Dynamic conversations and religious discussion riveted the Klezmer Room at the Sandler Family Campus with participants of The Mothers Circle. Over the last nine months, 10 women who were not raised Jewish, but are married to Jewish men, de-mystified Judaism, learned how to identify personal meaning in Jewish rituals, holidays, and values, and now feel empowered with the tools to raise their children Jewish.
The Mothers Circle, a national program of the Jewish Outreach institute, is a 16-session course with a non-denominational curriculum. Taught by a facilitator, tuition is free and no prior Jewish knowledge is required. The Mothers Circle strives to create comfortable spaces for women who were not raised Jewish (this includes non-Jewish women and recent Jews-bychoice) to learn about Judaism, to discover how to enrich their families’ Jewish experience, and to deepen their connection to the religion of their husbands and children—and to do so with peers so they’re not all alone. The program, which began in Atlanta and launched nationally in 2005, has rapidly expanded to nearly 100 communities.
A 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. Alyssa Muhlendorf, MA, MSW facilitated the group and Rabbi Jeff Arnowitz of Congregation Beth El and Rabbi Roz Mandelberg of Ohef Sholom Temple, provided rabbinic advice and varied perspectives on Judaism.
This year, the course took place on weekdays at the JCC. For the next session, The Mothers Circle will take place at Ohef Sholom Temple on Sundays at 10 am beginning Sept. 27, to allow working mothers and mothers who transport kids to religious school in Ghent to participate. Alyssa Muhlendorf and Nicole Rosenblum will co-facilitate the program. At their last session, the women shared what they had gained from the course for women and men who were not raised Jewish and haven’t yet had the opportunity to be part of such a group. Some of their thoughts include:
Learning about Judaism is a process. You don’t have to know everything at once —bite off a little piece at a time. Be patient with yourself. Explore rituals, holidays and customs that you and your family find meaning in, and enjoy those first. Branch out to new things when ready. If you have the opportunity to be part of group learning about Judaism—do it!
No two people practice Judaism exactly the same way. Thus there is no “right way” to be Jewish. Don’t let fear or anxiety stand in the way of trying new things.
The Tidewater Jewish community provides many opportunities to get to know other families and be exposed to Judaism. Many people pointed to their child being in Strelitz Early Childhood Center or Hebrew Academy of Tidewater as a great jumping off point for their family learning about Judaism. What their kids learned at school could more easily be reinforced at home. Others said joining a synagogue helped their comfort and knowledge level. And others felt membership and involvement at the JCC was a great entry point. The more they met and engaged with other interfaith and Jewish families, the more comfortable they felt with Judaism.
If interested in participating in the next course of The Mothers Circle, contact Linda Peck, director of Congregational Life at Ohef Sholom Temple, 625-4295 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow The Mothers Circle-Coastal Virginia on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheMothersCircleCoastalVirginia.