In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Marcella Kanfer Rollnick writes about “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children” by Wendy Mogel.
I am a Jew. Have been my whole life, though my understanding of what that means has been evolving ever since I became aware of the fact that we construct our identity and its expression. Six years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, Meyer Paz, I began exploring a new identity: that of a mother. And, while I was aware that how my husband Josh and I lived our lives Jewishly would shape our children’s Jewish trajectory, I didn’t knit together these two aspects of myself — mother and Jew — into one seamless identity. Then I read Dr. Wendy Mogel’s “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” It’s a practical, highly accessible book that teaches a profound lesson: becoming a Jewish mother can lead to an ever richer, more activated relationship with Judaism and our children. Mogel’s book is less a parenting how-to and more a survey of some of the best Jewish concepts reminding us who we are when we are at our best as Jewish mothers (and fathers).
One of my favorite metaphors from “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” is so obvious yet so beautiful: Shabbat exemplifies not something spectacular, but “ordinary holiness” — a majestic day that comes around weekly. Drawing from this characterization, Mogel exhorts readers to accept our children’s “average-nesses” and let them be who they are rather than fall prey to the societal urge to make them exceptional along every dimension. Mogel draws another lesson — one that is so hard because we parents love our children so intensely — from the Jewish concept of tzimtzum, the contraction of divine energy. Just like Hashem had to retreat to make room for the universe, so too parents (yes, Jewish mothers!) must gradually create the space for our children to become independent. This leads to tzar gidul banim, both the “ubiquitous pain of raising children” for us and the pain of learning and maturing for our children, but Mogel inspires us to embrace it as productive pain that equips our children to live full lives. “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” turns the exhausted stereotype of “Jewish mother” on its ear and highlights us at our best.
Marcella Kanfer Rollnick is Vice Chair of GOJO Industries, market leader in professional skincare and inventor of PURELL Instant Hand Sanitizer. Marcella focuses on diversification of her family’s enterprise through new ventures and strategic planning to meet the long-term vision. Marcella is passionate about facilitating organizational effectiveness and innovation, especially within the Jewish nonprofit community. She drove the reconstitution of the national Jewish social entrepreneurship fellowship program, Joshua Venture Group, and co-founded the Lippman Kanfer Institute for Innovation in Jewish Learning and Engagement at JESNA. She is President and Chair of the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, and is a director of American Jewish World Service and the Jewish Community Board of Akron. In 2008, Crain’s Cleveland Business named Marcella one of “Forty under Forty” [who make a difference]; Cleveland Jewish News named her one of 20 “On the Rise” Cleveland area professionals; and she received the “Woman of the Year” Award for Innovation by the Women’s History Project of the Akron Area. Marcella earned her MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and her BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton University.