Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Our PTJL Blog Has Moved!

Hello Everyone,

We wanted to let you know that our Parenting Through a Jewish Lens blog has moved. You can now see all current and past blogs at

Come and visit us there to read more about our writer's experiences with PTJL.

Marcy Leiman
Associate Director
Parenting Through a Jewish Lens

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Our Children Are Not Us by Rabbi David Jaffe

In the 1990s film classic, Austin Powers, Dr. Evil has a clone who he calls “Mini-me.”  The mini-me looks just like Dr. Evil except he is one eighth his size.  When my first son was younger I had a secret hope that he would be my mini-me.  He would love playing soccer and studying Torah.  He would be active politically in his elementary school and of course be an avid reader.  If I let myself indulge this fantasy, I wanted him to be exactly like I was as a young person! A Mini-me. 

Of course, our children are not mini-me’s.  But really accepting this fact is harder than it seems.  My son is a fun, wonderful, delicious boy .  He is a late reader and likes baseball instead of soccer.  He likes science and math and is a kinesthetic learner.  He is not particularly fond of learning Torah.  These differences cause me more pain than I like to admit.   

In our Arlington Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class we just studied the great Reb Zusia story.  The Hassidic master Reb Zusia is lying on his deathbed crying. His students ask him why he is crying since he has been such a faithful Jew his whole life.  He responds, “when I get to heaven they won’t ask me why weren’t you more like Moses.  They will ask me, why weren’t you more like Zusia.  Then what will I say?”

This brief, powerful story cuts right to one of life’s central tasks – to be our true selves.  As adults we all know how challenging that can be given the myriad of expectations put on us by parents, colleagues, friends, spouses and others. 

Teaching this story the other day it struck me how central this idea is for us as parents.  While I may want a mini-me, this is not my job as a parent.  My job is to help my son know who he is, on his own terms.  I need to stop using my own life as a measuring stick by which to evaluate my son.  Really seeing him and his unique Neshama/soul and reflecting what I see back to him is a great gift.  We all needed our parents to do that for us.  Now we get the chance to offer this gift to our children, this gift of themselves.   

Rabbi David Jaffe is the school chaplain at Gann Academy: The New Jewish High School and the founder and dean of The Kirva Institute for Torah and Spiritual Practice. A graduate of the Columbia University School of Social Work and the Jewish Theological Seminary Communal Service program, Jaffe received his rabbinic ordination from the Bat Ayin Yeshiva in Israel. He is a veteran Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructor and has taught widely throughout the Boston community. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Parenting Through a Jewish Lens by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

            “Modeh ani l’fanecha….”
            A group of moms and dads sits around a table in the synagogue library, eager to see what centuries of prayer and rabbinic wisdom can tell us about how to raise our kids. It’s the first day of parenting class, and we are squinting through our Jewish lenses.  The first topic is the Hebrew prayer that greets the dawn. 
As I begin a new day
I thank you God our ruler
For waking my soul with compassion.
You have great faith in me.

            Privately I feel that if God has great faith in me, there are days when I question his judgment.  But there is no doubt His nachas (pride and joy) is a boost to the ego.
            My kids have faith in me, too.  They have no idea how much I am making up on the fly.
            My mother died unexpectedly when I was a teenager.  My father was perhaps not the most attentive parent, especially after that.  Thus, as a mom I often find myself baffled.  Where do I go from here?  What do I do now? 
            No matter your background, however, bewilderment is a given for parenting; which is why we turn to each other.
            No one should have to parent alone:  the task is too vast, too complex.  Until very recently, the concept of solo parenting—the idea that one adult should single-handedly feed, clean, clothe, educate, and ethically guide her brood—would have been greeted with uncomprehending derision.  In most times and places, parents have had lots of help, whether from family or neighbors or religious community.  Today, not everyone has those options, so we build a network as we can. 
            It’s a challenge.
            Our class chips at that challenge.  As we chat our way through Modeh Ani, I mention that my Episcopalian mother taught me the classic Christian “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”  I converted to Judaism, as did my husband shortly after we married.  This sparks a response in Sarah, whose husband is a largely lapsed but occasionally observant Protestant.  Leah and her husband Abe come from a more traditional Jewish background, but the dawn-happy prayer is new for them too.
            “I think one of the strengths of our group is the variety of backgrounds we have here,” says the rabbi. 
            True.  Diversity builds strength, and multiple points of view grant insight.  The struggles of parenting are nothing new, so why not let the wisdom of the millennia do the heavy lifting?  If we have a challenge, let’s see what our tradition has to say about it.
            “What a powerful message,” says one mom as she rereads Modeh Ani.  “It reminds you that each person is unique but ordinary.”
            “And that we all have tasks that are ours alone,” says another.
            “What does it mean that God has faith in us?” says the rabbi.  “How is that different from our having faith in God?”
            “And why is that important to a child?”
            As we discuss, my classmates morph from cheerful strangers to fellow students to companions on the road of Jewish parenting. Bending over text study, a Jewish activity as old as Judaism, we are bound together by words and wisdom.

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs is a teacher and author in the Greater Boston Area.  She and her husband are the proud parents of a son and a daughter.  Her book, Wrong Place, Wrong Time, is a thriller whose central character is a Jewish mother ensnared in a hostage drama.

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