Baby U

Graduates of the first Jewish Baby University class, held in 1998, attend a 2016 celebration with program founder Linda Feldman, front. The former students are, from left, Scott Quen, Andrea Quen, Andrea Cohen, Tiffany Bachus, Dan Bachus and Greg Cohen.             

At least 660 Jewish children and young adults ranging in age from 20 to newborn already have university experience. They just don’t remember it because they weren’t born yet.

Since 1998, Jewish Baby University, a Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) program, has been providing Jewish parents-to-be in the Valley with classes that not only prepare them for the physical part of having a child, but also the spiritual part.

There are three six-week Baby U sessions every fall, winter and spring, with each class averaging about 12 couples. The classes take place in various synagogues. Along with volunteer doctors, rabbis also address the class to provide insight.

“It’s about trying to raise a child in a Jewish home, but it’s open to interfaith couples, too,” said Linda Feldman, family education director at BJE and Baby U coordinator. “We’re just trying to meet everyone’s needs in that regard and that’s the beauty of the program.” 

Expectant parents in the Baby U courses often build a support network with members of their class. Andrea Cohen, youth philanthropy director at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, and her husband were in the very first Baby U class. Her son, Max, is now 20.

“In addition to learning how to prepare a Jewish home for a Jewish baby, we created lifelong friendships with the families we eventually raised Max with,” Cohen said. “We went through so many of life’s experiences with them — the happy stuff — baby namings, preschool, Hebrew school, bar and bat mitzvahs, and high school graduations. But we also have held each other up through times of darkness, such as sickness and death. We treasure the friendships of these Baby U families.”

Feldman holds Baby U reunions for each class not long after the last infant in the group is born. She is amazed at the bonds among Baby U families.

“One group’s kids are all turning 10, so the parents are having a special party for them and I’m invited,” Feldman said.

Baby U can thank a Hollywood power broker for its creation. 

“Steven Spielberg grew up here and he has a fondness for Arizona and Phoenix and our Jewish community,” Feldman said. “He donated money in 1997 for family education.”

Baby U was started with some of the money Spielberg donated. To publicize the program, Feldman received a small grant to advertise. She has never had to buy advertising since because word-of-mouth from satisfied parents has been enough. With the first course of 2019 yet to begin, expectant parents already are signing up.

Feldman attributed Baby U’s success to the Valley’s constantly churning population that leaves many new Jewish residents looking for opportunities to meet fellow Jews. That was the case with Maya Axt and her husband when they were expecting their daughter, Emma, four years ago.

“We had just moved to Scottsdale from New York City a few months prior and didn’t have any friends,” Axt said. “If we hadn’t taken this class, we probably would have strongly considered moving back to New York. I could not have made it through the first couple of years of motherhood without the ladies I met in this class.”

In all, Feldman said more than 1,300 people — couples and single parents — have gone through the doors of Baby U. But Axt thinks she may be unique among the hundreds of students.

A potluck was planned for the last day of Axt’s Baby U course. While shopping for ingredients to make a pasta salad, Axt began having contractions, but she was determined to attend her last class. 

“I called my husband, Brian, when I got home and he kept insisting that we should not go to class,” Axt said. “I insisted we had to go because A, there was a potluck and I already had the ingredients to make the pasta salad; B, because I wanted to learn how to swaddle a baby and change a diaper; and C, I needed to see everyone. 

“So I spent that class pacing the room and breathing through some strong contractions. That night, about an hour-and-a-half after the class ended, we were on our way to the hospital and Emma was born the next morning. 

“As far as I know I’m the only person who has been in labor during a Baby U class.” JN

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