Standing in our synagogue social hall at a recent event, balancing a paper plate of bagels and tuna salad in one hand, and a paper cup of coffee in the other, I was talking with another mother from my kid’s Hebrew school. She was reminiscing about Jewish foods from her childhood- holiday favorites and her mothers kugel recipe. Popping into my head, on the other hand, were visions my mom’s Pineapple Bread Casserole, yellow, sweet and buttery, served at Easter. Trying to add to the conversation, I defaulted to my usual “non-Jew-of-origin” survival technique- recalling what I know of my husband’s upbringing. Had he ever told me of a special family favorite, say tzimmis or blintzes? No. My husband, raised in a decidedly Jewish home, thought of Chinese food outings with his grandparents as traditional Jewish cuisine.
I know that when my sons are adults and they will tell their friends and wives that their mom made the best matzah-ball soup and hands-down the most fantastic latkes- crispy on the outside and soft inside. It may never dawn on them that such dishes don’t come from a hip-bumping, kitchen sharing, handing-down of tradition, but rather pouring through Jewish cookbooks and unabashedly asking every sixty-five plus member of our congregation for her secrets.
Before we had children we were determined to raise them with Jewish holidays and traditions. I knew I wanted them to follow in their father’s footsteps and have a bar or bat mitzvah, a coming-of-age ritual that has always been important to my husband’s sense of self. But I wasn’t sure how to do it…how to learn what I needed to know to raise little kids who felt part of the Jewish people.
Years later, I now have the privilege of helping run a group called Mothers Circle. This empowering 16 week course is a program of the national Jewish Outreach Institute and supported locally by the mainstream Jewish congregations. It is taught by an open, warm Bubbe who is an experienced educator. I wish it had been around when I was starting out with little kids. It is an empowering program where women without a Jewish background who are choosing to raise their kids with Jewish traditions, values and holidays, can learn more and also commiserate a little bit about a common experiences (mother-in-laws come up in conversation now and then!). The program is free and childcare is provided through the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.
Years later occasionally I still have moments where it is clear that I have different childhood memories and reference points, however I know that now there are resources to help me and others seeking information.
If you are interested in learning more about Mothers Circle, contact Jennifer Greenberg at 503 293-7313 or email@example.com. Check out the Facebook page for one-time events and resources.