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News > Religion > Story
Classes teach Judaism to non-Jewish moms
By D. Paul Harris
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
01/27/2007

Jennifer MacAdam-Miller is Unitarian, but she wants to learn how to rear her children in the Jewish faith and traditions. A new program is available to help her and other mothers of other faiths do just that.

MacAdam-Miller is among a dozen women enrolled in the Mothers Circle, a program that offers classes that teach Judaism to non-Jewish women in interfaith marriages or committed relationships who want to rear their children Jewish.

The eight-month classes are offered twice a month on Thursdays by the Jewish Community Center, 16801 Baxter Road in Chesterfield. The program, which is free, is sponsored by the Fox Family Foundation. The first class was Jan. 11.

"The goal of this course is not to change these women's faith at all but really just to be an educational resource," said Rabbi Brad Horwitz, director of the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life at the community center and overseer of the program. "They've already made the commitment by marrying someone who is Jewish or entering into a relationship with a Jewish man. Going through the program doesn't mean that they are giving up their own religion."


The program not only provides educational support but also helps the women to connect with the Jewish community and serves as a support group for women with shared experiences.

"The idea of learning about this with other women in the same situation as me just really appealed to me," said MacAdam-Miller. "It felt like it would be more comfortable than going to a group that's mostly Jewish women."

Mothers Circle was founded in 2005 by the Jewish Outreach Institute in Atlanta and supported by the Marcus Foundation there. The institute is a national, independent, transdenominational organization that seeks to empower and assist the Jewish community through various programs and services. The Mothers Circle is administered in 13 cities.

A study by the National Jewish Population Survey counts 5.2 million Jews in this country, and 47 percent of them since the mid-1990s married spouses of other faiths. Interfaith marriages have seen a steady growth since before 1970.

"There are so many interfaith marriages and relationships in our world today," Horwitz said. "The institute found that there are at least 100,000 of these women of different faiths who are raising their children Jewish in this country. The program was designed as an outreach to these women."

The program's class discussions cover such topics as the Jewish Sabbath, celebrating Jewish holidays as a family along with rituals, meals and customs, Jewish parenting and incorporating Jewish choices in everyday life.

"Another thing they'll learn is how the Jewish community is structured," Horwitz said. "Many of them are not affiliated with any congregation of any kind in the Jewish community, but this course will help give them the lay of the Jewish community."

The children don't attend the classes, but participants will take part in group activities with their families at the community center.

Marci Boyer, a licensed social worker, is the facilitator and coordinator of the classes. Boyer says it wasn't difficult to fill the classes, and there is a waiting list.

"I'm having an amazing response," said Boyer, who started the recruitment process last fall. "My goal was to have eight women. I capped the class at 12 when this all started. I have 10 people on a waiting list for a class in the fall. The response has been unbelievable."

Boyer says she learned from the first meeting that the women have a central goal.

"The general theme that I got from the women is they are looking for a class, and hopefully this will be it, to learn how to make their own family tradition within the Jewish faith," said Boyer, a Jewish mother of two young children.

"All of them expressed that in participating in their husband's religion they found that it was very family-oriented and there are a lot of traditions."

Margaret Schatz, 41, of Chesterfield, agrees.

"The reason that I chose to raise my children Jewish is because being Jewish is not only a part of a religion, but it's also a part of being in a heritage," said Schatz, who says she is a nonpracticing Catholic. "The emphasis on the family and the community that comes along with that heritage is something that's very special."

Schatz says her husband, Mark, 38, wasn't a practicing Jew when they met but now has become more committed to his faith since they decided to rear their three children, Jenna, 6, Spencer, 4, and Jackson, 2, as Jews.

MacAdam-Miller, 41, along with her husband, James Miller, 38, who is Jewish, went through a process of attending a Unitarian church and a Jewish synagogue before they made the decision to rear their two daughters, Mabel, 6, and Ella-Jane, 3, in the Jewish faith.

"We said to ourselves we will raise our children to be Jewish-Unitarians," said MacAdam-Miller, who describes herself as "Unitarian to the bone."

"We've been trying to figure out what that means," she said. "We've been sort of making it up as we go along, but it keeps changing."

Horwitz says there are few programs to help women through the journey of rearing Jewish children, and that makes the Mothers Circle needed.

"We are saying to the mothers that you made a choice and it's really a gift to the Jewish people," he said. "We want to be there for you to make you comfortable in that choice. As you continue to raise your children in the Jewish faith this will help insure us the future of the Jewish people, and that's not a small thing."

dpharris@post-dispatch.com | 314-372-8506

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