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Having a Jewish Baby? "In the Beginning" Can Help

First of all, if you are expecting, mazal tov! Congratulations! May you have a safe delivery and a healthy baby. And beyond that, may he or she sleep peacefully through the night, soon and often.

It goes without saying that all parents wish only the best for their infant. When a baby is on its way, along with preparing for childbirth, making space in an already crowded home, and planning for the expected--and unexpected--changes family and friends have predicted, most parents begin to consider how they will welcome this new life. How will they mark this most extraordinary moment in their own lives and in the lives of their families? What name will they give their newborn? How will they begin to build a home that embodies the values they hope to teach their child? Is a religious foundation important to the well being of their child? Will there be a supportive community ready to welcome them? And the questions go on . . .

All expectant parents ask such questions. For some the answers may seem obvious and the way to proceed straightforward. For many others it's not so simple. An expectant couple may be far from home or unfamiliar with or distant from family and religious traditions. If you are reading this, you may be intermarried and seeking a way to honor both extended families, while creating a solid footing for your own new family. As challenging as these questions can be, particularly at a time already loaded with physical and emotional transition, they can also be an amazing gift. The learning and discussion that answering these questions requires often reveal deeper spiritual possibilities for both parents, as well as a path to a firm foundation for the baby.

"In the Beginning . . . Having a Jewish Baby" is a new program developed by the Reform Movement to provide both information on Jewish ritual and practice and a safe place to speak with other expectant couples about matters of common concern. It's for all parents--Jewish and interfaith--considering or planning to raise a Jewish child.

Here are some of the topics and activities included:

  • Learning about Jewish blessings for new beginnings and for elevating the everyday occurrences of life to sacred moments
  • Creating a blessing for the first time you see your child
  • Discovering what Judaism has to say about the relationship and responsibilities of parent to child and child to parent
  • Meeting a mohel (masculine) or mohelet (feminine), a specially trained professional who does ritual circumcisions, and learning about the Jewish welcoming ceremony (bris or brit milah) for sons and ways to include all family members
  • Discussing examples of newly developed ceremonies for naming and welcoming daughters and how to find a rabbi to help you develop a meaningful and inclusive ceremony
  • Finding out about Jewish naming traditions
  • Demonstrating a variety of ways to begin instilling in infants and very young children a love of God and appreciation of family blessings
  • Learning about community resources and next steps for your family, as well as books and other items appropriate for young families.

The pilot phase of "In the Beginning...Having a Jewish Baby" has been completed and the responses from all participants were uniformly positive. New parents told us how moving it was for them to bless their newborn together. Interfaith and Jewish parents both felt enriched by their interaction, Jewish couples appreciating the depth of questioning by interfaith participants, and interfaith parents feeling the full welcome and support of the whole Jewish community. Many of the new babies have already been named in synagogue or at home by the couples' rabbi--the one whom they met during "In the Beginning." Couples are all looking forward to a special reunion, this time with their babies.

"In the Beginning . . . Having a Jewish Baby" is a three-session program held in three successive weeks. There is a modest fee to cover supplies and baby-sitting (when needed). The program is available to Reform congregations. Look for an ad in your local paper or contact a nearby Reform temple or your regional Reform Movement Outreach Director (urj.org/outreach/aboutus/staff) for further information.

And, if you are already a parent and want to explore some of the same questions and seek out the religious resources Judaism offers you and your infant or toddler, look for the companion program, "In the Beginning . . . Jewish Parenting Made Simple," also available through Reform congregations.

When a Jewish baby receives his or her name, it is customary for gathered family and friends to add words of blessing, expressing profound hopes that the newborn will be favored with a good life, one filled with Torah (attending to God's word), worthy of chuppah (the fulfillment of the marriage canopy), and ennobled by deeds of loving kindness. May your child be so blessed.

Hebrew for "covenant of circumcision," a ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old. It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." Hebrew and Yiddish for "good luck," a phrase used to express congratulations for happy and significant occasions. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Hebrew for "circumciser," the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The masculine form is "mohel." (Yiddish term is "moyel.") Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "circumciser" (Yiddish term is "moyel"), the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The feminine form is "mohelet." Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit."
Dru Greenwood

Dru Greenwood is Director of William and Lottie Daniel Department of Outreach at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement).

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