Jewish group caters to feed-and-burp set

With all the time it takes to care for a child — let alone get used to motherhood — it's not always easy for mothers of young children to make social connections.

For those who would like to meet other Jewish moms, the task is even harder.

The quest has become a little easier, at least on the Peninsula, thanks to a Jewish mothers' group started last year by the Southern Peninsula Women's Alliance, which is part of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

It is the first group of its kind in the Bay Area, said Judith Cheskin, the alliance's president and mother of a 16-month-old girl, Lucy.

"It seems that a lot of younger women just starting families are also looking for an outlet to reach out to the Jewish community," said Cheskin, who lives in Mountain View.

Like many mothers' groups, the alliance's group offers moms and their kids a chance to meet others in the same boat.

In this case, the group meets once a month at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, where they share a Friday lunch and each other's company.

With about 75 mothers on its roster — and about 20 to 30 mothers and kids attending each meeting — the group also has broken down into smaller "playgroups," which meet weekly throughout the area.

Throw in an occasional moms' night out — without the kids — and the group has the makings of a social set for some of its members.

What's different about this group, however, is that its members are connected not only through motherhood, but also through their desire to meet other Jewish families.

That isn't always easy in an area where the Jewish community is so dispersed, said Menlo Park resident Beth Blecherman, a co-chair of the mothers' group and the parent of a 15-month-old son, Benjamin.

That's apparent, she said, because even though the group is based on the south Peninsula, some of its members come from San Francisco, Fremont and San Jose.

In fact, the group is so successful that north Peninsula and Marin County chapters of the women's alliance are considering starting similar groups.

"The goal is building a Jewish community for Jewish parents and their kids," Blecherman said. "It's a way for them to celebrate being Jewish."

Around Purim, for example, the monthly meeting also meant a holiday celebration for the kids.

The group also has brought in Jewish entertainers and puppeteers for the children. Participants have celebrated Shabbat and have hosted family parties on Sundays.

At one recent meeting, they strayed from the usual topics and invited local firefighters to discuss emergency safety and show the kids their equipment.

For some members, particularly without extended families of their own in the area, Blecherman said, the connection has meant even more.

One mom whose family was going to be alone for Passover, for example, sent an e-mail to group members asking if anyone would be interested in sharing a potluck seder. In turn, she received several invitations to other members' homes.

That, Cheskin said, shows the need such a group fills for new mothers.

"This is a way to reach out and to find their way and learn together as they transition into another phase of their lives," she said.

It's also just a good way to get out of the house, some members say.

Suzanne Cherenson, a member of the alliance's board, attends the group with her 10-month-old son, Daniel.

The group is designed, she said, to be informal and relaxed, so parents of young children don't have to be on guard and worrying about keeping their kids quiet.

And although the group's members are largely parents of young children and the lunches are kosher, she said, the group is not exclusive and does not have a strict religious agenda. Mothers of all ages of children are welcome.

"It's very informal," she said. "When you have young children it's hard to find places to go where you can bring them."

The group currently charges members about $10 per meeting to cover the cost of lunch, but that soon may change to an annual fee. However, no one will be turned away if she cannot afford the cost of the meetings, group leaders said.