When Leslie Perez became a single mother of two girls following a divorce, she felt isolated and lonely – particularly on Shabbat. At first she was invited for Shabbat meals by friends, family, and members of the community, but after a year or so, the invitations began to dwindle and she often found herself alone with her daughters.
“It could be very isolating,” says Perez. “But, you can either get frustrated or you can be proactive and do something positive about it.”
Noticing a need for initiatives and resources for single mothers in the community, Perez, a communications professional, reached out to Sigy Laredo, founder of JEMS (Jewish Experience Montreal Sisterhood) to create a Jewish single mother’s initiative of the well-established organization. Together with JEMS leader Martine Cohen, Laredo and Perez launched the Single Jewish Mothers Montreal division of JEMS, which welcomes Jewish single mothers of any religious level to connect and provide each other with social support.
“I was so impressed with Leslie’s passion when she first contacted me about two years ago,” says Laredo. “Single moms do need their own forum to develop their skills in all areas to be able to raise their children to their highest potential while being supported by like-minded women empowering each other. I feel honoured and privileged to join forces with Leslie in this much needed endeavour.”
The group’s first event was a Shabbat lunch held last November at Cohen’s home. Through word of mouth and Facebook, the event drew 20 single mothers to this lunch. “It was beautiful,” says Perez. “There were no professional speakers, no experts, no psychologists. It was just single moms from different walks of life, different ages, different financial situations, with different reasons for being single, all just getting together.”
Myriam Wizman is one of the group’s participants. The single mother of four boys lost her husband to cancer over two years ago. She says she finds comfort in hearing everyone’s story and how they manage their respective situations. “Sometimes it’s nice to get advice from others who experience the same thing,” she says. “I like being around people – and taking the time to go out and have fun is important.”
The next Jewish Single-Mom’s Shabbat will take place this month. It will be catered by a single mother from the group, and children are welcome, as Perez acknowledges that childcare for single parents can be difficult to find.
There are several future initiatives in the works for the group, including a dating workshop specifically geared for single mothers, an intergenerational program with Holocaust survivors, and Elevate Women, a one-day business conference for all women in the fall. For now, the group is self-funded but is looking into different grant and donor opportunities.
Perez says she is inspired by the strength and courage of the women in her group. “To know that we’re all different but we’re all connected through this – and that there’s nothing wrong with this – we can empower each other,” she says. “We can network, we can use each other’s resources, and we can give each other support and friendship. The more you get people together, the stronger you are collectively.”
For more information visit the Single Jewish Mothers of Montreal page on Facebook.