Jewish learning “The world could not exist without you”
“The day you were born is the day God decided that the world could not exist without you.”
היום בו נולדת הוא היום בו החליט הקב”ה שהעולם אינו יכול
(Rav Nachman of Breslov, Hasidic rabbi 1772-1810)
This profound text served as an opening prompt for discussion in our first session of Hebrew College’s “Parenting Through a Jewish Inclusive Lens,” led by Carolyn Keller. The students in this class were all parents of kids with disabilities, and we spoke movingly to each other about how our children help to complete the world.
Throughout the course Carolyn guided us through a treasure-trove of ancient texts, blessings, midrashim, folktales and modern essays. I had assumed that Judaism had much to say about parenting neurotypical children but little to specifically help parents like us. Defying my assumptions, this class demonstrated that our history, literature, and faith can indeed provide much guidance and support.
The text above by Rav Nachman was one of four that Carolyn offered as points of discussion at that moment in the class, and she asked us to select the text that resonated with each of us. This was typical for each class. Carolyn set up a structure for discussion on an important topic, e.g., how ritual helps to infuse meaning in our lives, finding peace in our homes, parenting for resilience. She then led us with a “light hand” and was not interested in lecturing. As a parent of a special needs child herself, Carolyn knew that we had much to say to one another, wanted to give us space, and encouraged all of us to contribute. An example: it quickly became a pattern that a particular classmate would end each session with a story or thought that would reliably bring us to tears of sadness and joy.
Raising kids with disabilities can be challenging, deeply rewarding, and sometimes isolating. Participating in social events can require extra investments in planning, time, and energy, so it can be more difficult to connect with other parents. One marvelous benefit of this course was the opportunity to meet and support other parents who were having similar experiences. The course ran during the pandemic, and even though we were on Zoom, we felt connected.
Our final session focused on self-care and parenting. The reading included an essay by Jen Perzow that included the line, “The most fundamental component of self-care doesn’t require any extra time or organization. It has to do with our ongoing internal conversations.” The wonderful external conversations throughout this course helped to shift my internal conversations away from negativity and reproach and towards a positive Jewish approach. I am grateful to Carolyn, to Hebrew College and to my classmates for their conversational gifts and hope that many others can benefit from this class.
Robert Shumsky lives in Hanover New Hampshire and is the father of Ben (16 years old) and Lyra (12 years old).
To learn more about Hebrew College’s Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, visit www.hebrewcollege.edu/parenting-through-a-jewish-lens/ or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.