Baby is a Blessing workshops help expectant parents prepare

Whoa baby! Preparing for the birth of a child is fraught with joyful excitement and anticipation, not to mention all the practical things that need to be put in place to make baby’s arrival smooth. It is an emotional period, sometimes spiritual.

And that’s where “Baby is a Blessing” comes in. The three-session workshop for expectant parents is being offered through Jan. 1 in San Francisco, Tiburon, Walnut Creek, Berkeley and San Mateo. Sponsored by Project Welcome of the Union for Reform Judaism and supported through the Richard and Rhoda Goldman and Walter and Elise Haas Funds, the program serves a number of purposes. One is to bring young Jewish parents-to-be closer to the synagogues in which the sessions are held.

“Couples are statistically getting married later and not having kids for a while so they may not get around to joining a synagogue until they are in their 40s,” explains Karen Kushner, director of Project Welcome. “The classes are held in synagogues so people can see that synagogues are welcoming places.

“I think it’s very important to get people into congregations earlier,” she continued. “It’s good for the people and it’s good for the congregation.”

There is, however, no pressure to join. Jessica Wilan of San Francisco, a program graduate who gave birth to twin boys in February, attends a weekly play group at Sherith Israel although she and her husband, Ken, do not officially belong to the congregation.

Wilan, who moved to the Bay Area from New York three years ago, is an enthusiastic booster for “Baby is a Blessing.”

“There are so many ways you try to prepare, especially for your first,” she said. “One of the components of that is to think about what kind of Jewish home you are going to build. To ask yourselves, ‘What kind of values are important to us?’ Whether you’re going to be observant or not, it’s a good thing to sit back and think about how you want to have Judaism in your child’s life.

“The other great thing,” she continued, is that she and husband “met other couples who were at the same stage. Some of them have remained friends and the whole class came to a reunion in June.”

Mimi Greisman, who runs the program at Sherith Israel, comes to it with sterling credentials and a lot of enthusiasm. With a background in psychology, counseling and early childhood education, she stresses the psychological components of “Baby is a Blessing.”

“We talk about the enormous shift in your identity when you become a parent,” she said. “We show how you can relate it back to your own parents in order to process how you want to raise your children. This is very powerful to do in a group setting.”

Greisman, who has three children of her own, wishes she had a class like this available to her years ago. “That’s the reason I’m doing the work I do now,” she said laughing.

The classes have a structured practical side, Kushner explained. The first session focuses on blessings for the first time you hold your child. These can subsequently be used on Shabbat or for birthdays. They become part of a ritual. “Rituals create family health,” she said. “We want to make people look at the rituals in their lives. Kids love rituals and it’s up to you whether they walk around repeating the commercials they see on TV or something more meaningful.”

The second session talks about birth ceremonies. Including, but not wholly focused on the brit, it also explores ceremonies for girl babies and adopted children.

The third session explores the traditions involved in naming the child. “Choosing a name is in some ways trying to choose an identity for your child,” said Kushner. “We try to help people become aware of their ‘agendas’ that are kind of revealed by the names that they’re picking.”

But the best part for Kushner, as well as the others, may be the camaraderie.

“The almost-parents have a chance to meet other almost-parents,” she said. “It’s like creating a little chavurah.”

“Baby is a Blessing” workshops are being held at various locations. Information or registration: Anna Marx at (888) 756-8242, ext. 16 or [email protected].