How to Support the Sacred Work of Parenting in Your Congregation

Inside Leadership

How to Support the Sacred Work of Parenting in Your Congregation

Family (mother, father, and three teens) walking on the beach

Kvelling about our children is as old as, well, parents and children. For the last year, the team participating in the Union for Reform Judaism’s B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Innovators Lab at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, CA, has been gathering parents together not only to kvell about our children, but also about ourselves as parents. We hope to build a community of adults that knows and supports each other as parents of young Jews, particularly as our kids grow into their teen years.

Known as Kvelling and Storytelling, these gatherings occur every few months over brunch during Sunday school. Although the gatherings are scheduled for times we thought would work best for parents (and we publicize them through religious school announcements), they aren’t as regular as, say, the second Sunday of the month.

At a recent get-together, parents shared both large and small successes. One mom told us how she got everyone out of the house for religious school, on time without losing her temper, which is no small feat!  Other parents described supporting kids so they can deal with bullying at school and resisting the pressure to over-schedule our children. Sharing these stories has become a thread that pulls us together.

Sometimes, the two other moms and I who take turns hosting the group, meet beforehand to choose an issue we know affects our children, parents, or the whole community. The three of us share our own stories with each other and then use them as an opener at the next “Telling” group before we invite others to share their stories. In this way, we’ve addressed these and other topics:

  • Anti-Semitism and Other Biases: We’ve discussed numerous ways our kids experience anti-Semitism and other biases among their peers and in the culture-at-large. As parents, it’s a blessing to be able to discuss with each other our kids’ experiences and how we can best support them.
  • Independence vs. Protection: We’ve grappled with how to balance the need to give our kids independence as they grow, while also protecting them and ensuring their safely.
  • L’dor vador (From Generation to Generation): Many families wrestle with the awkwardness that comes with efforts to pass on traditions to our children when we ourselves grew up with different customs and celebrations. To help, I conducted a Q&A session about how to “do Shabbat” in ways that are authentic to each family, creating opportunities for connection, fun, and experimenting with Jewish tradition.

We are hopeful that over time, Kvelling and Storytelling will deepen connections among parents and although it can be hard to measure this kind of accomplishment, we recently had an experience that shows us just how much connection and safety we have created already. At our third meeting, we started around the circle, as we always do, telling stories focused on our theme topic. When it was her turn, one mom apologized for changing the subject, and relayed a difficult parenting situation she had just encountered with her teen. The other parents were receptive, supportive, and shared stories that illustrated their own challenges around topics we often are reluctant to raise in a group setting, such as what to do when our children lie, and how to deal with a neighbor we don’t trust around our children.

Our Kvelling and Storytelling gatherings are helping us grow as a group of individuals and as a circle of parents, enabling us to experience our congregation as a true community in which we find meaningful connections and support for the sacred work of parenting.

To learn more about this and other b’nai mitzvah innovations, visit the URJ B’nai Mitzvah Revolution and the URJ B’nai Mitzvah Revolution interactive Innovations Guide.

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Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller is a rabbi at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, where she has served since 2004, following her ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She also serves on the Bay Area regional council of Bend the Arc: a Jewish Partnership for Justice and is part of the leadership team of Reform CA, a statewide network of URJ congregations organizing together on public issues of common concern. 

Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller
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