Parenting is one of toughest challenges out there, particularly during a pandemic that has pinned parents and kids at home for endless rounds of meals and snacks and Zoom classes in conditions that can push anyone’s buttons.
But educational consultant Dasee Berkowitz believes every parent has exactly what they need to become the parent they want to be. They just need to learn how to utilize those skills.
“We all want to know how to show up and be patient, be kind, have clean clothes and make meals that don’t consist of Oreo cookies,” said Berkowitz.
Berkowitz’s debut parenting how-to book, “Becoming a Soulful Parent: A Path to the Wisdom Within” (Kasva Press) is a continuation of her work as an educational consultant with Ayeka, an Israel-based educational institution, which runs a Becoming a Soulful Parent program for groups in Israel and the US.
In some ways, this book is exactly what’s needed after a trying 12 months of pandemic parenting.
The soulful parenting ethos envisions childrearing not as a chore to be managed and mitigated but rather as a pathway for personal and spiritual growth, drawing on parents’ inner wisdom and inspiration from Jewish thought.
The book (which Ayeka is offering at a discount for those who donate) is a companion for participants in the Ayeka Soulful Parenting groups, but is also designed as a standalone read.
Throughout the 153-page guide, Berkowitz is warmly frank about her own parenting experiences, recounting her family’s struggles and successes.
“The book can be like your friend, as in, I’m here too, I’m also struggling, here’s how Jewish wisdom has helped me, let’s walk this path together,” said Berkowitz. “We all need to come to our own answers and that’s my hope with this, giving a sense that we’re all in this parenting experience together.”
The American-born and Jerusalem-dwelling Berkowitz references Jewish sources and philosophies throughout, bringing in Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as well as other well-known voices, from Brene Brown to Parker Palmer and John O’Donohue — “lots of people who have been my rebbes in working on this project,” said Berkowitz.
“I wanted it to be authentic and Jewish wisdom was grounding for me,” said Berkowitz. “It’s what gave me a perspective and a prism to look through. It’s a point of reference for people, even if they don’t know who Rav Kook is,” referring to Abraham Isaac Kook, Israel’s first chief rabbi.
The guide is a smooth, easy read, divided into 12 chapters, or episodes, as Berkowitz calls them.
With a steady thread of references to her own life in Jerusalem with her husband, Pardes Institute president Rabbi Leon Morris, and their three children under 12, Berkowitz tackles the challenges of being true to oneself as a parent, establishing relationships with spouses and partners in the parenting journey and welcoming different parenting styles.
She takes a look at sibling rivalries, brings in the spirituality of home and family routine, and talks about how to live with chaos in today’s world.
The final chapters deal with the role of grandparents in soulful inter-generational relationships, and the place of Shabbat and prayer, however those elements may show up in any family’s life.
Berkowitz began working with Ayeka when she and her family moved to Israel seven years ago from the US, and as she was also seeking her own soulful role beyond synagogue attendance or personal prayer.
The Ayeka Soulful Parenting groups began with some of Berkowitz’s friends who gathered in her living room along with Ayeka founder Aryeh Ben David for a six-week course. The two facilitators spent hours finding the appropriate texts to ground and uplift that first group of parents.
The idea behind the groups is to create deep connections among parents who share their parenting struggles and successes with one another, finding strength in the common journey.
“We were being really honest that it’s difficult to be very vulnerable to friends in the midst of parenting struggles. It was an experiment,” said Berkowitz.
The soulful parenting courses resonated with Ayeka’s initial groups of Israeli parents, followed by Jewish communities in the US that were equally interested in the course and in becoming facilitators by training with Berkowitz and her fellow Ayeka colleagues.
The book, a natural companion to the parenting groups, was completed toward the start of the coronavirus, which prompted Berkowitz to add a prologue about parenting through a pandemic.
“I wanted something that outlasts the virus but also speaks to this moment we’re in right now,” she said. “There’s real hardship and struggle and I wanted to be witness to what we were all experiencing in our own pressure cookers.”
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