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As I prepared to publish this post, I hesitated for a second, as hopefully many of you who read my posts also read Jane Larkin’s musings, and we were both moved to write about Jewish learning this month. But I’m sticking with it, because our coinciding themes must mean that it’s important, right? With all of the emphasis on back-to-school for our kids, it seems like a good idea to think about the possibility of back-to-school for us grown-ups, too.
I sit on the alumni advisory committee for Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, a fantastic program offered by Hebrew College and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (Boston’s Jewish Federation). At our kick-off meeting for the year, we did an icebreaker where we all answered the question, “What is the best kept secret about PTJL?” We shared lots of ideas, but the thing that stuck with me was the comment of the woman who spoke after me: “Its better than date night,” she said, “because unlike on date night, when you feel pressured to have a great time, to not be tired and to think of fun and interesting things to say, the curriculum is filled with interesting things to talk about, the babysitting is free, and you can easily connect with your partner without any pressure.”
Now, I love date night, and I won’t go so far as to say that a Sunday morning class is better than a night out on the town…and I even think that my friend from the committee might admit to a little hyperbole in her comment. But having had two Jewish learning opportunities with my husband, the most recent one two years ago with one kid in (free) babysitting and another on the way, I get what she’s saying. First, because there always is a little more pressure to make the most of every minute of a date than there was before kids, and second, because taking Parenting Through a Jewish Lens with Eric was really great.
When we signed up for a Jewish parenting class, I imagined it would include some aspect of a rabbi telling us “the rules” of being a Jewish parent (this sounded helpful enough to me). Once we started, though, I realized that just telling us “the rules” wouldn’t be very Jewish. Instead, the class was about studying direct texts, trying to understand who we are as individuals, co-parents, and children ourselves, and hoping that doing that would help us to be better parents. It is so hard in our every day journey to not just be parents, but to think about how well the parenting we are doing lines up with our hopes about the kind of parents we want to be. We were lucky in that the structure of our class supported just that kind of thinking.
That in and of itself was pretty great. But here was the icing on the cake: with Ruthie in babysitting down the hall, we had 90 minutes every week to be grown-ups together, to learn new things and talk about stuff that really matters. And it turns out we really like learning together. To hit a pause button every week and do something totally different…it would be pretty special no matter what we were doing. And all the luckier that it was about the intersection of parenting and values, two things about which we share a passion.
So here’s my multi-pronged pitch. First of all, if you live in the Greater Boston area, sign-up for PTJL this fall, or at the very least put it on your to-do list for next year. If you don’t live in Boston, or PTJL’s not your thing, ponder the idea of studying something new with your spouse. It doesn’t have to be something about your parenting, but anything that stretches your brain a little bit will probably ultimately benefit not just you, but your kids as well. [For those of you who live in areas where IFF has offices, you can take advantage of parenting and relationship classes and workshops in Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area.] So I hope everyone’s had a good back-to-school month for your kids. And I hope you get back-to-school, too.
I was never able to come up with a cohesive post about Passover, but below find a few of my musings.
Did a little last minute Passover shopping today, and, for the first time in almost 20 years, I found a lamb shank bone in the meat section. I was so over-come, that I considered buying all of them so that they would have them next year. Usually we have to order them from the butcher many, many, many moons in advance. I am not that organized. I generally live in a state of Passover denial, until the very last minute I don’t do anything and then it is a mad rush to get it all done.
I decided to just buy one, surmising that I couldn’t possibly be the only last minute shopper and I didn’t want to deny another last minute Jew the excitement of finding a lamb shank in the meat department. How thrilling would that be?
I texted a few friends about my amazing find. I call my husband. This year, sweetie, we are having a REAL lamb shank bone, I gleefully tell him. No plastic one. No marrow bone pretending to be a lamb shank. No pictures of one from the internet. This year we get the real thing.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook that her car was chomtez free. It got me thinking, it NEVER in a million years occurred to me that I should clean my car of leavened products. I mean, face it, my van is a trash can on wheels. While we generally do not eat in the car, the reality is that food is consumed in my car periodically. When we go on long road trips the kids have snacks in the car. So, there are crumbs and what not on the floor. I remember my husband joking about people who light their houses on fire as they try to burn the last crumbs of bread in their cabinets. Could you imagine what would happen if I tried that in my car? It wouldn’t end well. My response back was, the only way that could happen with my car would be if I got a new car.
The great tortilla debate is about to fire up. I already see research being conducted. A brief look at our browser history shows a few google searches on tortillas during Passover. The argument is, if a tortilla is made from flour and water, just like matzoh, why are they forbidden? Of course, why is corn not ok, if Sephardic Jews allow corn, rice and lentils? The debate rages every year. The Talmud is quoted, interpreted, articles are referenced. It has become part of our tradition. Of course, no one has ever really come up the answer to how a cat can eat a kid.
Being a somewhat Shomer Shabbos Jew married to a non-Jew, I often feel a little at odds with my Jewish identity. Where, exactly, does my family fit in?
Jewish spirituality is definitely made up of categories: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, cultural, secular – just to name a few.
A friend’s daughter asked me “Are you Orthodox?”
She cowered after she asked, because she felt she had asked too personal a question. I reassured her that it was a perfectly acceptable question. I wondered that myself, who am I spiritually?
I eat Kosher food. I observe Shabbat and the holidays (as in no electricity, driving, writing, etc.). I dress modestly. I am a member of a Modern Orthodox synagogue.
We are raising our son with Jewish values.
I struggle with the notion that I will be teaching my son different values than the ones I grew up with, the same ones that led me to marry a non-Jew. How would I teach him to make different choices than mine? Would I be a Jewish hypocrite?
Is there a place for our Jewishly observant family with a non-Jewish parent within a typically Orthodox paradigm?
The answer to that question depends on who you ask. My husband, for the moment, is not interested in converting. We would have to be accepted as we are: a Jewish parent, a non-Jewish parent and one Jewish little boy.
Throughout my spiritual journey, I have constantly asked myself, Who am I, What am I doing and What is my potential? Essentially I want to understand where my Jewish spirituality is headed. The answer to those questions will not only impact my own life, but will influence my marriage and our parenting decisions.
“You don’t need one. It becomes useless very quickly,” my friend tells me. But I still want one.
We’re debating the utility of that nearly ubiquitous piece of baby room equipment called the changing table. No more than a couple of pieces of balsa wood with a flat surface on top for re-diapering a baby and a shelf below, I’ll admit it doesn’t have much to offer in the way of aesthetics. And yet, months after our conversation, paging through an Ikea catalogue, I stop dead at the sight of one and with a whispered reverence say to myself, “ahhh, it’s a changing table.” My eyes linger over it for a long moment and I nearly choke up.
I’m aware that there’s something deeply psychological about my attachment to this particular item of furniture. I suspect it’s the name – “changing” table. The arrival of my child has been so long anticipated that it’s painful to even think of it at times. First, I waited to get married. Second, I waited because I didn’t think I could raise a child on my own. Then I waited some more, overwhelmed by the choices in adoption (private, foster, international?). And now, I wait for “referral,” that lodestone of adoption-speak, meaning finally, finally, I have been matched with a baby.
And I wait for all the surfaces in my life to become “changing” tables – spaces transformed by the presence of a child –the dining table to become the family dinner table, floors to become play areas, and my ordinary rocking chair to become the point of departure for “Goodnight, Moon” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Like most perspective adoptive parents, I’m working on my Master’s degree in waiting… waiting for change.
This blog is about a single Jewish woman hoping for motherhood. The journey so far has been unpredictable, filled with both promise and tears. I hope you’ll climb up onto the changing table with me as I wait for the simcha [joy] of a new son or daughter.