For many years, Winnipeg's Jewish religious, social and cultural organizations have been searching for ways to keep young Jewish families engaged in and excited by their faith and community.
This winter, the Rady Jewish Community Centre is launching an innovative program that it hopes will help accomplish that goal.
The new program is called Jewish Baby U and is designed for parents expecting the arrival of their first child. Over the course of five weeks, Jewish Baby U will explore and explain Jewish traditions and rituals related to pregnancy, birth and first-time parenting. Intended for both Jewish and interfaith parents, the program will culminate in a Sabbath dinner and social get-together.
Circumcision, baby-naming ceremonies, wellness, safety, financial planning and how to emotionally prepare for a newborn's arrival are among the topics that will be discussed. Each of the weekly sessions will be taught by a community member who is an expert in the particular subject area, and all of the sessions will be hosted by Shannon Golding.
As the Rady's community engagement co-ordinator last year, Golding was tasked with developing new programs to attract new people to the Jewish community centre. Her enthusiasm for Jewish Baby U, however, derives primarily from her personal experiences as a new parent.
"This program is of particular interest to me, as when I was researching prenatal classes for my husband and me, I would have loved for us to participate in one within the Jewish community," says Golding, who became a first-time mom last spring.
"It would have been a great way to gather information relevant to us, as well a wonderful opportunity to meet other Jewish couples who were expecting at the same time as us," she adds.
In fact, Golding says giving expectant parents the opportunity to meet others in similar circumstances is one of the reasons the Rady is launching the program. The hope is that participants will strike up friendships with one another, perhaps start a new play group for their offspring, and gain a sense of belonging to the community.
Their participation in this one program, ideally, will feed into greater Rady and community involvement, and participation in other cultural and faith programs as their children grow.
Program facilitators also hope the course will encourage new parents to incorporate Jewish custom, culture and spirituality into their daily home lives.
Longtime Winnipeg Hebrew educator Sherry Wolfe-Elazar, who is teaching the session entitled Creating a Jewish Home, elaborates on this idea.
"My objective is to review the many aspects of Judaism that can be incorporated into family life such as Shabbat (the Sabbath), holidays, art, toys, literature and music," Wolfe-Elazar says.
"I hope to then provide a variety of options and ideas that the couples could consider integrating into their future home."
There is, of course, no single right way to raise a Jewish child. Nonetheless, exposure to and a clear understanding of Jewish customs and cultures, as well as a connection to and involvement in community life, are certain to make that task easier and more enjoyable for both parents and their children.