Everyone told Rabbi Ilana Grinblat that becoming a parent changes everything. But she had no idea what they were talking about.
Until, of course, she became a parent.
Grinblat's new memoir-style parenting guide, Blessings and Baby Steps: The Spiritual Path of Parenthood, takes readers through the milestones of parenting — from conception and labor through swimming lessons and first trips to the zoo — demonstrating how each experience can transform a parent's attitude and outlook.
The book is a chronicle of Grinblat's own experiences as a mother of two, blended with wisdom from friends and teachers and tales from the rabbis and the Torah.
"A lot of books tell you the practical dimensions — diapers, naptime. This book is about how you change as a person and how your outlook on life can be deepened," Grinblat explains.
"It's about finding the sacredness within everyday life, and figuring out, despite all the challenges, the mix of good and bad — how do you find the joy in all of it?"
It can be hard to find the sacredness in 3 a.m. feedings or temper tantrums, but Grinblat was determined.
In one chapter, "Worry: The Price of Love," she jokingly asks, "What is a Jewish telegram?"
The answer: "Start worrying; letter to follow."
Grinblat goes on to describe the anxiety that started during her first pregnancy — and never went away. "I felt as if a switch had been turned on inside me, and the 'Jewish mother' had come to life," she writes.
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Realizing that the switch didn't have an off setting, she set out to find a rational way to deal with the worry, turning to a midrash about the Shema.
In the book she translates the Shema prayer as "Hear, Israel, Adonai our God is One." "Israel" refers to the people of Israel, but it's also another name for the patriarch Jacob.
In the midrash, the rabbis ask what Jacob did to warrant a prayer in his name. "Astonishingly, the midrash answers: Because he worried about his children!" Grinblat writes.
"The text says that Jacob 'feared all his days' whether his children would turn out well."
The midrash explains that Jacob fretted over the type of people his children would turn out to be and the values they would embrace. To Grinblat, this was a reminder that all parents should be concerned not only about their children's health and safety, but also about their spiritual and moral growth.
She came to the conclusion that "worry is a healthy manifestation of my love," and learned to accept it — and not worry about worrying so much.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Grinblat moved to Los Angeles for rabbinical school, and now lives there with her husband, Tal, a lawyer, and their two children, Jeremy, 7, and Hannah, 4.
Soon after Jeremy was born, Grinblat, at the time a pulpit rabbi, realized that Jeremy had quickly become the inspiration behind her weekly sermons.
"A lot of them were coming from reflecting on what it means to become a parent," Grinblat says. During the first few months of my son's life, the prayer 'How wondrous are your works, God' kept coming back to me over and over.
"I realized that I wanted to take some time to write and explore how becoming a parent was inspiring me and changing me."
And thus a book was born.
But Blessings and Baby Steps isn't just for parents, emphasizes Grinblat, who now teaches midrash at the American Jewish University's Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.
"The book is filled with spiritual lessons that apply to everyone," she says. "It's asking how do you cultivate patience and perseverance and humility? How do you define what success is in your life?
"You don't have to be a parent, or Jewish, or religious, to relate to that."