My journey to Jewish motherhood hasn’t been an easy one, and I’m not just talking about IVF. I wasn’t raised with a Jewish education, so I’ve spent the past 20 years making up for the first 18. I’ve taken Hebrew and Jewish parenting classes, attended Shabbat morning services, eaten meals in a sukkah, and worn a blue wig for Purim.
For the first five years of motherhood, I worked hard at being a good Jewish mother. I read board books about Tu Bishvat, listened to Shira Kline sing about Hanukkah, and danced with stuffed Torahs during Tot Shabbat. I even started making a special meal on Friday nights (quesadillas and guacamole, if you must know), my attempt to create a Shabbat ritual. I knew there was much I didn’t know, but I also felt like I was making progress.
That all slowed down this past year, despite the fact that my older daughter started kindergarten at a Jewish Day School. We were renovating a new house and getting our current home ready to sell. Between all of that and the three hours I was spending each day doing drop-offs and pick-ups at two different schools, my Jewish engagement dwindled. We celebrated most of the holidays and lit candles on Friday nights, but that was about it. Saturday mornings were more likely to be spent picking out tiles and light fixtures than going to synagogue, which may have been good for our house, but not so good for me.
At the same time, I was spending more time with the other parents at my daughter’s school, many who seemed to be better Jewish mothers (and fathers) than me. I envied their ability to understand the Hebrew spoken by my daughters’ teachers, and I longed for their knowledge of and familiarity with Jewish traditions, customs, songs, and recipes.
It all hit me around Passover. My annual cleaning happened right before our house went on the market, which turned out to be logistically handy but spiritually devoid. As I removed much of the Judaica from our walls in preparation for the open houses, I remembered sweeping out our hall closet last year while listening to a podcast about a new hagaddah that had recently been published. I had knelt down to inspect the pile of dust that had accumulated; I wanted to see if there actually was hametz in the closet. Indeed, I found a stale Cheerio and several breadcrumbs. In that moment, as I listened to Jewish scholars and authors discuss a modern retelling of an ancient story, the very story that had brought me to my knees over a pile of dirt, I felt grounded and connected and immensely grateful that I had a home–a Jewish home–to clean, and a story to share with my daughters about why I was doing it.
I didn’t feel much of that this year, and I missed it tremendously.
Yet I didn’t do much about it. I was too busy with moving and the end of the school year and the beginning of summer and all of the little details of life that can so easily get in the way of what really matters for me, as a Jew and as a mother.
Well, we’ve finally moved. Both of my girls will be at the same school next year, and I’ll have a little bit more time on my hands. I want to spend it re-engaging with my Jewish community, the Jewish year, my Jewish practice, and our Jewish home.
Thus, the Jewish Mother Project is born.
I envision The Jewish Mother Project as a cross between Abigail Pogrebin’s blog on the Jewish Daily Forward, “18 Holidays: 1 Wondering Jew” and “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. I’ll spend the year diving more deeply into Judaism through the lens of Jewish motherhood–the most meaningful and challenging role of my life. Every week, I will try a new ritual, custom, or tradition related to Jewish motherhood that I’ve never done before and share with you how it goes, right here on Kveller. Here are a few examples of the practices I will explore over the course of the year:
1. I want to learn to bless my daughters on Friday nights. Hebrew words still feel like they’re the wrong shape in my mouth (or maybe my mouth is the wrong shape for them), which is just one of the reasons I want to learn this blessing.
2. I’m going to learn to roast a chicken. What Jewish mother doesn’t know how to roast a chicken? This one. And it’s time for me to learn.
3. I’m finally going to figure out what the hell Shemini Atzeret is, and I’m going to figure out how to observe it.
My goal is not to become a perfect Jewish mother, but the “Best Carla” (or Zusya, if you prefer) I can be for my daughters. I’m excited to share the Jewish Mother Project–my ups and downs, my insights and confusions–with Kveller readers. Kveller is the first Jewish community that I came to, and connected with, completely on my own. I’m happy to bring you along on this trip, and I’d be grateful for your feedback and input. Please take a minute to consider these questions and share your thoughts:
-What traditions, rituals, or practices make you feel most engaged and connected as a Jewish mother?
-What traditions, rituals, or practices related to Judaism or Jewish Motherhood would you like to learn more about?
-Do you have any other suggestions for the Jewish Mother Project?