How to raise children in a religion that is not your own: The Mothers Circle comes to Tidewater

by | Sep 19, 2014 | What’s Happening

Classes begin: Tuesday, Oct. 21, 9 am

There may be as many as 200,000 non-Jewish mothers across the nation who are raising their children Jewish due to skyrocketing Jewish intermarriage. Since 2002, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute has sponsored a program called The Mothers Circle to provide these women with free education and support in raising a family in an unfamiliar faith. The program, which began in Atlanta and launched nationally in 2005, has expanded to nearly 100 communities, and next month, the program lands in Tidewater.

“Attitudes in the Jewish community toward intermarriage have shifted dramatically in a very short period of time,” says Alyssa Muhlendorf, MA, MSW, who chose to convert to Judaism, and will facilitate the program. “My first experience in a temple was with my now-husband during a Rosh Hashanah service 10 years ago. The rabbi’s sermon was on intermarriage. Around the same time, I had friends turned away by rabbis who wouldn’t marry them because they were of different faiths. Yet today in Tidewater, rabbis of several denominations are actively welcoming and reaching out to interfaith couples and families. The more non-Jewish spouses feel engaged and educated, the more likely they are to feel comfortable with Jewish culture and religion and make informed choices with their Jewish partner.”

A broad coalition of Jewish organizations banded together to bring The Mothers Circle to Tidewater, including Ohef Sholom Temple, Congregation Beth El, the Simon Family Jewish Community Center, Strelitz Early Childhood Center, and Hebrew Academy of Tidewater. “Our hope is that all of these organizations working together give this clear message to non-Jewish wives and mothers: as a community we welcome you and we will provide you tools to understand Judaism if you would like to learn,” says Scott Katz, director of the Simon Family JCC.

The program has a number of components. “Mothers Circle: The Course” is an eight-month, bi-weekly educational course. Tuition is free and no prior Jewish knowledge is required. The Mothers Circle creates comfortable spaces for women to learn about Judaism, explore Jewish holidays and rituals, discover how to enrich their families’ Jewish experience and deepen their connection to the religion of their husbands and children—and to do so with peers so they’re not all alone. Family events are offered throughout the year, and a rabbi is on call to answer questions one-on-one.

The JCC will offer free babysitting during The Mother’s Circle classes, which will take place at the Simon Family JCC and continues through May 2015.

The Mothers Circle also offers a national email discussion listserve. This supportive, online community of peers shares experiences, thoughts and questions. Women can sign up at

Contact Linda Peck, director of Congregational Life for Ohef Sholom Temple, at 757-625-4295 or for more information or to register for the program.