Our daughter is nearly six months old. In addition to developmental milestones such as sitting up and turning over, six months marks the age when a child is first eligible for Jewish activities. Last week we signed up for PJ Library, the gift of free children’s books, and we recently started attending Tot Shabbat at our synagogue.
The wait has been too long. The dearth of Jewish activities for newborns and their parents is a missed opportunity.
A recent New York Times Magazine article highlighted Target’s investment in metrics to predict pregnancy. Pregnancy and childbirth is a moment of disruption in a family’s life, and Target seeks to capitalize on the change. As the article states, there are “brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux. One of those moments – the moment, really — is right around the birth of a child.”
Through a careful analysis of shopping trends, Target predicts pregnancy with remarkable accuracy and markets directly to those needs. The Times article tells the story of an irate father accosting a store manager for sending targeted adverting for baby merchandise to his teenage daughter. A few days later he called and said, “I had a talk with my daughter… It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”
Childbirth affects not only shopping habits, but social relationships, weekly routines and communal affiliations. The final months of pregnancy and the first months after birth offer an opportunity for the Jewish community to engage and aid new parents, but current offerings are paltry.
Synagogues and rabbis facilitate brit milah and baby-naming ceremonies. While meaningful ceremonies are an important, ritualized way to welcome a baby into the world and the Jewish community, they’re usually one-off events that have little carry-forward for further engagement.
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto runs a “Welcome to our World” program, sending new parents a baby package that includes parenting information, coupons, etc. Since 1993, the program has celebrated more than 5,000 births. In many communities, such programs serve as on-ramps to other new family programs.
The possibilities are numerous. For expecting families, we could facilitate birthing classes and pre-natal yoga in synagogues and JCCs, and for new parents, especially those on parental leave, we could run daytime programs, including new mom’s and dad’s groups, dinner co-ops, parenting classes, and infant lap-sit with Jewish songs and stories. These programs could flow out of brit milah and baby namings and into PJ library, Tot Shabbat and Jewish early childhood education. Offering these programs in a Jewish context not only welcomes new people in the door, but builds community among those at similar phases in life. My parents are still friendly with couples they did Lamaze with more than 30 years ago!
In the six months since our daughter was born, we’ve found story time at the library and a parents’ group at the park. They’re wonderful activities, but distant from Jewish life. Like Target, we should reach out to new families as they begin a new journey, rather than impose a six-month