Community Blog4 Questions: Through a Parenting Lens
PTJL Associate Director Erica Streit-Kaplan recently spoke with Rabbi Benjamin Resnick to learn about his experience teaching a new model of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens (PTJL): 12 mini parent learning sessions on Saturday mornings.
Question 1: How did you hear about PTJL?
Answer: I heard about PTJL from congregants and North Shore community members. I was already an Eser teacher and knew that PTJL was another of Hebrew College adult learning programs.
PTJL was something people were talking about around Newburyport. The congregation had tried to offer it in years past, and we thought this might be the year we could get a strong groups of parents to participate. I had joined Congregation Ahavas Achim as rabbi in summer 2016; I had been there just about a year when I started teaching the class. It was a nice way for members to get to know me and vice versa.
Question 2: Why did you want to teach PTJL?
Answer: Being a parent is the most important part of my identity now – my children are 7 months old and nearly 4. As a rabbi and a religious person, I think about parenting and spirituality all the time. I was excited to have the chance to explore this topic myself.
For many mothers and fathers, parenting is an all-encompassing thing that structures how they move in the world. Judaism can also be an all-encompassing way of being in the world; I was interested in helping people explore how these two identities and world-views might interact.
Even if Judaism isn’t central in their lives, parents have a lot of questions – big questions – that are trans-cultural; they’re human questions.
They brought these big questions to class, such as:
What kind of children do I want to raise?
How do I explain death to my child?
How do I instill gratitude and kindness in my child?
I love that Judaism offers resources on these – that Judaism can be helpful to them in answering these tough parenting questions.
Question 3: How did you come up with the Saturday class schedule?
Answer: Our Hebrew School meets on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with the idea that the whole community gets together on Shabbat. The community believes in kids having an experiential Shabbat learning and service. While the children are learning, parents are learning too. This has taken a variety of forms over my first year at the congregation.
I was excited to have a strong and tested curriculum that I could use to lead these teaching sessions. One parent told me:
“It really enriched the Hebrew School and parent experience.”
Question 4: Can you give an example of the impact that PTJL has had on your community?
Answer: The conversations about death were very powerful. There was a mother in the group with older kids, and they had a lot of questions about death. She didn’t know what to say; she didn’t believe in heaven, but wasn’t sure that it was okay to tell her kids that. She didn’t want to be dishonest or tell them that she didn’t know.
What I – and the PTJL parent sourcebook – supported was engaging honestly with her son, and sharing that there are many beliefs about death – that no one knows for sure. I sincerely invited her questions. Jewish learning discourages dogmatic responses; I hope it was liberating for her to hear a rabbi say “there is no one right answer” and that she can model that for her son. I think it was empowering for her.
I’ve noticed that people who aren’t Jewishly educated fear that “Jewish religion believes X.” But Judaism doesn’t have too many “black and white” answers, there are a lot more shades of gray.
Benjamin Resnick is the Rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Newburyport and an instructor for PTJL.