My first experience as a Jewish mother in the Boston area came when I was several months pregnant.
As my husband and I had chosen not to learn the sex of the baby, I needed to find a mohel in case we had a son. A quick online search revealed a number of options, so I posted a query on my local Mommy list-serv. With the exception of a few anti-circumcision messages, the emails I received were thoughtful reviews of the various mohels, as well as suggestions about how to host a bris and tend to the baby after the procedure. After interviewing each mohel on my list, I felt as though any of them would be a good match for our family.
After nearly four days of active labor, our first child was born around 1 a.m. on a Thursday morning in October 2008. My exhausted husband said, “It’s a girl! It’s a boy! I can’t tell!” The midwife clarified that the baby was, in fact, a girl. My immediate response was, “Thank G-d I don’t have to plan a bris!”The midwife (not Jewish) looked at me as if I were insane.
Boston can be an amazing place to raise Jewish children. My experience looking for a mohel taught me several things about the Jewish community in Boston, all of which have proven true over the nearly five years since I became a mother to two daughters:
The Jewish parenting community here is thriving. It is possible to find support and resources from a number of Jewish organizations, as well as groups that aren’t explicitly Jewish, such as parenting list-servs. (This is a very big deal for someone who grew up in New Mexico, where my public school teacher smudged my forehead on Ash Wednesday. I had no idea what was going on, so I went along.)
The community here is diverse. When I asked for thoughts about mohels, I received a range of responses that represented all different levels of observance. There is room here for everyone. As I mentioned there were also parents – some Jewish, some not – who were choosing not to circumcise their sons. While we would not have chosen that path, I appreciate the extent to which parents are actively struggling with the big issues of Jewish parenting.
Our community is incredibly kind. This may not come to a surprise to you, but when I first moved to Boston over a decade ago, I wasn’t sure how nice people were. Everyone seemed to talk fast and walk fast, and nobody said “hi” on the T, and I just couldn’t figure out the secret lingo for ordering coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. (I still don’t understand it, to be honest.) Over the years, I learned that New Englanders are indeed a kind and thoughtful crew (unless you’re trying to make a left turn across traffic) – they just have a different style. The kindness and support of the parenting communities here – Jewish and secular alike – has consistently overwhelmed me.
If living a Jewish life requires a community, then finding your way as a Jewish parent in the Diaspora requires many. Even before I had children, I struggled mightily to balance my own values and interests with the traditions of my childhood, as well as my husband’s. We worked together to figure out how we wanted to observe Shabbat, keep kosher and celebrate holidays. The births of our daughters added a layer of complexity neither of us were expecting. Do we ask our daycare provider not to serve ham sandwiches? How do we answer our preschooler’s questions about why we don’t have a Christmas tree? Do we schedule birthday parties on Saturdays?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to figure it all out on my own. This community has been by my side every step along the way. Both of our daughters were welcomed with brit bat ceremonies officiated by Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek. In the following weeks and months, I attended a weekly new mothers’ support group offered by Jewish Family & Children’s Service. As my daughters got a bit older, I enrolled in Hebrew College’s “Parenting Through a Jewish Lens” course – one I can’t recommend highly enough (and they’re accepting enrollment for the fall right now). My girls are learning to swim under the words of the Talmud at the JCC. And I’ve stayed connected to folks, events, and ideas throughout the Greater Boston area thanks to Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ (CJP’s) JewishBoston.com and Families with Young Children programming.
Boston is a truly amazing place to raise Jewish children, and there are opportunities for every family to find their place and connection to our community. I, for one, am incredibly grateful to be a part of all of it.
This post first appeared in The Jewish Advocate.