Become more insightful, inspired parents through Jewish spiritual wisdom.
“While raising our three children, we learned a parenting secret: that bringing up a child transforms us and transforms our world. We discovered that being parents is a spiritual journey that begins in an act of love and continues through intentional actions. The Holy One bequeaths to us minimally formed creatures, all potential, morally neutral. As parents we transform those children into compassionate, loving human beings. We become partners with God.”
—from the Introduction
Parenting has never been easy—but in a culture that encourages more screen time than face time, how can you make sure that your children stay connected to what really matters in life?
In this guidebook for building a strong framework for a Jewish life, Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November, MSSW, reveal the spiritual wisdom they have learned and the hard-won parenting techniques they developed that shaped their children as individuals and their family as a whole. Together, they explore spiritually nourishing approaches to help you foster essential Jewish values like gratitude, joy and honesty in your children. Kipnes and November also share timeless teachings and spirit-filled activities, rituals and prayers that will help you cultivate strong Jewish values and cherished spiritual memories in your own family.
“This book is a gem. The authors serve as your warm, wise and candid guides to a stunning range of Jewish wisdom for the here and now.... Learn and enjoy.”
—Dr. Wendy Mogel, author, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children
“An invaluable guide for parents seeking to raise spiritually resilient and grounded children.”
—Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president, Union for Reform Judaism
“There are many how-to books on the market, but few address how to nurture a soul. ... A provocative, honest and practical guide for cultivating the soul. It is a gift to all of us who care about the spiritual imagination of children.”
—Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, author of many award-winning children’s book, including God’s Paintbrush
“Offer[s] a powerful blend of useful information, insightful questions and concrete practices that meets each of us where we are and takes us where we want to go.”
—Carla Naumburg, PhD, author, Parenting in the Present Moment
“An invaluable resource for parents who are concerned not only with their children’s success, but with their souls.”
—Rabbi David Wolpe, Max Webb Rabbi, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles; best-selling author, Teaching Your Children about God
“Engaging and spiritually motivating.... A must-read for clergy, parents, grandparents, teachers and anyone charged with the holy task of nurturing young souls.”
—Rabbi Ilana C. Garber, Beth El Temple, West Hartford, Connecticut; blogger, ilanagarber.com
“With warmth, candor, Jewish insight and practical wisdom, Paul Kipnes and Michelle November show us all how to be better parents. By reminding us that both childhood and parenting are spiritual journeys, they illuminate a path toward wholeness for us all.”
—David Stern, senior rabbi, Temple Emanu-El, Dallas
“A wonderful resource.... Informed by traditional and modern Jewish sources. A very helpful guide at many levels.”
—Joanne Doades, author, Parenting Jewish Teens: A Guide for the Perplexed
“Gently encourage[s] the reader to explore the myriad ways of infusing parenting with moments of deep meaning.”
—Rebecca Einstein Schorr, co-editor, The Sacred Calling: Forty Years of Women in the Rabbinate; blogger, This Messy Life (rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com)
“A wonderful, idea-packed, practical guide for shaping a spiritually alive Jewish family. The perfect gift for parents and grandparents looking to bring joy and meaning, blessings and kisses into the home.”
—Dr. Ron Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education, American Jewish University; author, The Best Boy in the United States of America: A Memoir of Blessings and Kisses
“Inclusion is a value that the entire Jewish community must practice—in its synagogues, schools, camps and community organizations. Paul Kipnes and Michelle November have been leaders on this issue in their community and we can all learn from their example of acceptance and inclusion.”
—Jay Ruderman, president, Ruderman Family Foundation
“Paul Kipnes and Michelle November share their decades of wisdom on our most sacred work as parents—raising our children.... They live it, breathe it, teach it. Their children are the greatest testimony.”
—Ruben Arquilevich, executive director, Newman Center for Year-Round Engagement
“With rare wisdom, gentle love and humor, Paul Kipnes and Michelle November turn parenting into a spiritual adventure. This book is a blessing to a new generation of families. I will joyfully share it with new parents and grandparents.”
—Rabbi Edward Feinstein, author, Tough Questions Jews Ask: A Young Adult’s Guide to Building a Jewish Life
“Insightful, uplifting and filled with lots of practical tips.... It should sit right next to Dr. Spock on the nightstand.”
—Dr. Kerry M. Olitzky, executive director, Big Tent Judaism / Jewish Outreach Institute; author, Introducing My Faith and My Community: The Jewish Outreach Institute Guide for the Christian in a Jewish Interfaith Relationship
“Alternating between personal anecdotes and Jewish teachings, the book is a lovely blend of inspiration and instruction.... A comprehensive guide for Jewish parents across the spiritual spectrum. Paul and Michelle offer delightful nuggets of wisdom that I look forward to using and sharing.”
—Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, parenting blogger, Superman Sam (supermansamuel.blogspot.com)
Download a printable version
Part 1: Building Foundations for Spiritual Parenting
Chapter 1: Searching for Spirituality—Fostering Ruchaniyut in Our Children’s Minds and Hearts
Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious? Both? Neither? In what ways?
What spiritual or religious rituals, beliefs or experiences do you want to be part of your child’s life? Why?
Chapter 2: Partnership, Pluralism and Peace—Shutafut as a Spiritual Parenting Strategy
Who are your partners in raising your child and how does their partnership add value to the process?
What have been some of the surprising benefits of partnership?
What have been some of the challenges of your parenting partnership? How have you addressed these challenges in the past? How might you address the challenges you currently face together?
Chapter 3: Holding Them Close, Letting Them Grow—The Tzimtzum of Spiritual Parenting
What is the idea of tzimtzum (contraction) in its original mystical context? How does this relate to parenting?
At what point do you think a parent should practice tzimtzum? When have you tried it? Will you try it?
Chapter 4: Transmitting Our Heritage Through the Generations—The Spiritual Significance of Mishpacha and L’dor Vador
What are the most meaningful Jewish (or spiritual) rituals, wisdom and values you remember from your childhood? Which do you want to pass on to your child? Why?
In what ways do you hope your child’s grandparent or other older adult will enrich your child’s life?
Chapter 5: Truths We Know—Sharing Emet with Our Children
Can you think of a time that someone shared with you a truth that clarified and guided your own path ahead?
If your life were to end tomorrow, what three messages—besides “I love you”—would you want to share with your child?
Part 2: Practicing Spiritual Living for Spiritual Growth
Chapter 6: Living Holy Lives—Kedoshim Tiheyu at Bedtime, at Wake-Up and Throughout the Day
Where and when do you experience holiness in your life?
Which activities are most effective to help bring holiness into your child’s life?
Chapter 7: Each Child Is Unique—Embracing B’tzelem Elohim
Where are you challenged to find the image of God in people? How might you work to embrace them?
What are your favorite rituals or ideas for personalizing your family’s Passover seder?
Chapter 8: Caring for Body, Mind and Spirit—Strengthening and Preserving God’s Gift with Shmirat HaGuf
Are there messages about body and self-image that your child has received that you wish were different? What are they and how might you counteract them?
How are you bringing shalom (peace and wholeness) into your life and your family?
Chapter 9: Reframing and Decision Making—Empowering Our Children to Explore Alternatives Through Davar Acher
What are your favorite reframing questions? When have they been particularly effective?
Which decisions do you reserve for the adults and which for the kids?
Chapter 10: Opening Our Hearts with Kindness—Instilling Chesed and Gemilut Chasadim into Everyday Life
Where in your child’s life would you like to see more kindness? How can you move your child and family in that direction?
In what ways do you feel on the outskirts of the Jewish community? What are two steps that you might take to change that?
Chapter 11: Living Joyfully—Finding Simcha at the Center of Life
Which Jewish holidays bring joy into your life? How might you enhance that joy in your family?
Look at the fourteen words Judaism has for joy (see pages 167–168). What are the varieties of joy you and your children experience in your lives?
“Try This” Activities
Which activities feel most relevant and meaningful to you? Which two “Try This” activities will you commit to trying in the next two weeks?
What is Jewish spiritual parenting?
Jewish means that we write for Jews, Jewish families, people raising Jewish kids, people working with Jewish parents and anyone who wants to understand how Jewish values can guide parenting.
Spiritual means that our lives are connected to something deeper, higher and more real than we might ever have imagined. Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Memphis, Tennessee, teaches that Jewish spirituality is “a matter of seeing the holy in the everyday.” Being spiritual means living a life that is connected more deeply to everything else, being grateful and compassionate, and opening our eyes to the blessings around us.
Parenting is a process of intentionally acting to nurture and raise children with a certain set of values and perspectives on life.
Thus, Jewish spiritual parenting is about intentionally acting so that our children and families embrace a connection, infused with Jewish values, that nurtures their sense of peace and wholeness.
Do you have to believe in God to be spiritual?
You might also ask, Do you need to believe in God to be a good Jew? The answer to both questions is no. Judaism never had a catechism, a set of beliefs that serve as a litmus test to determine if you are a good Jew. Various rabbis including Maimonides wrote their own lists, but these lists were never fully embraced by the Jewish community. Spirituality is about connecting to something deeper, something bigger than oneself. While some people might understand God as that which connects everything to everything else, spirituality could also be a connection to that presence, to the universe or to the ideals of goodness or humanity. That said, we believe that Judaism offers so many diverse “kosher” God-concepts that if people were to explore them, they might discover a Jewish spirituality that mirrors their own.
How fitting to have a husband and wife write a parenting book together! What was the process of writing like for you as a couple?
We are raising our three kids together so it was natural to write together about raising children. Plus, Michelle has been editing Paul’s sermons and articles for years, so we had already built up a writing partnership. Still, as with parenting in partnership, writing as partners required that we affirm that each of us has unique wisdom to share, that where our visions diverge each speaks important truths nonetheless and that our book—like our babies—would benefit from the insights of both of us. We pushed each other toward clarity and challenged each other to universalize our messages to reach all kinds of readers.
Your book weaves together wisdom, rituals and prayers, as well as Jewish values, personal stories and “Try This” activities. How did you come to include each component?
Jewish spiritual parenting acknowledges that, just like the four children of Passover, each of us—including those raising children and the children themselves—learns in unique ways. Some of us learn from examples, others from intellectual engagement with ideas and still others by practicing skills toward mastery. We honor each of these learning styles (and others) by including these and other learning modalities within the book.
Your family stories are quite personal. Are your children comfortable with the stories being shared?
Central to our commitment to the Jewish value of mishpacha, family, is our commitment to honor the uniqueness and privacy of each of our children. We were challenged to ensure that we introduce our children to our readers as multifaceted individuals. Before publication, we sent each of our kids a draft for their review and critique. We are pleased that the book has their blessing.
In the book, you write about shutafut, the parenting partnership that can enrich the process of raising children. Who participates in this parenting partnership?
In the introduction, we hint at a foundational assumption: that it is sometimes easier to raise children in partnership with another person (or other people). Our parenting can thrive when we have others to bounce ideas off of and to share the responsibility. Note that we do not necessarily point to a spouse, because parenting partnerships might include either another parent or a collection of adults. Parenting partnerships might be formed by parents and step-parents in a blended family, by a single parent with an ex-spouse or with the biological donor, by two men or two women, or by the involvement of grandparents or close friends. We view single parents raising children on their own as being in partnership with the Holy One. To be clear, a single parent can—and most successfully do—raise emotionally balanced and spiritually whole children.
Among the most poignant parts of your book are your letters to your daughter as she went off to college and to your sons about becoming men. You also wrote a very moving ethical will. When do you recommend parents begin writing letters like these to their children?
Jewish spiritual parenting expects us to act with intentionality. We identify the values and wisdom that will guide our parenting and instill within our children a sense of who they are and who they can be. Then we try to saturate our interactions with these values. These writings are in essence letters to our children about what we believe to be most important in life. It is never too early to put pen to paper. By sitting down early and articulating our own emet (truths), parents can be more focused in raising our children.
Grandparenting figures prominently in your book. What do we do if our children don’t have living grandparents or if the relationship with them is strained?
Grandparents are incredible resources for passing values and traditions down l’dor vador (from generation to generation). Because most grandparents do not have daily responsibility for their grandchildren they have the emotional and spiritual space to guide them with extra love. When grandparents are not available, other older relatives or even older adults in the community (from temple, the local Jewish community center or the neighborhood) can be adopted to fit that role. Our book suggests a number of “Try This” activities to help grandparents or other older adults to be positive and meaningful partners of Jewish spirituality.
Your book delineates eleven Jewish values to guide parenting. It concludes by focusing on simcha (joy). Did you have a purpose in the book culminating with simcha?
Absolutely. We believe that at its root Judaism is about joy. Judaism offers at least fourteen different words to describe joy, because joy should infuse our daily actions. We find more success in fostering spirituality and nurturing gratefulness when it is imbued with happiness, fun and meaningfulness. Just as most parents instinctively create joyous secular experiences—like birthday celebrations or Thanksgiving dinners—so too should we use those same principles to infuse every significant (and non-sorrowful) moment in our lives with the same kind of joyfulness.
Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November, MSSW, have been married for over twenty-five years and burst with pride at the admirable young adults their three children are becoming. They spend every summer as faculty at the Camp Newman Jewish summer camp, fostering Jewish spirituality in campers.
Rabbi Paul Kipnes, MAJE, a popular lecturer on raising ethical, resilient Jewish children, is spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California, former camp director and North American Federation of Temple Youth regional advisor.
Michelle November, MSSW, has guided families as a parenting teacher and family camp retreat designer. She is the former national college director of the Union for Reform Judaism and senior admissions officer at de Toledo High School in West Hills, California.
Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November, MSSW, are available to speak to your group or at your event. For more information, please contact us at (802) 457-4000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.