Mother’s Circle in NOHO
The Struggle to Raise Jewish Children
by Shoshana Zonderman, Hilltown Families Guest Writer
When I became a Jewish mother in 1981, I had many questions about the “best” way to raise a child with a strong Jewish identity. I read the popular parenting books that were suggested by my friends, but there was nothing available about Jewish values for parenting. I lived a highly engaged Jewish life and I took my Jewish identity for granted. I never thought about how to best transmit that identity to a child, assuming that it would just happen by osmosis.
Being a member of a havurah (an informal, egalitarian worship group) provided me with a sense of a local, extended family and a community of like minded young Jewish parents. My two children were among the very few who were absent for all the Jewish holidays during the school year in Northampton, most of their friends were not Jewish, and afternoon Hebrew school attendance at the synagogue was non-negotiable. For me, it was crucial to have the support and encouragement of my husband and of other Jewish parents while raising my two children.
Twenty six years later, my children are grown and I work as a Jewish family educator. In my programs for families, I help parents to learn and transmit Jewish values and to construct the Jewish home that they desire. I can now refer families to several excellent books on Jewish parenting that were published in the last fifteen years. From personal experience, I understand the importance of having a support network to raise Jewish children.
In 2005, when I learned about a fourteen session course for women of other faiths who are committed to raising Jewish children, it touched me deeply. I knew how I had struggled even with my strong Jewish background and a supportive, knowlegeable Jewish husband. It seemed so heroic for a non-Jewish mother to commit to creating a Jewish home and to raising Jewish children. I wanted to reach out to these mothers and to assist them in their struggles. I decided that I wanted to bring the Jewish Outreach Institute’s Mothers Circle program to Western Massachusetts. (For more information see http://www.themotherscircle.org or http://www.JOI.org).
With the sponsorship of the Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (my employer), I was able to bring this nationally known course to Northampton last year. Fifteen women met with me in two groups to discuss their spiritual journey, to learn about the basics of Judaism and Jewish home rituals, and to ask any question in a supportive, non-judgmental group of peers. The twice a month course also included a few family workshops, lots of information about resources in the Jewish community, and get togethers outside of the class meetings. This entire course was provided at no cost to participants.
One participant in the Circle commented that, “The Mothers Circle provides a safe place to ask questions, clear up misconceptions and seek support around issues that only interfaith families face.” Another appreciated “learning while sharing experiences and concerns with other non-Jewish mothers in a comfortable, safe atmosphere.” Teaching the course provided me with many insights into how I can be more welcoming to people who feel on the fringes of the Jewish community.
In October, a new Mothers Circle course will begin in Northampton and also in Springfield, MA. Both Circles are now enrolling participants. Interested mothers can contact me about the Northampton Circle at 413-439-1946 Shoshana@themotherscircle.org or the Springfield leader, Lisa Nascembeni, at 413-737-2601 ext 134 or Lisa@themotherscircle.org.
About the Author: Shoshana Zonderman Shoshana lives in Northampton with her husband, Rabbi Saul Perlmutter. She is the Director of the Sulamot Family Education Initiative of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and an instructor in the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School in Northampton.