In December, my husband Joel and I started the Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class at Temple Israel in Natick. Our first assignment was to decorate name cards with pictures of our family. We drew our three kids, Asher, age 8, Camille, age 3, and our baby, Zeke, then almost 14 months. We drew them all in a heap, laughing, on top of us, which is pretty much how our family arranges itself most of the time, and then sat back and waited for wisdom to flow from our rabbi and cantor and transform our happy but messy, chaotic and very tiring family life into one of order, certainty, and structure.
This did not actually happen, of course. We are now done with the class, and our kids, wondrous though they are, continue to confound and challenge us every day. I am also not sure that we are very much wiser than we were before we started the class. Nonetheless, I would recommend Parenting Through a Jewish Lens to any parents who share our wish to help our little people thrive and contribute to the good of the world.
We were very fortunate to be in a class with thoughtful and engaging parents, who shared great insights and stories about their own families. The curriculum provided a good structure for discussion, and introduced a range of viewpoints and texts – most of which I had never seen. I really appreciated the suggestions for activities to try at home, including saying the Sh’ma at bedtime and Modeh Ani in the mornings. We were also lucky to have Rabbi Dan Liben and Cantor Ken Richmond co-facilitate. Both men are great teachers, and with 8 children between them, they have a boundless supply of examples, and the perspective of experience with nearly every parenting challenge.
One challenge that several of the parents in our class described, and that I struggle with daily, is the challenge of finding time to connect with children in a meaningful, intentional way. Actually, the challenge is finding time to do anything in a meaningful, intentional way. With three kids and two full-time jobs, Joel and I are always doing many things at once, and none of them particularly well. I brush my hair (badly) while reading stories to one child and feeding another (messily). While I’m bathing the kids I do laundry, clean the toilet, and spend quality time with my husband shouting back and forth across the house. On nights when I work later, Joel cooks dinner while leading the bigger kids in a dance party and picking up dropped toys with his feet. This hectic hodge-podge of a life is happy and full, but it carries costs. One of the biggest costs is that we make most of our parenting decisions in a rush, shouting over the din of somebody’s singing or fighting, or whispering so that nobody will hear us until we agree.
Parenting Through A Jewish Lens, held right at our synagogue while our oldest was in Hebrew School and with free babysitting for the little guys,offered us a calm, protected space to think through issues that really matter – what we want to teach our children, and how we want to shape our family. Participants in the class were there with or without a partner. I loved having Joel there with me. Not only was it a rare treat to sit next to him and engage in conversations with other adults, but sharing this experience gave us a great deal to think about and talk about together in between classes, besides who was picking up which kid or managing which chore. One theme that I took from the class was the power that rituals hold for helping kids learn to pause, think, and find meaning in their world. In many ways, this class offered that to us. While our family life was not transformed by this class, Joel and Iboth learned a lot, enjoyed the experience, and left inspired to continue to carve out time to learn and grow as parents.