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Over the years Iâ€™ve enjoyedâ€”and benefited greatly fromâ€”the practice of mindfulness meditation. Studying and practicing mindfulness has helped me to be less judgmental (of myself and others), to be more present in the moments that make up my life and to better appreciate the simple beauty in the world around me.
Often, when thinking about a lesson Iâ€™ve learned in mindfulness Iâ€™ll say to myself, â€śJudaism teaches this!â€ť Iâ€™m struck by how so many of Judaismâ€™s rituals and teachings can help us to lead a more mindful life. Or, as I put it in another blog that I wrote, â€śmy mindfulness practice is fully interwoven with my Jewish spirituality.â€ť
What do I mean by this? Well, for example, when learning about â€śmindful eating,â€ť I was taught the importance of not just devouring food, but of thinking about where the food comes from and how it got to me, as well as what it looks and smells like and how it tastes when really focusing on it. I remember thinking, Judaism teaches us not to just eat our food mindlessly. We have blessings to recite before and after eating that make us stop and pause, to remind us of the sacred nature of eating and of how lucky we are to have our food. This mindfulness lesson is inherent in Judaism.
Â As I practiced mindfulness over a long period of time, I became especially grateful for the way in which it affected my parenting, enabling me to become more fully engaged with my children and more aware of special moments spent with them. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much Judaism has to offer when it comes to tools for mindful parenting. Judaism gives us the Shema, a beautiful prayer to say with our children before putting them to sleep, helping to calm their minds and make them feel a sense of connectedness. Judaism gives us Shabbat, a special day to focus on family and rest and to take a break from the hustle and hassles of the rest of the week. And Judaism gives us HaMotzi, a special blessing to recite as we stop and pause before eating.
The wisdom of Judaism in regard to mindful parenting is just one of the reasons that Iâ€™m thrilled that InterfaithFamily is offering a free email series called â€śRaising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family.â€ť This popular email series is for parents (and prospective parents) who want to explore bringing Jewish traditions into their family life. Participants receive eight emails over four weeks (emails are sent on Mondays and Thursdays) about how to bring spirituality and Jewish traditions and practices to their parenting in realistic and meaningful ways.
The emails share ideas, videos, question prompts to discuss with your partner, ideas for family projects and book suggestions around sleeping, eating, playing, praying and more. Essentially, the emails offer lots of ways for parents to bring mindfulness to theirÂ parenting, to their own lives and to the lives of their childrenâ€”itâ€™s mindful parenting through a Jewish lens.
The emails can be read on your own time, whenever works best for you. And thereâ€™s specific advice on how to address the topics covered in an interfaith family. Thereâ€™s no pressure to do things a certain way â€“just basic information and an opportunity for parents who didnâ€™t grown up Jewish (as well as those who did) to learn about Jewish traditions and practices.
While some parents just want to receive the emails and perhaps choose on their own aspects of Judaism to bring into their familyâ€™s life, for those who want to take it a step further, thereâ€™s an opportunity for interaction. Once someone starts receiving the emails, they’re invited to join our private Facebook Group for everyone in the “Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family” email series, as well as alumni. It’s a place where parents (and prospective parents) in interfaith families can ask questions, share resources, support one another, etc.Â In each email there are suggested questions for discussion with your partner and the opportunity to respond to me with your answers, or with anything else you may be thinking about. Iâ€™m happy to engage in discussion about any of the topics covered (or anything else that comes up in your interfaith family) or to share your thoughts or questions with others who are receiving the email series.
Registration for the email series is always openâ€¦ so if you click here and register now youâ€™ll start getting the emails in your inbox as soon as the next series begins. And before you know it, you can be raising your child with more Judaismâ€”and more mindfullyâ€”than perhaps youâ€™d ever imagined.
The late great comedian Joan Rivers had many famous lines, but she was probably better known for these three words than for any others. For many of us, we just have to hear this phrase and Joan comes to mind.
Yet perhaps ironically, when Joan Rivers uttered the phrase â€śCan we talk?â€ť it wasnâ€™t that she really wanted to engage with her audience in discussion. She didnâ€™t want to talk WITH us. She wanted to talk TO us. What she wanted wasnâ€™t for us to RESPOND, but for us to LISTEN. She had something to sayâ€¦and she wanted our undivided attention.
Many of us like to talk. We have something to say â€“ perhaps a point to make or a feeling or opinion to express. We think of talking as activeâ€¦it involves doing something.
We tend to think of listening, in contrast, as passiveâ€¦as if we donâ€™t have to do anything to listen. But in fact, truly listening isnâ€™t always easy and itâ€™s certainly not passive. As any therapist, chaplain, social worker or member of the clergy will tell you, active listening is a crucial skillâ€”every bit as important to a conversation as speaking, and often more so. Itâ€™s incredibly powerful for a person to know that theyâ€™re being listened toâ€”that theyâ€™re being â€śheardâ€ť (and this often involves much more than just words)â€”by someone else whoâ€™s taking in what they say without any agenda other than to be present for them.
In Judaism, our central prayer is the Shema. And what does the Hebrew word Shema mean? It means â€śHear.â€ť Hearing/listening is at the very heart of Judaism.
When I was growing up, there was a wonderful poem in the Friday night prayer book my synagogue usedâ€”it was read before reciting the Shema. The prayer, written by Rabbis Jack Riemer and Harold Kushner, was called â€śListen.â€ť It began as follows:
Judaism begins with the commandment: Hear, O Israel!
But what does it really mean to hear?
The person who attends a concert with a mind on business,
Hearsâ€”but does not really hear.
The person who walks amid the songs of the birds
And thinks only of what will be served for dinner, hearsâ€”but does not really hear.
The one who listens to the words of a friend, or spouse, or child, and does not catch the note of urgency: “Notice me, help me, care about me,” hearsâ€”but does not really hearâ€¦.
I loved this poem (and still do) because it emphasizes the importance of being truly present in the moment â€¦ of hearing/listening to what is happening around you, or what another person is saying to you.
Iâ€™m not a poet, but I often wish that I could add some verses to Rabbi Reimer and Rabbi Kushnerâ€™s poem â€śListenâ€ť and share them with the people I work with (interfaith couples as well as Jewish professionals) in my role as Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. The verses Iâ€™d add would be:
The person in an interfaith relationship who talks with her partner about religion but cares only about her own religious heritage, and not her partnerâ€™s, hearsâ€”but does not really hear.
The parent of a child in an interfaith relationship who worries about what other people in his community will say about his child â€śintermarryingâ€ť as his daughter tells him how much she loves her fiancĂ©, hearsâ€”but does not really hear.
The parent whose child tells her about his partner of another faith and she thinks only that she would prefer that the partner be of the same faith, hearsâ€”but does not really hear.
The rabbi who sits with a couple in an interfaith relationship and thinks about how it would be better if Jews only dated other Jews, hearsâ€”but does not really hear.
The rabbi who talks to a Christian parent of a bat mitzvah student and is convinced that all parents raising Jewish children should themselves convert to Judaism, hearsâ€”but does not really hear.
The synagogue staff person or lay leader who insists that their synagogue is â€śwelcomingâ€ť of interfaith families but isnâ€™t comfortable with those who arenâ€™t Jewish participating in the life of the synagogue, hearsâ€”but does not really hear.
When it comes to interfaith relationships, many peopleâ€”those in the relationship, their parents and other family members, clergy and othersâ€”may have concerns that are legitimate, and that should perhaps be expressed. But just as each person involved might feel like they need time to TALK, each person should also be sure to take time to LISTEN. Listening can be a tremendous gift to others and to yourself as well. If you are able to actively listen to and hear someone else, it just may make it easier for them to hear you.