A mother-daughter duo offers others five Jewish-related bonding activities.
“Spiritual journey” — it’s a cliché, but I don’t know a better way to describe the quest I have taken with my mom, Ellen, to better understand Judaism over the past few years.
Raised as a Reform Jew, I searched in college for more knowledge about my religion and became spiritually connected in a way that my mother never expected.
As my mom watched me incorporate Judaism into my life more and more, she was skeptical and fearful that I was entering a Jewish world that she couldn’t relate to.
However, over time, my mom wanted to understand and be a part of something that had become so important to me. She joined me on a parallel path that has turned out to be one of the most beautiful parts of our relationship.
Over the past few years, I have joined several Jewish learning programs, studied in Israel for two summers and become an active young professional and graduate student in Jewish communities in Philadelphia. Simultaneously, my mom began learning Torah at a local Chabad in New Jersey.
While we have taken our separate paths, we have emerged with similar Jewish practices. We still struggle with our individual beliefs about God and prefer different kinds of prayer services, but at the end of the day, we both agree that learning about Judaism has helped us develop into better women and lead more meaningful lives.
We have spent a lot of time looking deeply within ourselves, using Judaism as a way to become better mothers, daughters, friends and community members.
Our mother-daughter relationship was not always as good as it is today. We are able to work through many past issues by harnessing lessons we learned through our spiritual endeavors. In fact, over a year ago, we began reflecting and setting intentions to improve our relationship in a more public way by co-authoring a blog, “My Mother, My Daughter, My Friend.”
Through the blog we learned a lot about each other’s needs and how to overcome the challenges of adult mother-daughter relationships.
Writing about our experiences each week helps us reflect on our experiences and share our thoughts with each other and our readers.
This Mother’s Day, we want to offer five ways that we have used Judaism to deepen our bond over the years:
Light Shabbat candles. One of the three most important mitzvot for women — candlelighting — is a great way to connect with your mother or daughter every week.
Since we don’t live in the same place, we have adopted “Skype Shabbat” — a time every Friday afternoon when we stop what we are doing, share the latest updates on our week, and light candles before Shabbat officially begins. It has been a great way to stay connected and bring Judaism into our relationship every week.
Read Jewish books and start a conversation. We are both bookworms and while we love novels and fiction, we also have enjoyed reading the same Jewish books so we can continue learning and discussing new concepts in Judaism. We don’t always agree, but reading the same books opens up dialogue for us both to grapple with what Judaism means to us. Some books that we both enjoyed reading are Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis, Rebbe by Joseph Telushkin and GPS for the Soul by Rabbi Nadav Cohen.
Find time to get away together. Our strongest Jewish memories often come from times we are able to get away and share Jewish experiences. For example, we took a trip to Israel together and my mom was able to show me places she lived more than 30 years before.
This year, we relaxed, studied, prayed and meditated together at two retreats, one by The Awakened Heart Project (awakenedheartproject.org) and the other by Bais Chana (baischana.org). These opportunities have given us time and space to reconnect and continue our Jewish journeys together.
Prepare a Jewish holiday meal together and pass down traditions. There’s nothing like cooking bubbe’s brisket or kugel to bring a mother and daughter — and the rest of the family — together! For the past few years, we introduced a new tradition where I host a Rosh Hashanah meal for my friends, and my mom comes to provide Jewish cooking tutorials. It has been a great way to pass down recipes and traditions now that I live on my own.
Find ways to perform mitzvot together. Ever since I was a little girl, my mom has been great at finding ways for us to give back and perform good deeds in a way that helps others and brings us closer together. For example, we used to volunteer at a soup kitchen, visit senior homes and participate in walk-a-thons for causes we believe in. More recently, we have both been supporting women-owned Jewish businesses and have shared our experiences along the way.
Jenna Gebel is an MBA student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and her mother, Ellen Resnick, is an independent communications consultant in New Jersey. Their blog can be found at: motherdaughterfriend.com.