Yesterday my girls and I were sitting in “family service” at our shul (ok, more accurately, Ella and I were sitting in family service while Zoe made endless what-is-the-opposite-of-beelines to the water fountain.) Even though I insist my children come to this service when it takes place each month, I don’t think any of us enjoys it. My kids would rather be playing, and I find the atmosphere moderately insufferable. While I’m thrilled by the concept of children of all ages coming together for a service on shabbat with their parents, in reality, it just doesn’t feel very shabbosdik to me. Some of the youngest children are crying or screaming, while some of the “older” children are walking noisily around or in and out of the room. Parents have a wide range of ideas about what’s acceptable behavior for a family service, and while the service leader is a genuinely talented guy, he’s got his work cut out for him. He alternates between singing forcefully over the ever-present hum of minor chaos, stopping to teach (over that same hum), and giving children a chance to come up and lead parts of the service (still no pause in hum.) I find it, well, exhausting.
So, when Ella turned to me and whispered in my ear “Why eactly do you think services are fun?” I didn’t really know what to say.
“I guess I don’t,” I answered. “I like to do things that make it feel like shabbat. I like to stop and say thank you to God, and this is one way to do that.”
“Could we find another way?” she asked.
“Maybe we could come, I don’t know….later. You like kiddush, don’t you?”
We do like kiddush, not so much because of the food, (except for Zoe, who comes exclusively for the sprinkle-top cookies) but because lots of our friends are there, and we can sit together, and eat, and the kids can play, and it really does feel like shabbat. But somehow, it feels wrong to just come for kiddush, even though I suppose it’s just as integral a part of observing shabbat as prayer. (Is it wrong to just come for kiddush?)
So, I don’t have an answer for Ella yet. Can we find another way? I don’t want shabbat to be an endless series of “don’t”, which means that we need to find more “do’s” and the name of my blog notwithstanding, not all of them can happen at home. Got any ideas for me?
ps, while mulling over this post last night I came across a great passage in the fanstastic book I’m reading – This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper.
Once, when I was old enough to ponder these things and young enough to think there might be credible answers, I whispered to Dad during Rosh hashanah services, “Do you believe in God?”
“Not really,” he said, “No.”
“Then why do we come here?”
He sucked thoughtfully on his Tums tablet and put his arm around me, draping me under his musty woolen prayer shawl, and then shrugged. “I’ve been wrong before,” he said.