Identity, Politics, Religion

What's a Jew to do?

It’s short enough to quote in full:

Just yesterday at dinner, my seven year old son asked why we never sign him and his brother up for “Parent’s Night Out.” This is a program run by our local YMCA. Once a month on a Friday evening, parents can drop their children off at the Y for several hours of babysitting. While the parents get to go out, their children enjoy pizza and a movie along with their friends. We explained that Friday evening was Shabbat and a time we spend together as a family. It always involves dinner, either at our home, or at the home of friends. When our temple has a Shabbat Alive or Family Service, we try to attend. As a family, we seem to have figured out Friday evenings. My three year old asks all week when it will be Shabbat. And my seven year old, channeling some inner-Chasid, could eat an entire challah, piece by piece, dipping each piece into his grape juice.
Saturday still presents a challenge. While my congregation is beginning to explore such worship opportunities, Shabbat morning options at most congregations are not child friendly. We avoid chores such as grocery shopping or trips to the dry cleaner. But sporting activities and birthday parties still beckon with great regularity. We try to do things our children will enjoy like trips to children’s museums. In the warm weather we go to the pool and in the cold weather we may go to a movie. All of this we frame for our children as enjoyable things we get to do because it is Shabbat.
So while my children will, hopefully, have a sense of Shabbat rest and Shabbat joy, I worry that their sense of Shabbat worship will be incomplete. I am not sure how they will become familiar with the Shabbat morning liturgy, the weekly telling of our people’s story, or the power of hearing the Torah being chanted. My appreciation of these did not come until I was well into my adult years. I hope my own children will not have to wait as long.

I read the article and wondered where exactly this family lived that they couldn’t bring their children to services. Why they were unable to find resources to teach their children the liturgy that the author finds so meaningful and important. Why the author is hoping, but not “doing” anything about his children’s connection to Torah.
Then I scrolled up and read the by-line: Rabbi Victor S. Appell (Director, Small Congregations, Union for Reform Judaism).
This bothered me. His office is based in New York, NY. A mecca of Judaism (or, as Stephen M. Cohen would put it, a centre of Judaism). And while he might live outside the city, there’s no reason for lack of resources for a rabbi employed by his denomination’s organization. Religious school, Hebrew school, classes at the Y or JCC are all available and kid friendly. Start a havurah with friends, teach a group of children together in your homes. Hold services at home before going to those birthday parties and sporting activities. Surely we could come up with some easily implementable suggestions for this rabbi and his family, right?

6 thoughts on “What's a Jew to do?

  1. IIRC, Rabbi Appell formerly served a small reform congregation in our community. I don’t know if he still lives in the area. He was probably the first openly gay Rabbi within our Federation, and almost certainly the first to marry his partner, and begin a family. Perhaps that is what he was referring to.

  2. First, I think he should be fired from his job at the URJ. How is he supposed to convince people in “small congregations” to go to services when he himself doesn’t take his kids?
    Second, all you have to do is make kids a part of the shul. They don’t have to be “engaged” or “enthralled”, they just have to be there. Even if they make some noise. Kids aren’t really high-maintenance, just accept their existence, and they’re fine.
    THird, If I were the URJ, I’d be worried on how this post reflects terribly on my rabbis and my movement.
    What a shame.

  3. feygele and Amit, you’re not reading what he’s saying. He says that his congregation is exlporing more family-friendly Shabbat morning worship options, but he knows the movement hasn’t caught up yet. He’s trying to encourage others to take the step as well. Nowhere does he say that he doesn’t take his kids to shul. He does acknlowedge that many other Reform shuls are not child-friendly on Saturday mornings.

  4. Its my understanding, at least for the local reform congregations, that there isn’t anything happening in them on shabbat mornings unless there’s a bar or bat mitzvah. The action is on Friday night, although some do hold religious school on Saturday a.m. Maybe he’s referring to worship on saturday a.m. Don’t know what his concerns are about “family-friendly”, the biggest of the local reform shuls is notoriously family-friendly, and all-round outstanding. But for it being reform, my family would have joined it instead of our conservative congregation.

  5. Shuls become “family friendly” when families come and are friendly. Stop making your shul “program” for you – program yourself for it.

  6. If Saturday morning services feel t like an invitation only Bar Mitzvah Show – and you’re not holding a ticket – it doesn’t matter how friendly your family is, you’re going to feel out of place.

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