First-time parents face a mountain of preparation for having a baby, from finding clothing and toys to learning how to care for a newborn. To help with education, many find themselves at clinics or hospitals for prenatal classes.
That’s where the Mayerson Jewish Community Center saw an opportunity: Why not also offer prenatal classes to engage Jewish parents and build a stronger community of new families?
“Our thought in J Baby is, instead of doing these classes in a room full of strangers, come to the JCC, do these classes with other first-time Jewish parents,” said Marisa Phillips, the PJ Library coordinator for the Mayerson JCC and one of the organizers of J Baby in Cincinnati.
“Having any child, but especially your first, is overwhelming to say the least,” she said. “To know that you’ve got a team of other parents that are in the same position as you…[is] a real comforting and a very inclusive thing.”
Last week the Mayerson JCC wrapped up its pilot J Baby program, having hosted five expectant parents every Thursday for four weeks in classes taught by local Jewish medical professionals.
The classes ranged from understanding labor and delivery to Jewish traditions for newborns like the brit milah, or circumcision ceremony. The program was casual and had dinner provided, Phillips said, designed as an open forum where parents could ask any question without judgment.
In deciding to offer J Baby classes, the JCC was influenced by the 2019 Cincinnati Jewish Community Study, which showed that local Jewish institutions struggle to connect to many Jews – including those in interfaith relationships and young adults.
Meanwhile, nearly 60% of children in Jewish households are being raised by intermarried parents. “With the study, that’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind: thinking about how we engage the unengaged,” said Devra Silverman, manager of youth, family, & Jewish life for the JCC.
J Baby is “a different type of program that we’re offering compared to programs that we’ve done in the past,” she said. “I think it will reach people that haven’t really been engaged with our community.”
Keeping a broad appeal to many Jews also affected how J Baby is organized. For the class on circumcisions, taught by a rabbi and an OB/GYN who does the operation, the rabbi is a fellow at 18 Doors, the nationally known Jewish interfaith nonprofit, and the OB/GYN does nondenominational brit milah ceremonies.
Both professionals are “well versed and comfortable in the direction of our community, especially in regards to what the study showed with interfaith families,” Phillips said.
The JCC plans to stay in touch with J Baby participants after the classes, and is looking into organizing postpartum support groups and other events for parents to meet and talk about their experiences. Already knowing new Jewish parents will also help with getting them involved in other JCC programs, like PJ Library, which offers free Jewish children’s books, and the early childhood school.
J Baby will create “that cohort of people that are comfortable and able to use each other as a resource, and then hopefully, go through those other programs together,” Silverman said.
And though it’s too soon to get detailed feedback about how participants felt about J Baby, so far the reception from both first-time parents and the professionals teaching classes has been good, Phillips and Silverman said.
“The educators are just like, ‘Thank you so much for having me…what a wonderful experience to be able to connect with all of these different future parents,’” Silverman said. “As of right now, everything’s just been positive.”
Three more cohorts of J Baby are planned for this year, with the next session running mid-April to mid-May, and the JCC plans to keep the program around long-term.
J Baby costs $136 for JCC members, and $163 for non-members, which helps cover the four classes, a pre-class social event, and, once babies are born, the delivery of custom gift baskets that have Jewish items.
“Our goal is that when someone gets pregnant with their first child, in Cincinnati, a Jewish couple, they say, ‘Oh, now we need to sign up for J Baby,’” Phillips said. “It’s on that checklist of things that you do.”