Published in The Times of Israel, November 13, 2015
by Amanda Borschel-Dan
Dasee Berkowitz’s first Yom Kippur as a young mother got her thinking. To more easily take part in the lengthy synagogue service, her son, then only a few months old, was wrapped upon her body in a sling. But when it came time for the traditional symbolic chest beating during which Jews confess their sins, she realized she couldn’t put all her faults onto this pure creature.
“I didn’t want him implicated in this moment for these misdeeds,” said Berkowitz ahead of her presentation in the annual Global Day of Jewish Learning on November 15.
This year’s theme, “Love: Devotion, Desire & Deception,” has speakers from across the Jewish world and every denomination exploring differing dimensions of love — from romantic to parental to divine. The Global Day of Jewish Learning is a project of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s Aleph Society. It aims to unite over 500 communities in 40 countries through the study of Jewish texts over 24 hours on digital platforms.
Berkowitz’s segment, which can be seen on video on and after November 15, is called “Love: Becoming a Soulful Parent.” It is an outgrowth of her work in conducting courses at the Jerusalem-based Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education with Rabbi Aryeh Ben-David.
‘Our Jewish texts offer us meaningful insights for our most important loving relationships’
Karen Sponder, worldwide director of the Global Day of Jewish Learning, told The Times of Israel this week, “Two things that particularly resonate for me about this year’s theme and 24×24: Our Jewish texts offer us meaningful insights for our most important loving relationships, and even busy parents have this opportunity to learn because Jewish learning is available to them wherever they are via the Internet.”
For Berkowitz, parenthood definitely and forever changed her spiritual dynamic. However, whereas often new mothers put that part of their lives “on hold” until their children are grown, she decided to dig deeper and turn in.
“I realized there was more there,” she said, about feeling like her spiritual life was “muted.” “I couldn’t figure out how to raise the volume on it,” she said, to make it the meaningful part of her life as it had been before becoming a parent.
And she quickly began to wonder about a lot of issues that were new for her — but present in generations of Jewish life.
‘What does it mean to bless children? What do Shabbat rituals look like now? What does prayer look like now, holding a child?’
“What does it mean to bless children? What do Shabbat rituals look like now? What does prayer look like now, holding a child?” she asked herself.
She slowly realized that instead of being lost in prayer, now she was fully present in prayer, ever aware of her child and his needs too.
“It meant trying to have this consciousness around it,” she said.
For many, “spirituality” is the stuff of pot-smoking, yoga-practicing hippies who disengage from the realities of everyday life. Berkowitz, neatly coifed and sensibly dressed in a rose Oxford shirt, would definitely stick out on an ashram.
“There is so much craziness that we can have in our minds,” she said. Often, she said, there are so many “sources of authority” — parenting blogs, our own insecurities — that we don’t know which direction to move in or how to handle a situation.
“We can sometimes just whirl around in an internal cycle that isn’t calming, doesn’t say stop! Rega! There’s a bigger picture that you’re a part of, that you play a role in, that you have a responsibility to bring other people up in,” she said.
“It’s a grounding place, to say there’s an authority greater than myself, which we sometimes call God, other times a force greater than myself,” she said. “It removes yourself from an all too easily accessible narcissism, and gives the tools and language, the paradigms of thinking and behaving that can deepen our experience of living.”
Berkowitz, 43, hails from a Conservative Jewish household in Boston, but became more Orthodox after her immigration to Israel in 1995. She moved back to the States where she became a “Reform rebbetzin” upon her marriage to a Rabbi Leon Morris, who will also present in the Global Day of Jewish Learning.
The couple has three children, ages seven, five, and two, who were born in New York. The family moved to Israel a year and a half ago, where they have joined the growing mass of “post-denominational” US transplants in Jerusalem who keep kosher and Shabbat.
“We draw the wisdom and the yofi [beauty] and joy of what all the different movements have to offer,” she said.
For Berkowitz, a Jewish sense of spirituality is “a spirituality grounded in doing, in mitzvot [commandments], with times to be places and do things, and be responsible for other people,” she said.
It is looking at life from 60,000 feet above. She asks parents to zoom out and think about how to recognize that their children have unique souls, and how to cultivate them. Equally importantly, how to recognize your partner, your partner’s differences, and “celebrate and honor that soul,” she said.
‘Often we want to be on the same page with our partner, but we need to honor that they have a different approach’
In her courses she uses a text from Genesis which uses the Hebrew term “ezer knegdo,” often translated in English as a “helpmeet,” but in Hebrew has a conflicting connotation of helping in opposition.
“Often we want to be on the same page with our partner, but we need to honor that they have a different approach, which is necessary for raising the child. We need to say thank you for being different and having a different way,” she said.
Spiritual parenting is an awareness of God as the third partner. During her presentation, she uses a text from Talmud Niddah, which states that a child receives some qualities, each from his mother, father, and from God. From God come the more esoteric qualities, she said, “the soul qualities.”
“What does it mean for us to take that teaching in, that concept that there’s a third thing creating someone that is not simply a mini me, or someone who is just like your husband, but someone who is determined to fulfill his own destiny? How do we honor and respect it, and be real about it,” she asked.
“We’re all in process,” she laughed, “there’s by no means a sense of ‘I got it right.’For a parenting expert, Berkowitz had a lot more questions than answers.
She said without hesitation that she doesn’t expect to enjoy parenting all the time.
“Often times it’s at the most unexpected times, that you have that pause and moments of soulful connection — not necessarily around the Shabbat table,” she said.