Teach it to your children
You’re reading the weekly congregational email. Something radical seems to have happened. Within a week, everything has changed. Well, maybe the format seems the same, ready to lull you into “services this week, events, make a donation …” but then it hits you. It’s like a revolution happened. Instead of the regular schedule, where the adult service is happening at 8 p.m. Friday night, and davening starts at 9:30 Saturday morning, it’s all changed. Imagine this:
Come for our weekly great Kabbalat Shabbat service at 4:45! Join us for prayers, story time, snack, dancing and singing. The service ends by 5:45, followed by an Oneg Shabbat with fruit, veggies, cheese cubes, challah and grape juice.
Want to stay up later? Join us in the sanctuary for a summer camp-style sing-along of Shabbat music and study the Torah portion with the rabbi and your friends.
On Saturday morning, daven with us! Services begin at 8:45, with morning prayers, movement activities, another great story (with a picture book!) and three dances to help us learn new psalms. We’ll learn the Torah portion of the week, act out some of it, and end with a rousing Adon Olam. Let’s march around and pretend we’re playing in a band.
Services end by 10:30. We’ll provide a healthy Kiddush snack, including whole grain crackers, juice and water, lots of fruits and veggies, and more. (It’s a nut-free environment, but feel free to bring along dairy or pareve snacks to share.)
If the weather’s good, after snack, let’s play outside at the shul playground. If not, we’ll run in the shul gym so you can get tired before going home to have a big Shabbat lunch and nap.
In the evening, join us for Havdalah at the shul at 5! We’ll be serving pizza and salad, with cookies for dessert. (Click here for costs, to register and for the Jewish movie of the week.) After dinner, we’ll be showing a G or PG movie in the gym for families who want to stay out late.
Also there’s a Saturday evening study session. This week: Jewish advice for managing our busy modern family life, at 6:30 in the library. (Free.)
Note: If doing the rabbi’s Saturday evening study session, please be sure one parent or friend is in the gym to supervise your offspring and enjoy the movie together.
Reminders: On Sunday morning, the shul opens bright and early as usual for religious school, yoga for parents, coffee klatch and the usual lecture series after the morning minyan.
Our congregational soup kitchen, visit to the local Jewish seniors centre, nursing facilities and once-a-month cemetery clean-up all meet on Sunday afternoons. (Cemetery group, next week is our hike at the lake, so bring your boots and bathing suit and we’ll see you on the bus – we might let others attend if there is room! Click here to register.)
See you then!
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OK, as you read this, you’re thinking, this is all well and good for those few young families out there. I mean, maybe my children or grandchildren might go sometimes? But, for me, well, I feel left out. This doesn’t seem like what I’m used to.
But consider the model some congregations still use: Join us for a family Shabbat dinner! (It happens only once or twice a year.) Services start by 5:30. Food is offered, one course at a time, starting after 7. There’s no finger food or even challah on the table. The kids’ food comes after the salad course. Parents who don’t want to create a scene take their children home long before dessert is served to avoid a train wreck…. And nobody wants to come back.
Should Jewish life be all about young families? Well, no. We shouldn’t give up traditional services or customs, but the V’ahavta says “we should teach it [Judaism] to our children.” How do you do that better, so there will be Jews a generation from now? Should your congregation include positive experiences for younger people? Does that create a plan for the future?
Based on a random sampling of kids’ events in my Jewish community (Winnipeg) over the last six years, here’s a generic sampling of what I’ve seen.
If a shul schedules a Tot Shabbat irregularly – although kids thrive on routine – it happens during kid dinnertime or even at bedtime. If your preschooler eats dinner at 5:30 and is in bed at 7:30, how does that service at 6:15 work for you? Hear any angry screaming in that sanctuary?
How about the big kid events scheduled for 1-3 p.m.? Many kids are grouchy creatures around then. We love naps. If we’re skipping them, well, the activity had better be fabulous … and tolerant of crying, hitting and screaming.
Many congregations do a great job of integrating families into their activities and planning. Instead of having kids’ events as an afterthought once a year, most events are designed with whole families in mind … and preschool activities meet the needs of families with babies and small kids.
Teenagers and adults have relevant events. People of all ages have good family programming, too. Sometimes, this is all the same service. Can kids have roles in the service, like saying the Shema or leading a song? Can kids’ restless behaviour be tolerated at the same level as we tolerate adults’ conversation and restless behaviour?
How about making registration accessible and online? Include active learning as part of all events, so Judaism remains relevant?
The kicker – somebody always says: It can’t be done. This isn’t the way we do it here. It’ll be expensive. It’s not possible.
I say: dream bigger.
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.