These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Life as a Jewish Mama

Posted on June 22, 2014 by Farrah Udell

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farudeFarrah Udell (Year ’11) blogs about life as a new mom on Reflective Mama. She lives with her husband Jeff and son Isaac in Kansas City; and loves baby giggles, social entrepreneurship, coffee dates, and great chevrutas. Find her on Twitter @farrahudell.

I used to daydream about building our Jewish family. I would bake challah every week for big Shabbat dinners, go to shul on Friday nights with Baby in tow, attend monthly Tot Shabbats on Saturday mornings, host holiday celebrations, and be an active volunteer in our community.

For years after college, Hillel remained our synagogue. It was slowly replaced by shuls where I was teaching or working. When I got pregnant, my husband and I finally looked for a synagogue that we could really call home. I wanted to be part of a community that welcomed young families and took their Judaism seriously. We found it at Congregation Beth Shalom.

In our meeting with the rabbi, we learned about adult learning opportunities, services, and young family participation. On a tour of the preschool, the director’s love and passion for her work radiated as she spoke. I was wooed by the bright hallways, happy classrooms, organic garden, and large indoor and outdoor playgrounds. I already felt like we belonged. We made it official as soon as Isaac was born (we waited that long so that we could include him on the paperwork).

Excited about my dreams becoming reality, we hosted Rosh Hashanah dinner for my in-laws in our newly kashered kitchen when Isaac was just a few weeks old.

It was a disaster.

I felt rushed and flustered. My easy crockpot chicken and veggie recipe was awful. In a blurry, sleep deprived haze, I may have overreacted just the tiniest bit when I came back from nursing Isaac to find dishes being washed in the wrong sink.

Looking back, I had set myself up to fail as an overprotective new mama trying to do it all. Oh, hindsight.

We did make it to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, but it was the last time we would go for over six months. I soon learned that babies get sleepy before most Friday night services even begin. I admired the families that made it work, and I’d watch them walk by with their strollers from my window. Still, maintaining Isaac’s nap and bedtime routines were my top priority.

Isaac wrapped in his great-grandfather's tallit

Isaac wrapped in his great-grandfather’s tallit

My frozen challah stash soon ran out. Hanukkah was almost skipped completely. My husband and I exchanged a few gifts, and Isaac made out like a bandit, but candles and sufganiyot never made their appearance. Purim was a little better. My sister came to visit with her family, and we all dressed up for a fun family megillah reading and party at our shul.

For Passover, I reluctantly went all out with my husband. We furiously finished cleaning and cooking just in time (with lots of help from my mother-in-law), and welcomed family and friends for a wonderful seder. I spent most of it upstairs rocking an unhappy baby to sleep, but this time I didn’t mind. Passover is my favorite holiday, but stressing over making it perfect was not worth the time or energy. Celebrating with family and friends was what mattered. A week of delicious leftovers and amazing Pesachdik brownies didn’t hurt either.

In the spring, we ventured out to Tot Shabbat and signed up for Ruach and Roll, a mommy and baby class at Beth Shalom. Ruach and Roll turned out to be an awesome way to make other mom friends and learn fun new things to do with Isaac. To help maintain our new friendships over summer break, I created a “Shalom Toddler” Facebook group as an easy way to plan informal play dates and connect with other Jewish families. It has been great way to explore baby-friendly places around town and make new friends.

At home, I’ve yet to host that big Friday night dinner (but Shabbat brunch between Baby’s morning and afternoon nap is starting to feel doable). Instead, we’ve created our own Friday night traditions. I’ll light candles while holding Isaac and cradle his head while reciting the children’s blessing. We’ll read books about Shabbat and sing Hinei Ma Tov, Shalom Alechem, Lecha Dodi, or the Shema while eating dinner and winding down for bed.

It’s a process, and we’re figuring it out as we go. Doing things the “right” way isn’t nearly as important to me anymore, and being part of a community is more important to me than ever. I was certainly not this flexible before my year at Pardes. I still vividly remember moments when teachers’ comments forced me to question beliefs I held dear. Sometimes they led me to dig my heels in even deeper, but more often they opened doors to new paths I never before considered. This experience shaped the way I live my Judaism today and how I hope to pass it on to my son.

Judaism is a core part of who I am. It may have appeared dormant for a while, but it’s starting to emerge again. As I discover more ways to share my love of being Jewish with Isaac, my earlier dreams have blossomed into a wonderful reality as new dreams continue to form. It looks different than what I imagined, but I still feel blessed all the same.

What are your Jewish dreams? How have past dreams led you to where you are today?