Through a far-too-snowy and far-too-cold winter, the Sunday morning gatherings of our Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class at Temple Emanuel in Andover have provided a sense of warmth and community beyond anything I anticipated as a first-time PTJL instructor. Over coffee and bagels, we spend some time simply “checking-in” – sharing stories of our lives since we were last together; our challenges, our triumphs, our aggravations, and our comedic moments of parenting (and very often they are all blended together). I am always struck by the chorus of nodding heads as we do our weekly check-in—so often, all of us can relate to an essential element of the parenting experience being shared. There is so much honesty in the room, and as we bring our authentic selves and experiences to the discussion, there is a strong sense of community and support in our sessions.
One morning, we explored the questions: What does Jewish tradition tell us about what it means to lead a good and full life? What are Jewish ideas about the life journey and the steps and stages along the way? How might we manifest and model these values in our parenting? Our discussion centered upon the idea that each of us has an entirely unique, core self, and that our obligation is to live our particular gifts and challenges as fully and authentically as possible. Rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach to parenting, it is important to see our children in their unique wholeness – with their particular strengths and challenges. When we meet them where they are, we can guide them through their challenges and help to nurture, strengthen, and develop their gifts.
Though Judaism values the singular sanctity of each human being, each of us is obligated to act with care and responsibility to what is beyond the self. We discussed the meaning of mitzvot, commonly translated as “good deeds,” though more accurately translated as “commandments.” In our hyper-individualistic culture, the notion that something is demanded of us is counter-cultural and can be difficult to nurture in our children. In one of the texts our class studied, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: “This is the most important experience in the life of every human being: something is asked of me…Meaning is found in responding to the demand…”
In our coming together in authentic conversation, sharing our parenting and Jewish journeys and creating a sense of community support, we are living out the dual Jewish values of honoring our essential, unique selves and being responsible, and responsive, to those beyond ourselves. Nourished by our study and conversation on Sunday mornings, we are better able to model these values from a place of deeper awareness of ourselves and of our children, and deeper awareness of our connectedness to community, the Jewish people, and the wisdom of Jewish tradition.