In a place where the Chanukah aisle at Target is tiny, like the kosher aisle in the local supermarket, Jewish parenting means being proactive. “Here in Portland, we constantly have to analyze and ask ourselves, ‘If it’s so hard, why am I doing it? Does Judaism really matter to me?’” It’s a question that many Jewish parents ask, and one that has brought three leading Jewish organizations together to help parents explore. The Yaldeinu Fellowship, the brainchild of The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, the Avi Chai Foundation, and the Kohelet Foundation, is an innovative leadership forum now halfway through its two-year pilot phase.
Launched last September in ten cities across the country, each with strong Jewish educational outlets, the program includes monthly get-togethers and periodic social and holiday programming. Chabad emissaries facilitate the experience, identifying parents of preschool children with leadership potential and inviting them to join conversations about Jewish parenting, identity, and values.
A group of couples—all parents of toddlers—might get together for a guided painting class, a group life-coaching session, or a volunteering effort for a community food bank. The social aspect gave way to heart-to-heart talks about everything Jewish parents might struggle with. Instead of traditional lecture-style teaching, learning happened through organic group discussions.
The desired outcome of Yaldeinu is that these couples develop skills to live Jewishly. Clarifies Deena Fuchs of Avi Chai: “When we say ‘living Jewishly,’ we don’t mean counting the number of synagogue services attended or kosher meals eaten. We are looking to kindle a penetrating realization that our own tradition is rich with wisdom, that Jewish education is essential. We want parents to stop and think: ‘I’m about to have a difficult conversation with my spouse or child. What’s the Jewish approach to moving forward?’”
There are almost 300 Chabad preschools across the country and the number of young families whose singular Jewish affiliation is their child’s preschool is in the thousands. “Too often,” notes Holly Cohen of the Kohelet Foundation, “the affiliation ends when their children grow out of the preschool years. “We want to support shluchim in turning their preschools into a powerful point of entry for a family’s Jewish life.”