In September 2008, a group of seven women came together at The Bureau of Jewish Education in Providence for a singular purpose: to participate in an eight-month educational course offering an introduction to Jewish practices and ethics intended specifically for non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. Mothers Circle participant, Darryle Steinberg of Cranston, says of her experience: “I was so relieved and grateful to have found The Mothers Circle. Although my partner and I had made the decision to raise our son Jewish, I felt that there were few resources available to help me learn how to do that. Here was a group of women grappling with many of the same issues and challenges as I was. Suddenly what had initially seemed like an intimidating process became interesting and engaging. We covered so much ground together and although there is still more to learn I feel like I have a very solid foundation upon which to keep building.”
The Mothers Circle Program is an umbrella of free educational programs and resources for non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. This national program created by The Jewish Outreach Institute was made possible locally by the generous support of the Helene and Bertram Bernhardt Foundation, and this was the initial launch of a Mothers Circle chapter in Rhode Island.
This group was facilitated by Kit Haspel, a former psychologist and active member of Temple Beth El, a Reform synagogue on the East Side of Providence. Kit brings her passion and interest in interfaith families and the particular challenges that these families may face. “Facilitating Mothers Circle has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. It is with a group of women who have made the generous decision to raise their children in a religion that is not their own and, having made that decision are hungry for knowledge about how to do just that. They are extremely grateful for both the information the course imparts, and the sense of welcome and community that the course provides. I can’t wait to do it again.”
Mothers Circle afforded this diverse group of women with varying religious/spiritual backgrounds the opportunity to come together in a non-judgmental setting and learn the rituals and customs of the Jewish faith. Participants gained a basic Jewish education with an emphasis on holidays and life-cycle events, such as naming ceremonies and bar/bat mitzvahs. In an effort to build participants’ confidence in practicing the often daunting Jewish rituals, the course included a mock Seder, community Shabbat and Havdalah dinners. In addition, local rabbi Sarah Mack of Temple Beth El, acted as a community liaison and conducted a number of “Ask the Rabbi” sessions. These meetings offered group members and their partners the unique occasion to address their specific questions or concerns relating to Judaism.
Mothers Circle participant, Mary Beth Schneider shares her experiences:
We have explored many topics, including Jewish values, history, culture and foods and holiday observances. As non-Jews who are raising Jewish children, we share a common bond and are very respectful and supportive of one another. I believe that our friendships will endure well beyond the end of our class sessions. I sincerely recommend The Mothers Circle to other non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. Besides the personal benefits that this class offers to its students and their families, the class also serves to benefit the entire community. As more parents and children become engaged in their temples and their faith, we all reap the rewards of a warm and vibrant Jewish community.
The Mothers Circle has received funding from the Helene and Bertram Bernhardt Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island to continue classes beginning in October 2009. It will meet bi-weekly at The Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Providence. There is no cost to participants, and free child care is provided at the Early Childhood Center at the JCC. If interested, please contact Mothers Circle Coordinator Kit Haspel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401.331.0956 x184.
Darryle Steinberg is a mother of one and lives with her family in Cranston, Rhode Island. Rachael Elmaleh is extremely grateful for the experiences The Mothers Circle has afforded her young family of four. She lives on Historic Smith Hill in Providence and owns Little Bird Herbs.