Among the propositions Rabbi Sid outlines in the opening chapter of his book, Jewish Megatrends, two of them speak most directly to the objectives and outcomes of the Parenting Through a Jewish Lens program at Hebrew College: chochma, and kehillah. As parents are given the opportunity to view their world through the lens of chochma, they are learning alongside others who share their overarching goals of providing stability and meaning to their families’ lives. They develop deeper ties to one another and begin to recognize the value and even necessity of kehillah.
Rabbi Sid writes that Jewish institutions must “dramatically rethink the way they will engage in the enterprise of transmitting the Jewish heritage”, and that “Jewish educators must increasingly get into the business of imparting wisdom and not just knowledge”. PTJL’s raison d’etre is to contextualize the parenting experience through the lens of Jewish wisdom spanning the history of Jewish texts, teachings, and thought. Regardless of their personal Jewish background, participants find inspiration and guidance in the chochma of sages written centuries ago and reflect on how those teachings impact their personal parenting experiences. By studying 20th and 21st century Jewish wisdom alongside these older texts, parents begin to notice a continuum of consistent core values upon which Judaism is predicated. They invariably come away from this class experience with newfound respect and understanding for the universality, timelessness and prescience of Jewish wisdom as well as a hunger for more.
Studying sources of Jewish wisdom together with other parents who are going through similar life stages with their inherent challenges and rewards creates a powerful sense of kehillah for PTJL participants. Megatrends addresses the escalating drift away from traditional institutional Jewish settings that once provided de facto focal points of community membership and engagement. PTJL provides a refuah l’maka (an antidote to this malady) to this breakdown in communal affiliation and identification by offering opportunities for creating smaller kehillot or micro-communities. As the Pew study confirms, there is both room and need for re-imagining community engagement.
“Meeting people where they are” has become an overused trope in speaking of the necessity to reach out in increasingly creative ways to Gen Xers and Millennials. Becoming a parent, however, complicates that directive. In an age in which parents can be consumed with making the “right choices” for their families, traditional community membership, with its inherent promise to create a sense of belonging, can become appealing. Indeed, “institutional Judaism” has come to understand the need to revisit and adapt its original frameworks in an effort to stay (or become) relevant and vital. In that vein, traditional Jewish institutions will turn to PTJL to help them cultivate chavurot to nurture safe spaces for parents to learn, connect and support each other. Still, the appeal of “living room learning” can be strong, both for those parents who have chosen not to affiliate with traditional Jewish institutions, as well as for those yearning for the kind of intimacy and social interaction that the coziness of a home setting provides. PTJL is committed to working with families, synagogues, and organizations to provide those opportunities for meaningful engagement in non-traditional settings.
PTJL facilitators and students are tasked with creating a kehillah kedosha, a holy community. Participants establish bonds of trust through sharing openly and responding honestly to the texts and teachings within the curriculum. It is common for a group to continue learning or socializing with one another even when the structure of the class has been removed as a pretense for coming together. Oftentimes, the context for spending more time together continues around Jewish learning and traditions- a Jewish parenting book group, Shabbat dinners, or taking other Jewish learning classes as a group. PTJL satisfies a longing for Jewish communal connection that for some, lay dormant until the opportunity presented itself.
The foundational principle of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens is the belief that Jewish wisdom can profoundly inform parenting and, by extension, impact the kind of home we create for our family. The concept of the home as the mikdash me’at, or “small sanctuary” is at once universal but also particular to Judaism. Cultivating shalom bayit, peace in the home, enriches our daily family lives. Learning about the custom of affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost of our homes provides a Jewishly rich manifestation of that concept. The explanation that the slanted positioning of the mezuzah represents a compromise between Rashi (who thought it should be hung vertically) and Rabbi Tam (who thought it should be hung horizontally) resonates with parents yearning for both inspiration and practical advice on cultivating a more harmonious household. Framing Shabbat as an opportunity to reconnect and recharge makes it accessible and appealing to all. Exploring rituals that enhance its kedusha (defined in this context as both holy and set apart) provides inviting and tangible entry points for families to create their own meaningful Jewish family traditions. PTJL’s proposition holds that empowering parents with chochma, nurtures an eagerness to bring both practical and symbolic expressions of Jewish values and practice into their homes.
Taken together, chochma, kehillah, and mikdash me’at, provide the three pillars upon which Parenting Through a Jewish Lens is built. It inspires parents to seek more–more learning and sharing, more ways of transmitting the riches of our heritage, and more ways of helping their families and communities flourish.
Ahava Rosenthal is the Director of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens at Hebrew College in Newton MA. She is a lifelong educator who has worked in a variety of settings including public, supplementary and day school education.