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Some So-Far Summaries

I’m in a lull, in terms of new responses.  It may well be a pre-Pesach lull.  So in the meantime, here are some statistics from the information we’ve gathered together, so far.

And if these statistics motivate you to share this with friends or family, that would be even better, right?

So here we go:

90% of synagogues have no way of communicating where they permit or encourage breastfeeding, short of contacting a staff or clergy person.

57% permit breastfeeding in the sanctuary.

49% have a location set up for breastfeeding.

46% of  those locations are totally unlabeled.

13% have no changing table at all.

7% have a fridge where parents can store a bottle of pumped milk.

5 rabbis open their offices to nursing parents wanting quiet/privacy to feed their babies.

2 communities are unfriendly to bottle-feeding.

 

Breastfeeding at: קהילת גוננים, Jeusalem, Israel

קהילת גוננים in Jerusalem, Israel

Nursing in the Sanctuary:

Breastfeeding is permitted in the service by unwritten policy (though hardly practiced), and is comfortable if the mother uses a cover.

Private Nursing Locations:

There used to be a private nursing location that consisted of “a couple chairs behind a mechitza” near the sanctuary.   Longtime members will know where it was.  It hasn’t been set up lately, but the respondent intends to write to the set-up committee to have them start putting it up again.

Other Information:

No information is publicized about the synagogue policy on breastfeeding.

“Most women nurse with a cover outside the sanctuary,” but “I once nursed a 2 year old at a Tu Bishvat shul event (with no cover), and a women from the shul committee came over later and said she noticed me nursing my son – kol hakavod! ”

General Child Friendliness:

There is  no changing table.  Strollers are parked near the sanctuary, near where the nursing location is, when it is set up.  There is no place for kids’ supplies.

“Children are very much part of the shul (and there’s a separate children’s service. ”

“There are a lot of women who bottle feed [in this community], it’s considered normal. ”

Wrap-Up:

This synagogue received a rating of

  • Alright, it works pretty well- 3

out of 7 (where 1 is the best rating and 7 is the worst)

Contact Information:

Vaad.kehilatgonenim@gmail.com

 

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/gonnenim/?fref=ts

Chag Sameach

I’m in the midst of travel for most of the yamim tovim (holidays) this month.  The blog will be back in gear once they’re over.  (Another 2ish weeks)

In the meantime, start thinking about any experiences- good or bad- with nursing, babies and small children from your high holidays shul-going.  Without you, I can only share my own experiences- and one woman (with accompanying baby) can only make it to so many synagogues.

The High Holidays Are Coming: Tips for Successful Nursing

Rosh Hashana is only days away- less than a week.  We prepare for the holidays in many ways- with slichot and shofar blasts, with meal plans and cooking special holiday foods, with travel plans and shul tickets, with songs and stories for our kids.

For those of us with first babies, or in a new shul- also with the question: how will I get my baby through so much shul time?  How much will I be able to be in shul this year?

To make things easier, here are some tips and tricks- one set for parents, the other for synagogues.

For Parents:

  1. Be brave and assertive: Whether you come to synagogue with your baby every week, every day, or this is the very first time, you belong and deserve to feel comfortable.  The rest of this list consists of ways to make that easier.
  2. Prepare your knowledge base: if you haven’t been taking the baby to synagogue, find out where to nurse ahead of time, and think about what is comfortable for you, and for your baby.  (Where does your community allow/encourage breastfeeding? Are you comfortable nursing in the sanctuary, if your community allows it?  How distracted does your baby get?  What makes nursing easiest for You?  If you pump and want a partner/babysitter to give a bottle- is there a fridge you can use?  Where is it?)  It can help to call the synagogue in advance with your questions, so you aren’t worried or anxious about figuring it out during the holidays.
  3. Come prepared: Besides feeding your baby, what else keeps them calm and happy?  How long can you realistically expect your child to handle the crowds/noise/etc.  Bring the things they need.  If they respond strongly to music, start singing some High Holiday melodies to them.
  4. Make a plan with your spouse/partner: Are there parts of the service that matter to you in particular?  How will you balance your needs, the baby(ies), and your partner’s needs?  Be prepared to be flexible, but also consider who feels the strongest pull/obligation for different parts of the service.

For Synagogues:

  1. Prepare for the crowds: if possible add another seat(s) to your private nursing location, or set up an additional space.  For example, Beth Tfiloh, in Baltimore, Maryland, sets up a conference room  as a nursing room, with lots of chairs. They covered the glass door with paper, to give privacy, and put up signs to indicate that it was a nursing room for mothers and babies only.
  2. Communications: Help families with small children feel welcome by communicating where nursing/feeding/snacks are welcome and where they are not.   Make sure ushers/greeters know how to give directions to the nursing room (if relevant), changing tables, play space, etc.
  3. Communications Again: Talk about sanctuary expectations out loud, more than once.  Expect that parents (along with everyone else) will be in-and-out of the service, and may not hear any announcement the first time.
  4. 4. For Synagogues That Use Technology On Holidays: Consider having the service audible or even streamed to the nursing room or play room, especially if you’re making it available in that way already.  Parents who are going to miss a Lot of the service may appreciate it.  (Adjustable volume is a plus, for those with distractable babies.)

A Breastfeeding At Shul Story: Creating A Synagogue Breastfeeding Policy

While I wait for more reviews to come in (if you can, please fill one out here:  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1skGeYXiz85Ej5oWCL05uv5Ykf9uNvG08vfrx2–AHLM/viewform   or pass it on to your friends and family)

This is how the clergy at “Bais Abe” in St. Louis (review here)  developed their breastfeeding policy and signage.  This is the story in the words of Maharat Rori Picker Neiss.

“Last summer, someone approached me with a general question as to whether or not I knew of halakhic sources that discussed the permissibility/non-permissibility of nursing in a sanctuary or Beit Midrash. I did not, but I reached out to a number of colleagues to ask them if they knew of any. Most were male Orthodox rabbis, a number of whom had pulpits. Many responded to me to say that they did not know of any particular sources one way or another, but they did not think there was anything wrong with it.

I responded to say that many women do not feel that it would be a comfortable space to nurse in the synagogue in general, let alone in the sanctuary, and so if there were no halakhic sources against it then would they consider putting up signs in their shul saying it was permitted. I received no responses to that email.

So I decided we needed a sign to explicitly state that nursing would be welcome in the shul. I spoke with the rabbi and a few board members and we went through a few iterations of the sign.

The first one was very awkward and said something like “Nursing is welcome in the sanctuary with an appropriate cover.” And I shared it with colleagues who gave me very helpful feedback. Many questions had to do with the cover. As one person very profoundly pointed out, if we do not have a dress code posted anywhere, then why do we need to post a dress code for nursing? If we trust people to make appropriate choices for the shul in general, we should trust them to make appropriate choices with regard to nursing as well.

I also realized I was talking about the sanctuary only, but that I needed to make people comfortable in the whole shul, but also make clear that there were more private spaces available for those who chose.

The attached sign [stay tuned, I’m still figuring out how to get it up here] became the final product, emphasizing first and foremost that the shul was a space that is family-friendly and puts the values of family at our core, and that as part of that there are no areas of the shul unwelcome to nursing, as well as listing options for those who might seek a door with a lock and/or more comfortable seating. We posted the signs in the women’s section, auditorium, balcony and women’s bathroom– all places I thought women might see them and/or hide fearing that they needed to set themselves apart in order to nurse. “

A Breastfeeding At Shul Story: Creating A Nursing Room From Thin Air!

For a short change of pace, I’m sharing the story of how one couple and their new baby went outside the box to find a way to make breastfeeding possible and comfortable in their synagogue.   They are staying anonymous by their own request.

 “It all started when my husband asked me before yom tov if i wanted to come to shul, and I replied, well, where would I feed the baby?   A few friends, rebbetzins and trips to IKEA and Buy Buy Baby later, voila; the nursing room was born!”

The story, of course, is more complicated and more interesting than that.  As with many synagogues, there is little unused spae just waiting around to be used.  In fact, the only place that was suitable for the room (neither very public,  nor a closet) was the mikvah waiting room. So every shabbos, the nursing room is set up and then Saturday night everything is put away again, so that when you walk into the waiting room, you would never guess that it was also a nursing room.

The nursing room’s secret identity was carefully arranged, so as to be sensitive to the women who are coming to the mikvah. Mikvah night can be very challenging to those who are having a hard time conceiving, and having reminders of breastfeeding aka fertility in those women’s faces would be an insensitive and painful experience.   So they put in extra work to be sensitive to Everyone’s needs.  It takes only a few minutes to set up and take apart.

The room is furnished with  a changing table, a changing pad, and diaper genie, two comfy chairs and nursing stools, boppie pillows and nursing covers.  To help mothers with more than one child, they also provided a carpet with a racetrack design with some toy cars, a dolly with a small stroller, and some books.  Everything but the chairs goes into a closet during the week.  The room is set up so that more than one mother can use it at once, so that no one has to worry that their baby will be hungry and they won’t have access to a space to feed them.  The total cost was “only a few hundred dollars”.

For the family who created (generating both the idea and the funds) the nursing room, the best part is that women really use it.  Having the room available has increased the number of women coming to shul, especially young orthodox mothers with one or more small children, who usually get left out of ritual and services.

5 Ways To Easily Improve Breastfeeding-Friendliness In Your Synagogue

We have reached our first milestone- there are now over 50 reviews, of over 40 synagogues up on the blog!

To help us reach 100 reviews, submit one here:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1skGeYXiz85Ej5oWCL05uv5Ykf9uNvG08vfrx2–AHLM/viewform

In celebration, here are 5 things your synagogue can do, based on these reviews, to easily and affordably improve its breastfeeding-friendliness.

A perfect arrangement may be out of reach- your synagogue may not Have a space to set aside for nursing privately, or may not have its own space at all.  Your sanctuary may not be set up for easy access for parents toting small children.  There are plenty of things that are beyond our reach.

But there are other things that don’t take a lot of time, energy or even money- and they can still make a huge difference.  After 50 reviews, here are 5 that have stood out for me:

5. Label your spaces.  If there is a nursing room, put a nice sign on its door.  Let mothers know that a space is available for them and their babies!

4. Take care of young families- both parents!  Put your changing table(s) where both parents can use it.  Keep a few quiet toys around.  Smile.  Send information about changing tables, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, stroller-parking, etc to new parents in your community.

3.  If you have a space make it friendly-looking.  Keep it clean.  Paint the walls a color other than white.  Maybe add a piece of art of the wall.  Anyone coming here is missing out on services or kiddush or a program in order to feed her baby in the way that works best for her, the baby, and/or your community.  A pleasant space can make it a little less burdensome.

2. Be a role model of comfort and welcome around your synagogue’s youngest attendees, whether they are eating or not.

1. Communicate: Talk about breastfeeding openly.  What is your policy?  What is your ideal?  Make a space for it in your bulletin, on your website, or even as part of a drasha.