“Becoming a Soulful Parent, A path to the wisdom within” is the title of an important and beautiful book by Dasee Berkowitz. Published by Kasva Press, author Abigail Pogrebin writes in a series of tributes in its opening pages that Berkowitz “helps us anchor (and calm) our roiling anxieties about the state of the world, while giving us the tools to shepherd our families through more personal, challenging terrain.”
The book, explains Berkowitz in its introduction, “is a compilation of the wisdom I have absorbed over the past several years while directing Ayeka’s Becoming a Soulful Parent program, an experience that enabled me to meet and learn from scores of talented people.”
Ayeka is itself remarkable. It was founded by Aryeh Ben David in 2006. Its “Soulful Education Training Program,” its website relates,” is geared toward rabbis, educators, and individual learners from every denomination who want more; who want a method of teaching traditional Jewish wisdom that goes deeper and leaves a lasting impact.” It operates in Israel and now also in North America.
Berkowitz lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Rabbi Leon Morris, president of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and three very lively children.
I knew Berkowitz as our rebbetzin when Rabbi Morris became, now decades ago, the first full-time rabbi at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, New York, which prides itself as “Long Island’s Oldest Synagogue.”
Her brilliance shone as a bright light then — and in this powerful book.
This is not a typical parenting text. “This book has a different agenda,” writes Berkowitz. “There are no how-tos or systems of behavior modification to adopt. Each chapter contains a mix of personal anecdotes, insights from Jewish tradition and general culture, and an Ayeka Workbook section with reflective questions. And while the book is replete with examples from Jewish wisdom, it is open to parents of all backgrounds.”
There is the chapter, for instance, “A Note on Strange times, Parenting through a Pandemic.” She writes: “COVID-19 brings with it an awareness that is unprecedented. We have become more aware of our own fragility, our common humanity, and the limitations on our human understanding of virology. While we are dependent on science and medicine to create a vaccine, we know deep down that COVID-19 is not the first, nor will it be the last, new virus to surface. There is so much we don’t know.”
She continues “It is also a time to appreciate so many things that we previously took for granted. Simple pleasures such as seeing a friend (at a distance of six feet!) or listening to the birds early in the morning can replenish our tired minds and bodies as many of us stay put, sheltering in place. The doctors, nurses, and all the health-care professionals summon superpower strength to focus and care for the sick when the health0care system is overwhelmed with cases. Neighbors organize other community members to make sure food and medicine are delivered to those who are isolated, and we feel a renewed optimism that our concern for one another is stronger than our fear and indifference.
“COVID-19 jolted us into a new way of being,” Berkowitz writes.
She suggests: “Instead of trying to escape the present, we can adopt a becoming mindset. The tense of becoming is present continuous. We move through a period of time and become transformed by it. Difficult times are never things that we can sidestep, ignore, or deny. They need to be moved through. While parenting through the pandemic, the questions that guide me are: How am I going to move through this time? What are the internal resources I can depend on? When do I need to exercise more self-compassion? And how can I help my children access their internal resources as well?”
In a chapter “Parenting Through Difficult Time,” Berkowitz relates: “It might take some effort — and even feel like work — for us adults to become attuned to our soul voices, to offer expansive love to those with whom we are closest, and to feel a connection to God. Children, on the other hand, come by these soulful qualities naturally.
“According to Jewish wisdom literature, this connection actually begins in utero!” she goes on. She notes that a midrash “teaches that children possess a deep knowledge and connection to a source of light in the womb.” Says Berkowitz: “Our children, who are closer in age to this source of knowing, can be our teachers.”
“Children are born with spiritual intelligence that can teach grown-ups a thing or two. While we usually rush by a ladybug they stand fascinated by it. While we might dread another Zoom call with family members or another meal together with just the nuclear family, children are animated by these gatherings because they intuit that family time is sacred. Their enthusiasm for family and fascination with nature become the connective teacher to help them develop their inborn spiritual intelligence.”
Among the many values of the book is that it helps parents change their perspective when they are challenged with squabbling siblings.
“How do we address sibling rivalry?” she asks in a chapter “Rivalry, Competition, and Comparison.” She writes: “Once we understand that our children compare themselves to one another, vying for our affirmation — and that this perception is at the core of sibling rivalry — we are guided to react with renewed perspective.”
“How can we see each of our kids as infinitely valuable, without comparing each to the other?” she asks. “How can the way we see them become a model for how they see themselves? We want them to be able to say to themselves, ‘So what if my brother is good at math. That doesn’t impact me! I am me! I am great with animals. My worth isn’t tied to the fact that my brother is better at math than I am! And, in fact, it’s great that he is him and he is good at math. Cool!’”
In a chapter, “Grandparents The View Through Love Lenses,” Berkowitz writes that unlike the “love lenses” through which grandparents view their grandchildren, “parents see their children through ‘busy lenses.’ Love lenses see the children as cute, caring, and capable (which they are). Busy lenses see what is lacking. He must get better a math. She must learn to act like a mensch. He must learn how to share.
“A difference between parents and grandparents is that we see our children in ‘real time’ and grandparents see them in ‘generational time.’”
Berkowitz writes: “We are the bridge between our parents, who carry with them so much history, and our children, who carry with them the potential to touch eternity. We are the portal through which their two worlds meet.
“What would it mean to show up ‘soulfully’ in that meeting place?” she continues. “What would it mean for us to consciously invite in the relationship between those who are aging and those who are growing, between legacy and newness, between history and eternity?”
Her concluding chapter, “Afterword A Love Letter,” addressed to “Dear Parents,” declares: “Love stands like a door at the entrance to our souls. Love can open spaces within us we didn’t know we had.
“Our love as parents is a demanding love.
“It’s an expanding love.”
Dasee’s book gently leads us to become better parents. It is honest. It is personal. It is a guide that soars with wisdom.