Photo caption: Katie and Sam May with their son, Asher. Photo by Miranda Hertel Photography.
Mayerson JCC members Katie and Sam May were planning to start their family when they spotted a sign in the lobby for J Baby. They weren’t necessarily looking for a prenatal group, but as fate would have it, J Baby was exactly what they needed.
The Mays are an interfaith couple who settled in Cincinnati in 2019 after moving around due to Katie’s job with Procter & Gamble. Katie was raised Christian and Sam Jewish, but the couple ultimately decided that they would raise their son, Asher, Jewish. Since Sam was active in his local JCC growing up, they decided to seek out a community at the J in Cincinnati.
J Baby is a four-week program designed to guide expectant parents as they navigate the final stage of pregnancy, giving birth, and caring for their infant. All the participants have some connection to Judaism. Some are part of interfaith households or have a Jewish parent. Working for Pampers at P&G, Katie had a pretty good idea of babies’ needs, but J Baby provided more in-depth information and more about raising children in a Jewish home.
J Baby coordinator Marisa Phillips says this is common among participants.
“We noticed that there was a need in the community,” she said. “While you can find help at the hospital when preparing for a baby, there is something extra about J Baby. Here, you find that community in an intimate setting and you get useful information and advice if you are planning to raise your child Jewish.”
When Katie and Sam walked into their first session of J Baby, they were excited to see other expecting parents and interfaith couples. Each session focused on a particular topic, including expert advice on labor and delivery, lactation, and infant care. Another session focused on Jewish life and rituals, including life cycle events.
“J Baby made me feel so prepared,” Katie said. “Most of my ‘mom feeds’ on social media were filled with women talking about how nervous and scared they were, but I didn’t feel that way because of J Baby. I knew what to expect, and I have a community now to back me.”
Understanding all the intricacies of childbirth is a big part of the J Baby classes, but Katie said what impacted her most were the friendships she made. Before each class began, there was a social period where the room was filled with laughter and chatter. Expectant moms and dads had a chance to talk about their day, their plans for their family’s futures, or even just the latest popular TV show.
Although Katie defines Sam as more of a homebody, she said he always looked forward to the next class and appreciated how the interactions enriched his own Jewish beliefs. Katie felt embraced by the Jewish community, which made her feel good about their decision to raise their son Jewish.
Katie noted that one of the speakers made a point to bring faith into the household and create a space for family values.
“We weren’t super religious starting out, but now with Asher, we want to instill those family values from our Jewish faith in our household,” Katie said. “This year, we bought him his first menorah and we are excited to watch his own journey in his faith.” Their journey didn’t end with J Baby. Asher is already enrolled in the PJ Library program, and their family plans to be active members at the JCC. The Mays have also enrolled in the Year of Firsts: Parenting Edition which is a new parenting program targeting interfaith couples in their first 18 months of being parents. It’s a partnership between a national leader in interfaith engagement, 18Doors, and Rabbi Meredith Kahan of Rockdale Temple.
“My advice for other expectant parents is to do J Baby,” Katie said. “It makes you feel really prepared to start a family and it doesn’t overload you with information. It creates an incredible community of parents and babies who are all going through the same experiences together.”