What Jewish parents expect when they are expecting

“Well-designed and well-coordinated programs for parents with young children have the potential to change the Jewish future by engaging many families who might otherwise be lost to the organized Jewish community.”

– Donald Wertlieb and Mark I. Rosen, “Inspiring Jewish Connections: Outreach to Parents with Infants and Toddlers,” in January 2008 issue of Zero to Three.

PJ Library, Chai Baby, Tot Shabbat – these are several of the Jewish family programs for families with younger children. But how does one even decide to participate in these programs over their secular counterparts? How do we give parents the tools to make these and other Jewish choices for their families?

Welcoming a child – particularly a first child, by birth or adoption – is a major milestone in the life of a family. With the new arrival comes a host of questions, and the Jewish community has an opportunity to engage with these expectant and newer parents as they seek guidance.

Jewish childbirth education gives parents a Jewish lens through which to view their new role. Perhaps the last time they had a formal Jewish education was for a bar/bat mitzvah. Perhaps they participated in a few Hillel programs, but it’s been years since they graduated. Maybe they are Jews by choice or partnered with Jews so they don’t have Jewish memories or background of their own. They also could have a very strong Jewish upbringing but don’t know any more about the hows and whys of being a Jewish parent than they do of being a parent in general.

For decades many Jewish communities have offered a variety of parenting programs to provide the Jewish perspective on welcoming and raising a child. I had the privilege of running such a program in Baltimore through the Macks Center for Jewish Education. That program (now known as Hava NaBaby) was one of the pioneers, established nearly 40 years ago by an early childhood Jewish educator and childbirth educator who merged her areas of expertise to create a workshop series with prepared childbirth and Jewish parenting education.

The phenomenon has even extended into non-traditional settings, such as a hospital. Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles offers the first hospital-based Jewish parenting preparation class, recognizing that low rates of formal affiliation necessitate the need for new and creative ways to reach parents. As a consultant to the Cedars-Sinai program, I again observed firsthand how invaluable and appreciated such programs are for a community and its participants.

Portland has its own array of parent and family education opportunities. Chai Baby (www.oregonjcc.org) gives out welcome bags to families with children 1 year and under replete with goodies and information on local Jewish living. PJ Library (www.pjlibrary.org) has a local affiliate that provides free books and music to children ages 6 months to 6 years. The Mothers Circle (www.themotherscircle.org) supports women not born Jewish who are raising Jewish families. There are many Jewish preschools and tot Shabbats as well as caregiver/child programs to help parents meet other Jewish families and young children to develop a foundation upon which to build Jewish lives.

Now we also have a Jewish parenting workshop series designed especially for families expecting a child or who have recently welcomed a child through birth or adoption. The Oys and Joys of Childbirth and Parenting series is a true community program, as it was developed and will be taught by professionals from an array of community partners – Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Jewish Family & Child Service, the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, PJ Library and the Portland Kollel. Participants will discuss topics ranging from Jewish baby-naming rituals to Jewish early childhood routines and everything in between, along with meeting other young Jewish families. Registration is available at www.oregonjcc.org/registration; for information, call 503-535-3555.

Caron Blau Rothstein, MA/MSW, is the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland community engagement director and PJ Library manager.

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