting Through a Jewish Lens has given me that gift over the last twelve weeks. I have greatly enjoyed the chance to speak with other parents who are considering how to bring together their upbringing, personal beliefs, partner’s beliefs and hopes and dreams for their children’s futures. The class has provided historical context, the understanding that asking the question WHY is critical in Judaism, and a safe group of individuals who are open to sharing the joys and fears that arise in parenting. For me, a particular gift has been taking the class with other people who are in interfaith partnerships.
For many years I’ve worried about how to make a Jewish home with two different family backgrounds, but through this class, I’ve been able to tease out the parts of my Jewish upbringing that feel most critical to replicate, and that I can change and adapt for my home. I also better understand now which of my personal values are rooted firmly (and unchangeably) in rich Jewish tradition. This class has given me the tools to speak to my children about the universal religious values that my husband and I share – while understanding the importance and power of Jewish practice in our home so our children can live and experience what it means to be Jewish, and ultimately part of a Jewish community.
My eldest son asked me last week if I had gotten the answers to his questions. (I told him my class was helping me with that). While my answers may not be very polished at this point, I can answer the questions with much more information and joy than I did that night a few months back. I can also tell him that there is often more than one answer to some questions, and that -in our tradition – we learn by asking and talking and asking again (and talking and asking AGAIN). With the freedom to learn in this class, and also in Jewish life, the path of parenting feels just a touch easier to navigate -- and I now look forward more confidently to the questions that lie ahead.
Jill Kantrowitz Kunkel