In Newtown, PA, they’ve called a truce on the Mommy Wars.
Much has been made over full time moms and working world moms facing off over their choice: homemade cupcakes for the school party vs. bakery bought; career ladder vs. Gymboree mommy and me; quantity time vs. quality time.
Who is better?
Whole shelves in Barnes and Nobles Bookstores are devoted to dissecting mom-types: slacker moms and narcissist moms, crunchy organic moms and CEO, millionaire moms.
But Lubavitch of Bucks County, 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia, has an egalitarian approach to moms and the needs of Jewish women.
Under the leadership of Rabbi Yehuda and Miriam Yocheved Shemtov, groups catering to every stage of womanhood and motherhood are thriving. Adult education co-director Rosie Weinstein races through her day to lead “Aura” women’s monthly meetings, Mommy and Me, a “learning playgroup”, a Women’s Cooking Group, Torah classes for women in their fifties and sixties, a Jewish Women’s Book Club and one-on-one classes about using the mikvah. For younger women there’s a new Junior Aura Women’s League, Bat Mitzvah Club and Jew Crew teen club.
All these choices have over 90 women coming and going from the Glazier Jewish Center and the private homes where the groups meet each month. “Jewish women are so incredible. Besides what regular women juggle, Jewish women are the ones bringing Judaism into the home,” said Weinstein. “But grandmothers, moms raising young kids, newlyweds all have different responsibilities that they are embracing, struggling with.”
Many full time moms, Weinstein found, don’t get a breather from their kids and crave the company of adults who can relate to a universe bracketed by Playdough and Nickelodeon. “Learning Playgroup” rotates between five homes, giving the kids a chance to hang out and their moms a spiritual pick me up without the need to arrange for a sitter.
On a bright Thursday morning, Karen Neuhaus looks up from the pages in front of her to check up on her three-year-old son, Jonathan. He won’t surrender a red Lego to the Weinstein kids. The squawks subside (Jonathan won) and Karen shifts her attention back to hear what Rosie is saying about the week’s Torah portion. No stern looks or shushes from the other participants, because they are all in the same boat.
“It’s valuable to the kids to see their mothers learning Torah,” said Neuhaus, but “it’s hard for moms to find time to study. Learning playgroup is a very simple concept, but it keeps everyone happy.”
Another simple idea, a melding of the instinct to nurture with food and the Jewish ideal of loving-kindness, gave rise to the Women’s Cooking Group. Once a month, Meryl Widensky loads her shopping cart with bulk quantities of chicken, potatoes, carrots, rice and whatever else is on the menu for the group.
By eight o’clock, cars pull up to the Glazier Jewish Center lot, and the women file into the kitchen and tackle Widensky’s purchases under Weinstein’s direction. Having grown up with twelve siblings and parents who filled their dining room with guests, Weinstein is an old hand at preparing mass quantities of food. Lickety-split, the women have onions sizzling and chickens bathed in tangy sauce. Talk amongst the women isn’t culinary, but of family, news, social notes, the mundane topics that sew the seeds of community.
The after-dinner, after bedtime hours for the monthly club meeting make it possible for women who work outside the home and those with young kids to participate. Widensky joined because “I like to help people, but what could I possibly do when the kids are home?” Tonight, the women are cooking for four families – two new moms, new neighbors, and a family that’s going through a rough period.
At Lubavitch of Bucks County’s largest women’s group, however, it’s the act of gathering with all sort of women – regardless of motherhood or non-motherhood, youngish or up there, observant or barely affiliated status – that keeps Judi Feiner-DeRose interested in attending. “It’s the goodness and pureness of Miriam and Rosie’s hearts that lets us rise above our differences,” she said.
“Everyone has their issues, their challenges, but they all have a smile on their face. When you’re up, they’re up. When you’re down, they help you back up.”
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