By Jennifer Z. Sherer
(A version of this article was originally published in The Jewish Voice & Herald)
In the fall of 2010 I had a baby. My three stepchildren had lived with me since they were 10, 12, and 13. While I was very familiar with parenting pre-teens and teens, I wasn’t so sure about the “new baby” part of parenting.
With the older children now grown and out of the house (the oldest in Israel and the younger two in college), and my out-of-town job winding down (at least for the time being), I found myself looking for social connection.
My sister-in-law suggested I join The Mother’s Circle, which is a free program for non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. In addition to offering the support of other women in the same situation, Mothers Circle teaches about Judaism. It is a sixteen session course that meets over eight months, covering such topics as Jewish holidays, practices, rituals, and ethics, as well as the issues that arise in interfaith families.
As I was eager to meet some other new mothers as well as learn more about Judaism – the religion that my husband and children shared – I joined the group a few sessions late, eight weeks after giving birth.
I was in a new baby, sleep-deprived blur for the first few sessions, but my mind was eager to have something new to learn. I had many “Twilight Zone” moments where I couldn’t believe I had gone from an elite business traveler to a 24/7 nursing mother. So the obligations to read and think about Judaism, about my identity, about the identity of my child were most welcome.
I was lucky to be in a group with seven other interesting mothers. Our teacher Kit Haspel was always well prepared and eager to teach us each session. While a diverse group of women, we bonded during the nine months of the course.
Small truths were revealed through in-class discussions, but during the craft projects, we shared larger truths. Using our right brain does indeed open up different ways of being and thinking. I was able to ask the important questions such as: “What kind of high chair do I buy?” I was also able to hear stories about 2-year-olds, daycare sagas and toilet training.
When our course was completed, I realized that these bi-monthly meetings had become a social connection that I needed. I wasn’t ready for it to end. We decided to continue as a monthly book club. After several months of meetings with yummy food and no real book discussion, we relaxed into the real world of motherhood: monthly meetings (sort of) with lots of interruptions, exhausted women, humor, support and forgiven last minute cancellations. As we work and volunteer and take care of extended family while trying to navigate our complex worlds, our meetings are still regular but not always well attended.
However, time is a funny thing; while many months may pass between some of us connecting, we somehow always end up together as old friends do – comfortable, happy and willing to do anything for each other. We still talk about our identities and those of our children.
We are all following our own paths as non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. And we are still there to help each other, with Kit in the wings in case we need a real expert.
Jennifer Z. Sherer lives with her family in Providence, Rhode Island. She recently returned from a family trip to Israel (to visit her oldest son who is in the IDF) and appreciates, even more, how powerful the Jewish cultural piece is to her husband and her four children. For more information about the next Mothers Circle group starting in October, contact Kit Haspel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 421-4111, ext. 184.