‘Gateway To The Community’


The yoga class was perhaps not quite as tranquil as most. While the students stretched and twisted, there was the unmistakable background sound of crying and fussy babies.

The instructor, Beth Gibney-Boulden, told the moms in the session not to worry, saying “Yes, babies need to be changed and fed.”

They were here for the launch of BabyU, a new program at Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle that offers new and expectant parents — admittedly, mostly new moms — a chance to meet one another and to get to know about child-centered services and providers in the community.

Jen Vegh, Beth El’s religious school and youth activities director, had heard about a similar program in Los Angeles that she thought would benefit both the parents and the synagogue.

“It’s a way to get people in the door at Beth El,” said Vegh, although it’s not precisely a membership recruiting mechanism. “It’s more important to get more people here, Jewish and non-Jewish, and to get Beth El’s name out there as a community supporter.”

Her own experiences informed her advocacy for BabyU. Like many first-time new mothers, when Vegh, a member of the New Rochelle Young Israel, moved to New Rochelle in September 2011, the prospect of figuring out services and providers in the new community was daunting.

“When I was a first-time mom, I wasn’t networked into the mom community,” said Vegh. “There were so many classes, so many facilitators — who to trust?” She thought there would be plenty of other people in similar circumstances. “A lot of people are moving [to the suburbs] when they have a baby. This would be an opportunity for parents to meet each other and get out for 45 minutes.”

That made sense to Erica Leventhal, Beth El’s executive director. “How do you get into the community? People move here from Manhattan and are feeling very alone. We’re targeting people who are looking for friends and community. There’s a strong educational component. It’s something special to do with the baby.”

The reality is there are plenty of offerings once children are 1 and 2 years old; choices for infants and babies, not so much.

Those who showed up for BabyU’s first session clearly appreciated the chance to be with other new mothers.

“I wanted them out in the world,” said Lauren Feuer of New Rochelle. Feuer, who has a 19-month-old and 3-month-old twins, recently moved to the suburbs from Manhattan and attended the session with the twins. “This is a good way to get some stimulation.”

Dalia Chagares, who lives in White Plains, felt similarly, calling the experience “friendly and welcoming.”

“It’s nice to meet other moms,” she said.

Synagogue leaders see the program as part of the congregation’s mission.

“We’re looking at what community needs are not being met,” said Leventhal. “We think it’s an important gateway to the community, letting new parents and families know the Jewish community cares about you. You don’t have to wait to tap into the Jewish community.”

Ultimately, of course, the hope is that friendships among the parents will develop from these shared experiences — and potentially consider Beth El’s preschool for their children.

BabyU sessions, held on Wednesday mornings from 10 to 11:15, have featured yoga for mothers and babies, infant massage and a workshop on introducing solids and new foods to babies. Upcoming topics include teething, developing a relationship with your baby, breast-feeding during the first year and sensory integration. The program will run through March 25 this year.

Each session costs $20 (Beth El members pay $15); Beth El Synagogue Center, 1324 North Ave., New Rochelle (Quaker Ridge Road and North Avenue). To register, visit www.bethelnr.org/babyu.