By Stacey Dresner
WEST HARTFORD — What should you do when your toddler throws a screaming fit in the grocery store? When your kids fight over a toy for the umpteenth time in one day? When your teenage daughter (who you love more than life itself but who is being really snotty lately) slams her bedroom door in a huff?
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg says to “Nurture the Wow.”
The author of Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder and Radical Amazement of Parenting, Ruttenberg will discuss “Parenting as a Spiritual Practice” on Wednesday evening, April 26 at Beth El Temple in West Hartford.
The mother of three young children, Ruttenberg was named one of The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” in 2010, and the same year was named one of the top 50 most influential women rabbis by The Jewish Daily Forward. She says Nurture the Wow is a “parenthood book,” not a “parenting book.”
“There is a lot that is written about how to raise gracious children and empathetic children and successful children and all of that. I’m really not interested in outcomes for children so much as process for parents,” she says. “It’s not that I don’t need these things but my interest is in the parent’s experience. What happens in your head and in your heart when a kid is having a meltdown in a grocery store? How do you deal with the feelings of power that you have over this little life, and the powerlessness in the ways that you don’t? How can we do the work to try to get more connected and more present in the moment, to see the real, absolute fullness of our children and even, potentially, to draw the connection between this love and a greater love we can tap into?
“When that kid is melting down at the grocery store or struggling with homework, if you can really bring yourself into a space where you can let go of all of your own baggage, and your distractions and your agenda and really see them and reach out and touch them in a way that Martin Buber describes as an ‘I-Thou’ encounter. Or when you can have a moment of what Abraham Joshua Heschel calls ‘radical amazement’ with your kid — where they are like, ‘Look ants!’ ‘Look bubbles!’— When you can really step into that, I think that takes you everywhere you need to go in your parenting.”
According to Ruttenberg, Nurture the Wow is based in Judaism, offering wisdom from many Jewish texts — while also sharing from other religious traditions. Ruttenberg also quotes from parenting books and articles, and literary works by the likes of Fred Rogers, Betty Friedan and Rumi. She also shares the stories of many parents.
Because she was a rabbi before she had her first child, she says, her new experiences as a mom made her see some aspects of Judaism in a new light.
“The question that became sort of the genesis of the book was how many theologians throughout history have been mothers and the answer obviously is not very many,” she laughed. “My framework and my lenses were totally different.”
And the fact that child-rearing and all that it entails was not on the radar screen of the men writing Jewish law gave Rabbi Ruttenberg pause. One example she talks about is a day when her oldest son was nine months old and she was simply changing his diaper.
“We have a blessing that you say after you go to the bathroom, Asher Yatzer, and it never occurred to me to say it after changing a diaper. But it is a way of thanking God that the body is working the way it is supposed to.”
Saying a blessing during a diaper change was just one of Rabbi Ruttenberg’s “little revelations along the way” to writing the book.
Intermixed with talk of “poop and desperation and boredom” Ruttenberg says her West Hartford talk will “weave together people’s lived experience with some of what Judaism has to offer. I am going to do my best to link the lofty ideas to everybody’s lived experiences with little kids. If I talk about Martin Buber and I don’t give you something to do when you go home to talk to your own kids, then I haven’t done my own job.”
Rabbi Ruttenberg adds that mothers are not the only ones invited or who will get something from the talk.
Beth Papermaster, chair of Beth El Women’s Network and co-chair of the JCC Jewish Book Festival, discovered Nurture the Wow last year at the Jewish Book Council Network Authors on Tour event in New York.
“There was a good deal of buzz about Danya and her book. When I got back to West Hartford and told Rabbi Ilana Garber [of Beth El Temple] about the book she was so excited because she knows Danya and also knows that she is very dynamic writer and speaker,” Papermaster said. “We are very fortunate to be able to bring her to the community and I am thrilled that so many other Jewish organizations are partnering with us.”
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg will discuss “Parenting as a Spiritual Practice” on Wednesday, April 2, 7 p.m.at Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Ave, West Hartford. The talk is a part of the Mandell JCC Jewish Book Festival and is presented by Beth El in partnership with the JCC, Solomon Schechter Day School, Mikveh Bess Israel, the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, Hadassah Greater Hartford and Emanuel Synagogue Sisterhood. For information: bethelwesthartford.org/WomensNetwork.
CAP: Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg