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How Becoming a Parent Spurred My Own Jewish Awakening

How Becoming a Parent Spurred My Own Jewish Awakening

Family portrait of the author and his wife gazing lovingly at one another while she holds their newborn daughter in the nursery

Growing up, my family was proudly, secularly Jewish. We worshipped and revered our cultural achievements, if skimping a little bit on the religious ones – our heroes were Adam Sandler, not Aaron; Larry David, not Leah; Saul Bellow, not Saul. We were Seinfeld Jews, not Solomon Jews.

Sure, we got presents for Hanukkah, read the Haggadah at Passover, and broke the fast on Yom Kippur, but our Judaism was more grounded in a worldly set of values, a strong sense of our history, and a genuine pride in the artistic, literary, scientific, and political contributions of Jews all over the world.

My wife, Dana, grew up in a religiously observant Jewish household, kept kosher, and attended Jewish day school until college. When I met her, I began experiencing Judaism in a more direct way by attending temple services with her and her family. I learned the blessings, came to know the call and response between the congregation and the rabbi, and relished how he grounded his discussion of Torah in today’s struggles for justice and equality.

Never before had these ancient texts felt more alive and powerfully relevant. When I married Dana, I knew Judaism would play a more central part in my life – and now, I wanted it to.

When Dana began working for the Union for Reform Judaism in 2016, I got to see firsthand how they put the best ideals of Judaism into action, whether through NFTY youth group programs that provide young people with leadership and experiential learning opportunities; public policy advocacy and mobilization through the Religious Action Center; or support for vibrant and dynamic congregations across the United States and Canada that support Jewish family and community life.

I became a firm believer in the Reform Jewish community and its mission.

When I first held my daughter in my arms, I wanted her to know where she came from. I also found myself thinking about the world we were bringing her into. Our current politics are so riven with division, and the highest offices of our government are occupied by people who make membership in ethnic or religious minority groups a cause for dehumanization, exclusion, and even expulsion – and I have never been more conscious of my membership in a group that has had to struggle and fight for its very right to exist.

The need for tikkun olam, repairing the world and leaving it better than we found it, has never been more urgent. I see it as my duty to instill these ideals in my daughter, and I find myself hungry for a Jewish community in which we can share our dedication to them.

Dana had participated in a survey designed to assess the Jewish needs of New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s who were starting families. Through this survey, we realized that our neighborhood had few Reform Jewish institutions, organizations, or centers of community.

Still, we wanted to explore local options for Emma, so we looked at a program about 20 minutes away from us. It was nice, clean, the staff was well-trained and professional, and we had no doubts she would be well cared for. But we also knew that they didn’t share our Jewish values and wouldn’t help us instill our vision of Judaism.

That’s what led us to Temple Shaaray Tefila on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Dana was already familiar with the temple, its commitment to egalitarianism, and its proud tradition of social action and interfaith dialogue. When we learned that Emma could start in the 2018-19 year, we jumped at the opportunity to visit and meet the staff.

Wow, were we impressed! We toured every floor of the nursery school program, hearing from the staff about how they integrate Jewish learning and values into the curriculum; focus on child-centered education where kids use interactive games to chart their own journey of educational discovery; and work to foster a true sense of community, both among the children and the parents.

We were also delighted when Rabbi Joel Mosbacher asked to meet with us personally to hear our ideas for how best to introduce Emma to our vision of Judaism. In speaking with him, we saw that he shared that vision, had a deep passion for his work, and was dedicated to making Shaaray Tefila a focal point of progressive Jewish values.

We cannot wait to begin this journey as a family – and for me, my daughter’s birth and the joy of seeing her come alive to the world has fanned the flame of my own Jewish awakening.

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