Community Blog Modeh Ani
A group of moms and dads sits around a table in the synagogue library, eager to see what centuries of prayer and rabbinic wisdom can tell us about how to raise our kids. It’s the first day of parenting class, and we are squinting through our Jewish lenses. The first topic is the Hebrew prayer that greets the dawn.
As I begin a new day I thank you God our ruler For waking my soul with compassion. You have great faith in me.
Privately I feel that if God has great faith in me, there are days when I question his judgment. But there is no doubt His nachas (pride and joy) is a boost to the ego.
My kids have faith in me, too. They have no idea how much I am making up on the fly.
My mother died unexpectedly when I was a teenager. My father was perhaps not the most attentive parent, especially after that. Thus, as a mom I often find myself baffled. Where do I go from here? What do I do now?
No matter your background, however, bewilderment is a given for parenting; which is why we turn to each other.
No one should have to parent alone: the task is too vast, too complex. Until very recently, the concept of solo parenting—the idea that one adult should single-handedly feed, clean, clothe, educate, and ethically guide her brood—would have been greeted with uncomprehending derision. In most times and places, parents have had lots of help, whether from family or neighbors or religious community. Today, not everyone has those options, so we build a network as we can.
It’s a challenge.
Our class chips at that challenge. As we chat our way through Modeh Ani, I mention that my Episcopalian mother taught me the classic Christian “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” I converted to Judaism, as did my husband shortly after we married. This sparks a response in Sarah, whose husband is a largely lapsed but occasionally observant Protestant. Leah and her husband Abe come from a more traditional Jewish background, but the dawn-happy prayer is new for them too.
“I think one of the strengths of our group is the variety of backgrounds we have here,” says the rabbi.
True. Diversity builds strength, and multiple points of view grant insight. The struggles of parenting are nothing new, so why not let the wisdom of the millennia do the heavy lifting? If we have a challenge, let’s see what our tradition has to say about it.
“What a powerful message,” says one mom as she rereads Modeh Ani. “It reminds you that each person is unique but ordinary.”
“And that we all have tasks that are ours alone,” says another.
“What does it mean that God has faith in us?” says the rabbi. “How is that different from our having faith in God?”
“And why is that important to a child?”
As we discuss, my classmates morph from cheerful strangers to fellow students to companions on the road of Jewish parenting. Bending over text study, a Jewish activity as old as Judaism, we are bound together by words and wisdom.
Tilia Klebenov Jacobs is a teacher and author in the Greater Boston Area. She and her husband are the proud parents of a son and a daughter. Her book, Wrong Place, Wrong Time, is a thriller whose central character is a Jewish mother ensnared in a hostage drama.