Why, some may ask, do Jews circumcise baby boys? Are parents required to name children after long-gone family members? What exactly is a Simchat Bat ceremony for a baby girl?
Now Cedars-Sinai is providing answers in a novel workshop for expectant couples seeking to navigate Judaism’s ancient traditions in their modern lives.
The March 14 session in the medical center’s chapel, one of the first of its kind, is open to all Jewish couples preparing to deliver at Cedars-Sinai, including those who are unaffiliated with Jewish institutions or who are in interfaith relationships.
The one-time workshop – to be repeated in subsequent months for additional parents — is a pilot effort that could eventually be expanded to families from other religious and cultural traditions.
“We’re providing the ideas and resources and information on how to raise a Jewish child,” said Cedars-Sinai Senior Rabbi Jason Weiner. “We hope to convey the beauty and to inspire, giving parents the knowledge and capability to make decisions they may not have thought about until this point in their lives.”
About 1,400 Jewish babies are born at Cedars-Sinai annually, accounting for roughly 20 percent of births at the medical center. Architects of the Jewish Expectant Parent Workshop said they want to give interested parents guidance as they begin to think about the kinds of Jewish homes they might create.
During the three-hour workshop, couples will explore customs for welcoming boys and girls, along with family rituals and routines that help reinforce Jewish identity. Parents-to-be also will discuss naming traditions – some time-honored, others contemporary – and the likely changes that will occur in their family lives with the addition of newborns.
Weiner said the makeup of the workshop team itself is designed to reflect the diversity of Jewish life in Los Angeles. He is an Orthodox rabbi, while his co-teacher, rabbinic student Ilana Mills, is studying at one of Reform Judaism’s flagship seminaries, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Both have children born at Cedars-Sinai.
Jewish educators and communal leaders say the inaugural session – with room for 12 couples — comes at an important moment for expectant parents who may have limited connection to their culture or tradition. Many do not belong to synagogues, or live far from immediate family who might otherwise support Jewish values.
“We want anyone who is bringing a Jewish child into the world to face questions with confidence,” said Jonathan Schreiber, the medical center’s director of community engagement who initiated the idea for the workshop. “There’s more to parenthood than just the physical act of child rearing.”
Expectant parents can learn more about the workshop online at www.cedars-sinai.edu/prenatal. Information also is available by calling the Prenatal Education Office, (310)-423-5168, or the Spiritual Care Office, (310)-423-5550.