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Mothers Circle to begin in Springfield

 

NORTHAMPTON - The Mothers Circle, an eight-month program for non-Jewish moms raising Jewish children, will start in Springfield next month.

The first session of the Mothers Circle of Springfield will take place Thursday, April 26, from 9-11 a.m., at the Springfield Jewish Community Center, 1160 Dickinson St., Springfield. Babysitting will be available.

The Mothers Circle, a program developed by the New York-based Jewish Outreach Institute, began in Western Massachusetts last year with two circles in Northampton and one in Pittsfield.

The two Northampton Circles and the one starting in Springfield are co-sponsored by Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which is also sponsoring the Berkshire County circle with Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield.

Shoshana Zonderman, the director of Sulamot: The Family Education Initiative of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, coordinator of the Mothers Circles in Western Massachusetts and leader of the Mothers Circles of Northampton, said women as well as Jewish communal leaders expressed the need for a Mothers Circle in Springfield.

Lisa Nascembeni, who also works as a Sulamot family educator and religious school teacher at Temple Beth El, will lead the Springfield circle. Nascembeni, whose husband is not Jewish, said, “The more information people have, the more they feel in control… With what I’m learning in my family education teaching, I feel I can help them.”
The goals of The Mothers Circle are to create comfortable spaces for women to learn about Judaism, to explore Jewish holidays and rituals for use with their families, and to deepen their connection to the religion of their family.

If you ask Shelly Bathe Lenn and Christine Young, two members the Mothers Circles of Northampton, the program is accomplishing those goals.

Lenn, an Easthampton resident and the mother of a 2-year-old son, learned about the Mothers Circle from the doctor who served as the mohel at her son’s bris.

“I learned that the Mothers Circle would be would be a gentle way to learn about raising Evan Jewish. It just seemed like it had so many parts to it that would be supportive, safe and welcoming,” she explained.

Lenn, who was raised Lutheran, and her husband decided to raise their son Jewish because, she said, “I was the one who felt less of a connection to my religion and was therefore willing to embrace a new religion.”

Before joining the Mothers Circle of Northampton, she had minimal knowledge of Judaism, and her exposure to holidays and rituals came solely from her husband, her in-laws and their extended family.

But after several months of the program, Lenn and her family are celebrating Shabbat regularly.

“My son is learning the language of it. As a family, we’ve really embraced that particular ritual,” she said.

“Each week we can incorporate something new and learn from what we did last week,” she said. “The consistency of [Shabbat] gives us something to look forward to.”

She’s also enjoyed developed friendships with other women who are in similar situations.

“We’re all doing this with different degrees of experience,” explained Lenn, who calls her self the greenest in the group. “We exchange of what worked, what didn’t work. It really helped to lay a groundwork of comfort and support for choosing this path.”

Besides learning about Jewish history, Lenn said, “We go over the traditions and the holidays. I feel like Shoshana covers every detail, you know why a certain particular ritual object is used, the history behind it, where to get it, ways to incorporate it. She’s very helpful.”

Lenn added, “It doesn’t come across as dogmatic. [Judaism is] very embracing and welcoming of different perspectives, opinions. To me it’s so free.”

Unlike Lenn, Christine Young of Northampton has had many years of experience participating in the Jewish community before and even more so after her three children were born. She is member of Beit Ahavah in Florence and Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, where her children — 9-year-old Madison, and 7-year-old twins Reed and Zachary — go to Hebrew school.

Young, who is Protestant, said, “I’m someone who has been considering converting to Judaism for many years.”

She said the Mothers Circle “has pushed me further and further along in my journey. And it’s given me a fabulous network of very deeply committed parents, other moms who are struggling with the same issues.”

But, she added, conversion is not one of the end goals of the Mothers Circle.

“It’s adult education. It really is about providing information on the cultural and spiritual practices in Judaism. That is only so the moms are more informed. There is no proselytizing going on.”

She’s enjoyed learning about her fellow circle members.

“Hearing other moms share deeply personal stories of their families, children and partners is very moving,” she said. “People share deep personal stories about their own childhood and how their own families have reacted to the decision to raise children outside the Christian faith… There’s lots of fun stories, too.”

Young encourages other non-Jewish moms raising Jewish kids to enroll in the Mothers Circle: “This is a fabulous way to get your foot into the door and feel more comfortable with the customs and practices of Judaism.”

For more information about the Mothers Circle of Springfield, e-mail Lisa Nascembeni at lisa@themotherscircle.org or call (413) 737-2601. For more information about the other Mothers Circles, call Shoshana Zonderman at (413) 439-1946 or e-mail her at shoshana@thermotherscircle.org.

Comments? E-mail tracyhudak@jewishledger.com.

 


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