Three women gathered on a rainy Thursday morning in Whippany for camaraderie and to learn about brit mila. Two are pregnant, expecting this winter, and the third has a two-month-old girl but came in part to connect with the local community.
“After my bat mitzva, I didn’t do anything. Now we don’t even celebrate holidays,” said Jennifer Goldschmidt of Short Hills. “But I told my husband we should get more involved now that we have a baby. I figured we” — referring to her and her daughter — “could learn together.”
The program — “From Bris to Baby Naming” — was the first of two being offered over two weeks by PJ Library. Run by the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life — UJC MetroWest’s Jewish education and identity-building agency — the local arm of the national Jewish family literacy project invited Short Hills mohelet and PJ library mom Lucy Waldman to discuss the hows and whys of circumcision.
A second session, What’s In a Jewish Name?, will be held Thursday, Nov. 3, 9:30-11 a.m.
The PJ Library Parent Circle is part of an effort by PJ Library to expand on its popular program of providing Jewish-themed books and CDs free of charge to families with young children, with the goal of connecting parents with the local Jewish community.
“We created the parents’ circle of PJ Library so adults could learn on an adult level about this stage of life and meet other parents at the same stage, and ask questions about Judaism,” said Joan Bronspiegel Dickman, director of early childhood and family engagement at The Partnership. “Parents with young children want to create memories and family traditions but they have questions about Jewish values, holidays, and life-cycle events. They are receiving the PJ Library books but often haven’t had much Jewish education beyond their own childhood.”
It’s the second year the local PJ Library is offering a parents’ book circle. Although the meeting on the bris was not based on a PJ Library book, most of the sessions do spring from materials distributed by the project.
At the meeting on Thursday, women chatted about boys versus girls, cooed over the outfit little Reese Goldschmidt was wearing, and traded notes on bringing a new baby home to an older sibling.
“I have lots of questions,” said Beth Marks of Parsippany, who is expecting. She already has a daughter at home. “Now what do I do? I don’t know anything about boys or rituals about the bris,” she said.
Shari Schwartz of Montville, who is expecting her second child, just moved to the area from Brookline, Mass. She and her husband have already joined Pine Brook Jewish Center.
“I thought this would be a nice way to engage in the Jewish community here,” she said.
‘A sacred moment’
Waldman, who became certified to perform britot last year, is a nurse/midwife with four boys of her own. She described the circumcision ritual as “a sacred moment” that is “celebrating the identity and embracing the history and the future of the Jewish people. It’s a very big deal.”
In addition to describing the ceremonial and medical aspects of the ritual, she also talked about the emotions surrounding the event. “I get a little euphoric when I do a bris,” she said. “There’s so much love in the room.”
The group was joined by PJ Library coordinator Andrea Bergman, and Jill Felton and Dana Lichtenberg of Morris County Connection, an outreach effort sponsored by local Jewish agencies, including JCC MetroWest, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, UJC MetroWest NJ, and the Bohrer-Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph.
“It’s nice that we can work together” with other local Jewish agencies, said Bronspiegel Dickman. “We are all reaching out to make sure parents with young children are finding many doors to open to access Jewish life.”