Every new mom knows the feeling. You go from 60 to 0 in a matter of days. One moment it’s parties, pre-maternity-leave meetings and overflowing guestrooms. The next, you’re alone with a little stranger, no sleep and a new lifestyle, the reality of which you never could have imagined. It’s not surprising that 90 percent of mothers reported feelings of “loneliness” and 54 percent “friendless” after having children, according to a survey conducted by Channel Mums (2017).
This phenomenon is why The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington created and fully funds the J.Family Ambassador program, run through the area’s Jewish Community Centers. A recent research study by Morningstar reported a trend of Jewish families settling in pockets across the D.C. metro area, often times far away from synagogues, Jewish preschools, community centers or a larger population of Jews. “Being physically spread out from people in your community during this important transitional time can only add to the natural feelings of isolation,” says Alexis Bock Robbins, Assistant Director of Strategic Planning and Allocations at The Jewish Federation. “The J.Family Ambassador program is one of the ways Federation is looking to creatively respond to the needs of our wider community.”
Federation’s funding enables the local Jewish Community Centers in D.C., MD and Northern VA to identify and train neighborhood-based “ambassadors” to meet with parents for one-on-one coffee meetings. After a get-to-know-you meeting and a welcome bag with baby gifts, the J.Ambassadors work to connect the new family to programs, events and other community members in their vicinity. “The welcome bag with the baby gifts and the coffee meeting with the Ambassador was very nice and touching, but the feeling of welcoming, of entering into a Jewish community I didn’t even know existed was truly amazing!” says Cheryl Meltz of Alexandria, VA.
“Through this program we have met so many other nice families in the area with young Jewish children, many in my own neighborhood, which I never would have met otherwise. We participate in every activity that we can. These events give us things to do to get out of the house and socialize with other Jewish families and enjoy ourselves,” continues Meltz whose daughter is now 6 years old.
The J.Ambassadors work to customize the experience for each new family. Based on interests, level of religious practice, children’s ages, location and availability, there is a vast amount of programming available to choose from – all run by Federation, the Jewish Community Centers, synagogues or other local Jewish organizations. The programs don’t just include family-oriented events, but also allow for parents to meet other parents. “It is nice to get out and socialize with other women without their children … This program has enriched our lives more than we could have ever imagined,” says Meltz.
Examples of programming include Sweet Summer Series, where families meet up at local ice cream parlors for outings; Challah Tots, where families meet at local coffee shops for pre-Shabbat celebrations; Rosh Hashanah supper circles, where families come together for a holiday meal; and much more. “The J.Family Ambassador program offers incredible symbiosis with PJ Library,” says Sarah Rabin-Spira, PJ Library Manager for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. This Federation-supported national program distributes free, age-appropriate Jewish-themed books to children ages 6 months to 8 years old every month. “We’re able to engage with families right in the convenience of their own home,” continues Rabin-Spira, “allowing them to feel connected to a nationwide community of families reading the same books.”
When Danielle, a mother of a 13-month-old in Arlington, Virginia initially heard about the program, she was admittedly skeptical. “We are fairly secular and my husband, though Jewish by religious law, was raised Catholic. I wasn’t sure how well we’d fit in, but we applied anyway.” She continues, “To our delight, the program caters seamlessly to families of all levels of religiosity and to all kinds of parents and children. This program is bringing together disparate pockets of Jews across the area and creating a community that transcends the lines that typically divide us. I feel it’s given me the foundation to instill a positive Jewish identity in my daughter and to strengthen my own. Of course, it’s also a great source of support and advice for general parenting!”
If you’d like more information about becoming a J.Family Ambassador, or would like to be contacted by a J.Family Ambassador, visit shalomdc.org/jfamilyambassadors