Home-shuling vs. Shul-shuling

Last year, in honor of Lag B’Omer, I held a backyard picnic/campfire for Ella’s class and lots of other friends. We roasted marshmallows, sang songs, kicked around the soccer ball, and played with toy bows and arrows. Everyone hung around for hours because it was so much fun; it was one of my favorite gatherings I’ve ever hosted.

lag b'omer

Zoe did not wait for the marshmallows to get roasted


Did anyone learn anything about Lag B’Omer? Nothing more than it’s a special, fun day.
This year, I was delighted to see that our shul was hosting a bonfire. I was excited to have something to do on Lag B’Omer without having to plan and host it myself (there were no organized events at all last year.) People were invited to bring lawn chairs and drums, and it really sounded like a lot of fun. Enough fun to allow my daughters to attend something that didn’t even start until an hour after their bedtime.
The idea was great. And it was, indeed, fun to sit around a fire under the stars with people of all generations, some familiar faces, and some new faces. It was fun to have someone else be in charge of making sure no kids got burned by flaming balls of Passover marshmallows, and it was fun to have Zoe fall sound asleep on my lap.
But, I guess because it was a shul-shuling event (and yes, it’s not lost on me how much this sounds like the hebrew word for diarrhea) there was a larger agenda of turning this fun event into a “learn a lot about Lag B’Omer event.” There was a lot more talking at us than singing, or just shmoozing, with us. Most people never even got a chance to use their instruments. Despite a lot of talented folks contributing to the event (my friend Aharon in particular!) I found myself bored. At a bonfire. Who thought that was possible?
To be clear, I’m really, really glad my shul is starting to do more for families. I hope, and I’m nearly sure, that these programs will get better and better. As we move forward, I think it’s helpful to remember that sometimes demonstrating that Jewish holidays are fun is educational enough.

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Jen B

posted May 2, 2010 at 10:19 am

Well-put! And anyone who is offended has a great opportunity here to examine themselves a little more closely (I can say that because I used to be one of those annoying, “if-it’s-fun-it-can’t-be-good” people myself!).
Our rabbis and rebbetzins have always emphasized the fun and joy of Judaism, especially for the kids. I love that sentiment – that children can have the sweetness of Judaism instilled in their memories and souls long before there will be any intellectual meaning to their actions. It takes the pressure off me as a mom of 3 preschoolers, as well! :-) So much easier to observe Pesach when we have special, only-during-Passover candies; Shavuot means ICE CREAM, what could be better?!?, and…well, every other example I can think of right now involves food treats as well. Room to grow, I suppose…
But I love the thoughts you share with us here…so many I grew up with had a fun, wonderful, Reform Jewish upbringing, and yet few of my immediate circle (or family, for that matter) have married Jewish, are raising their kids Jewishly, etc. I want my kids to enjoy being Jewish so much that it would be unimaginable to them to live their adult lives without it…and I adore the effort you are making for that goal with your girls!

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Minnesota Mamaleh

posted May 3, 2010 at 12:44 am

amy, that’s too bad! i wonder what new families thought/ how they felt, etc?
my favorite 2 lines: were the last ones (b/c sometimes the fun *is* enough) and the shilshul- reference, b/c really, how could it not be?! thanks for (another) great post.

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posted May 3, 2010 at 8:18 am

I think you’re “right on.”
I often think that if we (particularly Jewish educators) really believed in “life-long learning,” we’d be much less anxious about the need to cram-5770-years-into-seven-years-of-religious-school and be able to take a deep breath and enjoy the journey.

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posted May 3, 2010 at 3:52 pm

does it make me a PITA if I point out that there’s one sure way to have these events run more to your liking? (ie., volunteer to lead/coordinate/plan them)
Sorry, as a former committee chair who tried and tried to get people involved only to have them complain that something wasn’t A while others complained that it wasn’t B (or XYZ), I’ve lost some sympathy to these complaints.

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posted May 6, 2010 at 12:07 am

Hi, this is my first comment here, though I’ve been reading and enjoying for a little while already. I agree, I think there is much to be said for simply living the holiday and, by taking it seriously enough to come together for it, letting that be the “message.”

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Frume Sarah

posted May 7, 2010 at 1:18 am

I don’t have anything profound to add.
It’s a good reminder, however, for those of us on the shul-side :)

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posted May 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm

I agree with you. And I feel like the key here is that all the “teaching” in the world doesn’t ensure Jewish continuity, whereas living Jewishly (in some conscious way) generally does.

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Robby Cicco

posted May 12, 2010 at 10:31 pm

We do a lot of HomeShuling of our young kids, but I don’t think taking the meaning out of the holiday serves any purpose. It isn’t just about having “fun”….we have a meaning to our holidays. This is one of the things that sets us apart from the Goyim.
You want to have fun with no meaning…..try Xmas!
That’s what you end up with when you do that, and what’s the point?
You can actually have both…fun and learning!
When done properly, learning IS fun. If it’s not, then you’ve either got the wrong teacher or are doing it all wrong yourself.
My 2 cents.

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posted May 13, 2010 at 6:20 am

I don’t celebrate X-mas, but it’s certainly a holiday with meaning for those who are believing Christians.

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Robby Cicco

posted May 13, 2010 at 11:49 am

Xmas certainly has an original meaning, but it has also morphed into something with a heavy secular leaning – Santa Claus and his elves delivering presents to kids all over the world??? Is this in the xtian bible?????
There are many, many people who celebrate xmas with no real thought to the true meaning of the holiday.
I hate to think of Jewish Holidays becoming like that.

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posted May 27, 2010 at 12:44 pm

It’s such a shame that they didn’t get to the music. Music is such a rich teaching tool as is celebrating and truly enjoying the holidays.

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