It was a dark and rainy night, the type of evening that makes you yearn for snuggly blankets and hot chocolate by a fireplace. Yet here I was, avoiding puddles and shielding a heavy box of parent binders from the raindrops. I had a destination – the library of a local congregation for a Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class. I made my way through the twisty halls and introduced myself to a small group of parents.
What compels busy parents to come out on a rainy Wednesday night? Why do they make time for reflection and learning? What are they hoping for?
The instructor welcomed parents and set a warm and accepting tone for the class — that there are no right answers; that this class isn’t about getting parents to do anything in particular, and that we’re all learning (even him!). Then he asked parents to share what brought them there. This is my favorite part of a class, and what drew me to this position.
I’ve always been interested in the moments that change people’s lives, and how they tell those stories. As a teenager, my mom noticed that my friends came to me for advice, and she predicted that I’d one day be a therapist. I didn’t go down that path, but I was a sociology major in college and received a master of social work degree.
Around the table, parents shared their stories. A few were new to Boston and others had lived here for many years. One mom isn’t Jewish but is raising a Jewish child and wanted to educate herself. One Israeli parent shared that she was here temporarily, and is planning to go back soon. She wanted to figure out how to incorporate Judaism into her family’s life in here and in Israel – how to teach her children about their heritage. One parent talked about his plan to send his children to day school, as he was raised, and how to give his children a deep sense of Jewish identity.
They didn’t say it out loud, but I knew from talking to parents over the past year that part of the appeal of this class is having a group of parents to sit down with, in person, and talk about the bigger issues of their lives. And also how nice it is to see nods around a table when talking about the little frustrations of parenting — when kids push our buttons by throwing food or whining or talking back.
I was touched by their stories. As someone who has spent most of her career looking at large societal issues and solutions, it dawned on me just how much teachers can make a difference, person by person. My mind turned philosophical: If just one of these parents comes away with a meaningful new insight or piece of Jewish wisdom, how might that enrich a family? How might a child’s life change by what his/her parent learns tonight or over the six sessions?
I tried to temper my philosophizing as I gave them an official welcome from Hebrew College and Combined Jewish Philanthropy. I told them that I knew I was leaving them in the capable hands of our facilitator, and wished them well on the next steps of their journeys. Then I went back into the rainy night, in search of that hot chocolate…