On Friday evenings, when their schedules don't conflict, Jean Kirstein and her family gather around the dining room table to mark the Jewish sabbath.
First Kirstein lights the candles, like her mother used to do each week. Then she reads the sabbath prayers and takes her place at the head of the table.
But that makes her feel "a little strange," she says because that's the role her father and then her former husband used to fill.
Since her divorce six years ago, Kirstein has assumed the jobs of both mother and father in her own home. But she still worries that her three teen-age daughters aren't getting enough of a traditional Jewish up-bringing to pass on to their children.
With the number of divorces in the United States more than doubling since 1960, religious institutions are having to make more and more concessions for single-parent families.
But many rabbis and single Jewish parents say this is more difficult for Jews, who have traditionally looked to the family, and not the synagogue or religious school, as the chief means of passing on Jewish education and heritage.
Religious holidays and ceremonies like bar mitzvahs can be painful times for parents and children, according to rabbis, counselors and parents, because the rituals often call for mothers and fathers to assume specialized roles.
Rabbi Robert Baruch of Temple Micah said he's had to give extra counseling to single parents and their children when it comes time for their bar and bat mitzvahs.
"At one point in the ceremony, a scroll is passed from grandparents to parents to child," said Baruch. When there's bitterness between parents or both parents aren't there, "this can be very painful and has to be worked out carefully."
Rabbi Stephen Listfield of Adas Israel Congregation has found similar problems. During the bar or bat mitzvah, "there's a very dramatic and holy moment when the father says a prayer and mother says a prayer and the child stands between them," he said. "Then the child in his little voice says "Thank you God for my parents. . . .'"
"I compare it with the child leaning on two crutches. When he's not standing between anybody up there, it comes across visually that he's standing on one crutch," Listfield said.
Regina Karas said that after her divorce a year ago, she no longer felt accepted at her former synagogue so she transferred to another. "When I was attending that synagogue on holidays, they [congregation members] picked up on a sense of failure. . . . Then they stopped including me in their gatherings."
"There's nothing more painful than taking the kids to synagogue alone on holidays," said Kirstein, "except maybe facing holidays alone," when her husband has the children. "Synagogues need to recognize this and take special efforts so [single parents] don't feel lonely and left out."
Karas said celebrating Passover after her divorce posed a major problem.Instead of celebrating the holiday -- where the father has a major role -- at home, she took her son to a community seder meal, but said she "felt very uncomfortable."
Several counselors at local Jewish agencies said they are advising three to four times as many single parents and children of single parents as they were 10 years ago.
A number of local synagogues and agencies said they are organizing groups for single parents for the fall and additional counseling programs for their children.
Some reform synagogues have already acknowledged the changing families by altering prayerbooks and textbooks, according to Baruch. "Instead of reading, 'It is the sabbath, mother lights the candles,' they might read, 'The candles are lit,'" he said.
But some observers said the problems Jewish problems face aren't any worse than those of single parents of other faiths.
"It's partly myth," said Janice Oltman, head of family counseling at the Jewish Community Center, that single Jewish parents have a tougher time practicing their religion. [Jewish] "families feel a great sense of loss, but I don't think it's any different from Christians."
Several moderators of groups for divorced and separated Christians agreed. "Catholics are very family-oriented too, and experience very much the same problems as Jews," said the Rev. Joseph Koury, moderator of Divorced and Separated Christians in Washington.