Local | Mother's Day

Tucson community, small steps help mom provide Jewish journey

Sarah Chen
Sarah Chen

As a young mom, the biggest single change I’ve noticed, Jewishly, is that I’ve gone from the happy-go-lucky Receiver of the Experience to the all-encompassing, ever-busy Provider.

I used to sit around the Seder as a middle schooler rolling my eyes, sighing, wishing we could move faster. Then as an enthusiastic college student, I’d relish the independence and meaning that comes with forging your own version of faith.

Now, as I spoon charoset into my son’s mouth and pass my daughter matzah pieces, I’m staring breathlessly into their juice-stained faces and wondering, “Are they getting it? Do they understand?”

No one’s going to provide their Jewish journey for them except for me. Our family lives in other states. As a military family, we are recent transplants to Tucson. Therefore, whatever quantity of Judaism my children will receive is entirely, annoyingly, blessedly, up to my husband and me.

Fortunately, Judaism isn’t meant to exist in a bubble. It’s been wonderful meeting other young moms through playgroups, tot Shabbats, holidays at synagogue and random “Oh, you’re Jewish too?” neighborly experiences. All these people help us on our way to raising Jewish children.

Take Passover for example. No fewer than four people at the community Seder played peek-a-boo with my fussy daughter during the Story of Passover. Three different children’s educators approached my son to help him color or play with toys before the Seder began. No shortage of helping hands in the food line, to wipe up grape juice spills after cup of wine No. 3, or to sing Dayenu. My son sat, mouth gaping open, as he watched a “big boy” do the Four Questions — talk about some ma nishtana motivation!

Many of my friends struggle at Christmastime with the sheer magnitude and diversity of all the must-have traditions. Elf-on-a-shelf, Christmas cookies, wrapping presents, the annual Christmas pajamas picture, visiting Santa at the mall, participating in the Angel Tree … the list is endless. I see the pressure, and it is a real thing.

It makes me so grateful that our Jewish calendar is like the equivalent of year-round schooling. There’s no big break anywhere or massive culmination. Just a steady, meaningful flow to the curriculum. I can do a little bit at a time, in manageable chunks. So I can skip making the Matzah Chocolate Pyramid this Passover, but I’ll make sure to create a cute painted gourd for Sukkot. I can ramp up the latke machine at Chanukah, but relax on leading the tree-planting expedition on Tu B’Shevat. There’s always another meaningful Jewish experience just around the corner.

And there’s always Shabbat. We started doing Shabbat after the kids came along. It isn’t extensive, but golly, is it ever meaningful to us.

All these lovely community rites of passage and ceremonies and holidays are carefully designed to pull us together. For the sake of us all. For the sake of continuity. And now, as I understand it, for the sake of the future. Now that I belong in the group that shushes and rocks the babies outside the sanctuary, I appreciate our heritage even more.

Sarah Chen writes on raising Jewish kids, interfaith marriage and life as an active duty U.S. Air Force spouse. She lives with her husband, son and daughter in Tucson.