by Terrence Gibney
While participating in a parent education program, Debbie
Amster was struck by the fact that so many of the ideas of Adler
and Dreikursthe "fathers" of Adlerian psychologywere
steeped in Jewish tradition. For most people this would have
been an interesting observation and no more, but Amster was associate
director for the Center for Jewish Identity of B'nai B'rith and
saw an opportunity to address two pressing concerns in the Jewish
As in most communities, there was a clear need for more parent
education. There was also the desire of many people to reconnect--or
perhaps connect for the first timewith their Jewish traditions
and values. Amster saw these two movements as interwoven threads.
She says that many Jews who haven't paid much attention to their
heritage start to see things differently when they become parents.
"They struggle with ways to interpret their Jewish traditions
and heritage for their children," she notes.
So was born Active
Parenting Today for Jewish Families, a partnership between
B'nai B'rith and the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Life
at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center. Marci Mayer Eisen is
director of family services at the St. Louis JCC and says "we
raised the question of 'How can we use Judaism as an inspiration
The advisory committee meets with Active
Parenting Today author Michael Popkin:
front row, l-r: Sara Wenger, Marci Mayer Eisen,
back row, l-r: Ofra Fisher, Rabbi Phil Miller,
A pilot program was initiated with 14 experienced parent educators
who were committed to Jewish life. Rabbi Phil Miller is director
of the Mirowitz Department of Jewish Life and one of the authors
of Active Parenting Today for Jewish Families. He says
a key issue in making the program work is that facilitators need
training in both parent education and Jewish values.
"We want to show people that being Jewish and following
the traditions helps parents to get more out of life," Miller
says. As an expert in Jewish values and Torah stories, he took
the core ideas identified by the parent educators and looked
for relevant stories and traditions to reinforce the concepts.
For example, one Active Parenting session deals with helping
children to develop courage and self-esteem. Miller draws on
Exodus for the story of the Jews' flight to safety from Egypt.
The waters of the Red Sea did not part until one man, Nachshon,
demonstrated the courage to jump into the sea.
Along with stories from the Torah, other components created
for the program are Jewish values and Jewish activities. Debbie
Amster points to the concept of shalom bayit as an expression
of Jewish values. "It means peaceful home," she says,
and the idea works hand in hand with Active Parenting's emphasis
on mutual respect, personal responsibility and the need for all
members to contribute to the family.
"Family Enrichment Activities like the recitation of
a special prayer called the Sh'ma are a way for people to see
parenting through Jewish eyes," says Marci Mayer Eisen.
Rabbi Miller stresses the importance of rituals that "are
not cob-webbed relics, but living traditions. The Sh'ma is introduced
within a context of something very relevantputting the
kids to bed." He notes how well it fits with the Active
Parenting idea of using bedtime rituals as a way for family members
Providing connections is a critical part of the program, whether
for members of interfaith families or for Jews who belong to
different movements within Judaism. For a non-Jewish marriage
partner, Miller sees Active Parenting Today for Jewish Families
as a good place to begin learning about the Jewish faith.
"It's a very non-threatening program," he says.
The program also builds bridges between Jews, whether they
are reform, conservative, traditional or orthodox, observes Mayer
Eisen. The original facilitators all come from different traditions
and the pilot program conducted 13 six-week classes in synagogues
of all four groups.
Rabbi Miller is looking to further enhance the curriculum,
but is also ready to move the program beyond the boundaries of
St. Louis. "We want to share the good news about it and
involve as many people as we can in the life of the Jewish community."
These leaders joined others in presenting
the 13 parenting groups that were held during the pilot program
for Active Parenting Today for Jewish Families in St.
Gloria Morgenstern, Jody Liebman, Ruth Asher,
At the St. Louis JCC there are already monthly follow-up sessions
for "graduates" of the first classes, reports Mayer
Eisen, and coming this summer is a three-week support group for
grads. In addition to more Active Parenting Today classes,
Active Parenting of Teens will also be introduced, much
to delight of Mayer Eisen, whose oldest child is on the threshold
of the teen years.
Debbie Amster, the originator of the idea for an Active
Parenting Today for Jewish Families, sees tremendous promise
for the program, and closes with a reference to tikkunol olam,
or "repairing the world." "The idea," she
says, "is that we are in partnership with God in creating
a better world. It's about reaching out to others, whether our
families or our communities."
That sounds like a Hebrew phrase that could be useful in every
Active Parenting program.
Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 2000 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.