PJ Library Program Educates New Jewish Parents


Whether it’s your first or your fourth, having a baby can be a difficult experience. Having community support and others you can talk to while preparing to be a parent is crucial, and PJ Library is aiming to provide that community with its upcoming Jewish Baby University program.

Participants in the first cohort of “Belly Talk,” which has since been rebranded into “Jewish Baby University” (Courtesy of Rachel Pototsky)

Themed around “the joys and oys of pregnancy,” as the program’s motto goes, Jewish Baby University is a cohort-based program that will meet once a week over the course of seven weeks, starting on Wednesday, Jan. 10.

While PJ Library has offered programming for new parents before, such as through its Shalom Baby outreach program for expectant parents that was run in coordination with the formerly named Macks Center for Jewish Connections, but said program took place over a decade ago. Jewish Baby University is actually a rebrand of a more recent program, “Belly Talk,” in line with the Macks Center’s rebrand to Macks Jewish Connection Network.

“A lot of the conversation around starting Jewish Baby University came from a conversation we’d had in the past about getting families to sign up for Jewish preschools,” explained Rachel Pototsky, the family experiences senior associate at the Jewish Connection Network. Pototsky plans and runs many of the network’s family-oriented programs and events. “What better way to entice families to join Jewish preschools than to show them the connections they can make in the Jewish community before their babies are even here?”

In accordance with that mission, Jewish Baby University will be held in partnership with the Learning Ladder program at Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation and the JCC’s Stoler Early Learning Center, featuring a tour of the former and discussions with staff at both preschools.

Also scheduled to speak are a member of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center prenatal department, who will be discussing the birthing process and infant care; Dr. Steven Adashek, former president of the Maryland OB/GYN Society, who will discuss the brit milah ceremony; and a member of the JCC’s J-Life team to present about the JCC’s offerings for new parents and their children.

“This is really a way for parents to form friendships and bonds, but also to learn about all of the great opportunities in the community,” Pototsky said.

While maternity programs like Mommy And Me offer an opportunity for recent mothers to connect and share their post-pregnancy experiences, the goal of Jewish Baby University is to provide those opportunities with a Jewish twist. Another aim is to provide an inclusive environment for interfaith, multicultural or same-sex couples who are expecting or planning on adopting.

“Some of these other programs you might do at a hospital, for example, aren’t going to talk about brit milah,” Pototsky said. “They’re not going to teach you about the opportunities a Jewish preschool offers, or the opportunities that other Jewish institutions offer. What really sets us apart is that you’re getting all of this other information.”

Because of the program’s Jewish focus, Pototsky and the staff of PJ Library have to take certain cultural customs into consideration when planning activities. For example, some participating families may not want to participate in art-themed activities due to customs surrounding the idea of bringing things for the baby into the home before the baby arrives. They also plan to discuss brit milah, which participants may have varying opinions about. Specific customs like these have been frequent subjects of conversation while planning Jewish Baby University.

“I hope that [new parents] are excited to continue their Jewish journey, wherever that may take them,” Pototsky said. “And I hope that it really instills a passion for them to continue the Jewish customs and practices in their home.”

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