Community Blog Joining the Jewish Community in Boston

By Gary M

Gary+Becca-Volpaia1

We stumbled upon Parenting Through a Jewish Lens completely by accident. I was discussing ideas for charitable giving with someone at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), and at the end of the conversation the person suggested this program would be a good fit for us. He was definitely right.

I grew up in the atheist Soviet Union, where religious and cultural Jewish practices were strongly discouraged. By the time I arrived in the United States at the age of ten, I didn’t really know anything about Judaism or what it meant to be Jewish. As an adult, I always thought of myself as Jewish, but the main manifestation of that came about during Passover, a holiday with which I personally identified given my own ‘exodus’ that brought me here. Nevertheless, when my wife and I decided to have kids, we were both committed to raising our kids Jewish. Whatever that meant. So when presented with an opportunity to join other couples in the area as well as an educator from Hebrew College to explore what it meant to raise our kids Jewish and what were some ways we could go about accomplishing this, we both jumped at the chance.

So far, our experience has been terrific. We met other parents struggling with the same questions that we are. Everyone comes into the program with a slightly different background, but the common purpose that brings them there combined with similar values leads to a very valuable and educational experience. Hearing different people share their perspectives on the issues we ourselves are thinking about gave us a lot more options to consider in deciding what we want to do with our children. And not only have we gotten to know other people in our community, but we also feel a lot more connected to it, more aware of the different Jewish events going on around us and ways in which we can participate as a family. At a recent Chanukah in the City event, it was nice to see several families from our group and meet their kids.

One particularly enlightening moment for me came about in one of the early sessions. We were reading a prayer from a handout, and the topic of discussion shifted to prayers in general. I don’t know any Hebrew, so whenever I am at an occasion where a prayer is spoken, I assume that the rest of the people around me know what it means. Perhaps that’s true. However, that day as we went around the table, most people admitted that while they knew the words they didn’t really know what most of the prayers meant either. All of a sudden I felt a little bit less like an outsider. This experience showed me that perhaps there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to be Jewish and that my own background growing up in the atheist Soviet Union doesn’t need to prevent me from developing my own Jewish identity.

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