My family recently came back from a trip to Alberta. My husband (a professor) helped run a conference at the University of Calgary. We took our twins and went on vacation, too. I won’t lie. I felt intimidated about managing a strange city on my own with two active 6-year-olds, but I planned like crazy. Due to some lucky breaks, it went well.
More than once, I was reassured by a comforting sense of community. The first day, we took the fancy mini-van (an unexpected rental car upgrade) and it began to ding. A tire was low. I worried. I warned my kids that we might have to stop – if I could find a gas station – and check the air on the tire. Before I’d managed that, we’d arrived at Heritage Park.
We were surprised to find the Montefiore Institute (original 1916 prairie synagogue) had been moved there. The living-history interpreter sang Yiddish folk songs to us. She’d been raised in Winnipeg, where I now live. However, the most comforting thing? The man next to me as we watched our children on the kiddy rides. He said the new car sensors were overly sensitive and that if I checked the tires, I might find nothing wrong. (We did. He was right.)
On the way out, I mistakenly turned down an (empty) one-way street. A woman yelled, “Wrong way! Wrong way!” and frightened us terribly. I apologized to her. I figured out the problem and turned around. She, too, was looking out for me.
Next day, we were at the zoo – enjoying the eclipse and how it made crescent-shaped shadows on the pavement – with my friend and her baby. We commiserated about how scary it is to be raising kids. We want to help them be strong in what is suddenly a more threatening environment for minorities. She also waited, smiling, while my kids and I recited a brachah (blessing) I’d found online over the wonder of seeing the eclipse. My friend is Muslim. Her parents were born in Jerusalem.
In Drumheller, at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, my kids had a blast until exhaustion hit. It was very hot. We dragged them out in mid-tantrum. In the parking lot, my husband handed the expensive tickets to another family to use. We ended up at a restaurant. Everything was better after eating in air conditioning. On the way out, I apologized to the senior citizens near us if we had disrupted their meal. They smiled graciously. One mentioned that everyone had been a kid once.
On our day trip to Banff, we wandered into a theatre. We were the only people attending a magnificent children’s show, filled with dancing animals and an amazing set done by artist Jason Carter. The performers said, “Be our guest!” It turned out we saw an $80 show for free.
Why am I telling you this? In recent issues of the Jewish Post & News, some have commented on a child who happened to go up on the bimah (pulpit) of a congregation during services. Some bemoaned how children are poorly behaved in “adult” restaurants and theatres, as well.
While I would be the first to ask children to try to behave and to suggest that synagogues develop good Jewish programming options for them, the thing is, a synagogue isn’t a theatre or a restaurant. A shul is a house of learning, community and prayer. Who should learn to pray in a loving community? Kids.
During my trip, I encountered embarrassing learning moments (“Wrong way!”) and moments of gracious compassion. (“We were all kids.”) I also consistently had my kids in public, in theatres and restaurants, where I worked awfully hard to make sure they behaved – and those around me were big enough to understand the challenges of the task.
I wasn’t sure what to write for this column. Late last night, I lay awake, near an open window. Noise kept me up. Adults were laughing and shouting on a nearby patio of an upscale restaurant as they drank. In warm weather, this happens several times a week. I was tempted to march out in my pajamas to tell them to be quiet so I could sleep but, instead, I tried to be more understanding. I didn’t call the cops.
To those who would say that this child disrupted them during services, I suggest to perhaps be a little more generous of spirit. Synagogue is about community. That means it’s not just about “me” and what I should get out of the experience. It’s about what we can offer each other – as we learn, pray and support each other. Sometimes, it’s challenging, embarrassing, hard or sad and, you know, that’s life. It’s not a fancy dinner with cocktails, or an expensive concert.
Rosh Hashanah is upon us. It’s time to evaluate how we can aim higher and do better next year. There are plenty of things for which I can atone, things I haven’t done well and want to do better. Meanwhile, I just heard from old friends (who went to Cornell University as undergrads with me) who live in Houston. They are OK. Their house is OK. But, in their brief email, they relayed such horrible stories about flooding and drowning all around them. They mentioned that they were trying to help those nearby who were less fortunate.
We’re so very lucky, I thought. That random community of helpers is so important, whether in Houston or Calgary or Winnipeg. It helped me through a big first vacation on my own in an unfamiliar city with kids. Those people lifted me up and helped me do it, despite the challenges. My friends survived a major hurricane, and they were going to help gut a friend’s flooded house. Upon reflection, I’d say, we can all be that “better person” and help out.
Next time a kid acts out? Smile. Meet the family. Ask if you can chase her down the aisle to give the parents a five-minute break. Heaven knows they need it.
Wishing you a sweet, happy, productive, meaningful 5778.
Joanne Seiff, a regular columnist for Winnipeg’s Jewish Post and News, is the author of a new book, From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016. This collection of essays is available for digital download, or as a paperback from Amazon. See more about her on joanneseiff.blogspot.com.