If you have every sat with a toddler while reading a book, you know that toddlers love reading the same book over and over and over again. Their attention span for the same Dr. Seuss rhymes or Curious George adventures far surpasses my own. Toddlers can flip through the same pages, lift the same flaps and find new enjoyment, to seemingly no end. I read a study that explained that toddlers are constantly processing so much new information. So much so, that they can only take in a fraction of what’s happening in a book at a time. So they keep reading it and rereading it as they put all the pieces together.
In many ways, we parents of toddlers (and young children), are ourselves Jewish toddlers. We are just beginning to learn what it means to raise Jewish children. We are perhaps overstimulated by the density of holiday observances in the fall, or the restrictions of keeping kosher, or the many pages of Hebrew in a prayerbook we don’t yet understand. We are motivated by a desire to transmit a sense of meaning and connection that we may not yet know ourselves.
We learn in the first paragraph of the Shema, “You shall teach these things to your children, talk about them at home, and when you are out and about in the world.” What is meant by “these things”? Love, God, Jewish traditions? These words familiar to many in the “V’ahavta” capture the parental obligation, and perhaps desire (or guilt!), to transmit Judaism to our kids.
However, this is not a 1-way street. As a rabbi and Hebrew school director, I regularly encounter parents who are themselves also seeking a Jewish education, wanting to find a way into tradition through their children. This makes sense. The best of Judaism cannot be taught in a few hours on a Sunday morning. Judaism is a web of relationships; relationships to time and seasons, to texts and traditions, and perhaps most importantly, to people and community.
When I imagined starting a pre-k program at the Boston-area Jewish Education Program (BJEP), it was clear to me that the sense of community among students would be greatly enhanced by a shared sense of community and learning among parents.Parenting Through a Jewish Lens is an amazing compliment to our pre-k program, BJEP Seedlings. It is an opportunity for parents to learn while their kids learn; to build relationships with other parents; to feel part of the Jewish journey that they are beginning with their little ones. And it has been just that. Hannah, a parent participant told me, “PTJL has provided the opportunity to connect with other parents and with my partner in a meaningful and thoughtful way. It gives us a forum to step out of the business of our day-to-day and think deliberately about how to bring Jewish content into our lives in a way that makes sense to who we are and how we parent.”
I believe Jewish tradition encourages us all to be toddlers. To find a sense of wonder with the stories of Torah, the cycle of the holidays, and the Hebrew letters. To read them over and over again, and to find new joy and learning with each encounter.