Homeshuling

Homeshuling


Keeping children away from bad influences. In synagogue.

posted by Homeshuling

Yesterday, my daughter Ella went to shul with me to attend a bat-mitzvah. (My younger daughter, Zoe, was home with 102° fever.) I wanted to see the bat-mitzvah girl read from the Torah, so we arrived significantly earlier than usual. By the end of the Torah service we both needed to take a break from the sanctuary, and since it was raining, we went for a walk in the halls instead.

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There were a lot of kids in shul, which is inarguably a wonderful thing. And it was obvious that they feel very comfortable in the building. Also a wonderful thing. In concept, at least. But I was actually horrified (and I’m not easily horrified) by the behavior I saw in the hallways. The kids were running, and I do mean running, through the halls of our small shul. Also shouting. And chasing, with some occasional crashing thrown in for good measure. Which invariably led to a little more shouting.
Ella found a group of her friends from school huddled in the coat room. She asked if she could join them if she promised not to run around. I was torn. I want her to enjoy her time at shul, and to see it as a place of community for her, and not just for me. So, I said yes. But when I came back out a few minutes later and saw a handful of kids pushing a few other children out the coat room door (“First graders only!” they hollered) I reneged. I told her that I didn’t want her out of my sight, because even thought she wasn’t doing anything wrong, I wasn’t ok with the way the other children were behaving. We ended up sitting on the stage in the social hall, reading books, and waiting for kiddush.
Last night at the Bar- Mitzvah party I complained to another parent about what I saw. “Really?” she asked. “I like seeing the kids have fun in the building.” I understood her point. We both had grown up belonging to, or visiting, large suburban synagogues where children needed to sit quietly in stiff, fancy clothes. We both sought out a small, progressive community like ours to escape many of those expectations. But still.
I understand that every parent has his/her own behavior expectations, and other people, especially those without children, are likely to raise an eyebrow or shoot a look when children, well, act like children. I have been the object of many a stare in the main sanctuary when my daughters whispered, or rustled paper dolls, or ate the many snacks I brought to keep them quiet, back in the days when I still tried to go to services.
My questions is, can a community develop a shared expectation for behavior and still be welcoming to families? And if so, how do we actually uphold (I wanted to say enforce, but I think I’m sounding enough like Nurse Ratched for one post) these expectations?
Yesterday was one of the first times I actually considered giving up our membership. I can handle shul being a little boring, or vaguely dissatisfying. But I’m not ok with it being a bad influence. So please, share your comments and suggestions. I’d love to hear how you, or your synagogue, or church, has navigated this tricky balance. 


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Daniel Plotkin

posted June 13, 2010 at 8:24 am


It sounds like what your shul needs is some effective parallel programming for the kids. While those preparing for Bar/Bat Mitzvah should be expected to stay in the service, it may be wise, if there are resources available, to hire or find a volunteer to run a Shabbat morning service for the kids that includes the basic prayers, songs, and some opportunity to get out the energy that they so obviously have.
If the Rabbi/Cantor of the Congregation knew what was going on (as a Rabbi I can say I never know what is happening outside of the sanctuary unless someone tells me) I am sure he/she would be very supportive of creating such a program.



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Molly Monet

posted June 13, 2010 at 8:30 am


I no longer attend church or synagogue but I do have to say that I absolutely couldn’t stand my church as a child because it was too strict and stuffy and cold. My parents were Sunday School teachers and were embarrassed because I refused to attend. I didn’t enjoy the authoritative environment.
So my intuitive response to this would be to allow them to have some fun but to have some rules in place that could be gently and nicely reinforced (is that possible?).



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MorahMary

posted June 13, 2010 at 8:43 am


Unfortunately, the disruptive behavior is really not new. It was something we struggled with when our now-28 and -26 year old where Ella and Zoe’s ages. I spoke up at a religious school (?)committee meeting about how distressed I was – and my comments were met with “Oh, but we want our children to enjoy being here.”
It wasn’t too long afterwards that the committee had to deal with the issue of damage done to the building because of the behavior of out-of-control children and parents who weren’t willing to accept responsibility for their kids’ behavior.
The out-of-control behavior was one of the reasons we rarely attended Shabbat services: my kids couldn’t “last” that long; we wouldn’t let them leave the sanctuary unsupervised; and I was not willing to supervise OPK (Other People’s Kids).
Programing can help… but I wonder if implementing reminders of appropriate behavior (via cute signs, written reminders in the newsletter, parent meetings) wouldn’t also help.



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Leah

posted June 13, 2010 at 11:02 am


AMEN. I wholeheartedly agree with you. “Having Fun” does NOT = “Wreaking Havoc”! And I think the suggestion of possible alternative programming is a good one, but it will not solve the problem of absentee parents.



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Becky

posted June 13, 2010 at 11:08 am


I definitely grew up in a shul like yours, although we did not attend when I was young. I only started going around Bat Mitzvah age. I was just telling another parent yesterday that at my synagogue, when kids my age and older got up to leave at the Rabbi’s sermon, the cantor would come down from the bima, go outside, and march us all back inside. He would do the same if he saw a post Bar/t Mitzvah student not wearing a tallit in the shul. You didn’t mess with Cantor Freedman.
Anyway, I am not sure what the solution is, but parents pretending it is not happening is certainly not it. Imagine how parents would respond if we allowed kids to leave the classroom when things got boring and allowed them free reign of the building without any adult supervision? They would never allow it! So why would they be ok with leaving 30+ kids of all ages to run all over the building, disrupting the service inside? I know that yesterday, at many, MANY points during the service, most irritatingly during the Bat Mitzvah girl’s D’var Torah, you could hear kids screaming and running around. Even if parents think their kids need an outlet, it is completely disrespectful to the family and guests of the celebrated individual. If you are going to bring your child to shul, it is up to you to figure out a way to make it work for them. If they can’t sit quietly in the service, bring books or games for them to entertain themselves. If that doesn’t work, you need to take them out for breaks or cut your morning short to take them home. I know many people only come for the Torah service, or any other part that has special meaning.
I don’t have much of a dilemma personally- I have no desire to make shul going a weekly occurrence. I only go for B’Nai Mitzvot. I choose intentionally to not bring my children because I know they can’t sit through a service without being disruptive and I want to actually watch and listen to what is going on instead of being with them in the halls when they get restless. I’m not sure how families reconcile this when they have children and wish to attend the full service each and every week. They have baby-sitting, but I think they need kid watching as well. Maybe opening up the LGA MPR and letting kids play ga-ga? Letting the LGA library be open, under some Shabbos go- “helpers” so kids can read quietly or draw? Almost the way we handle indoor recess.
Even though I did grow up in a kids are not seen and not heard shul, there was a certain reverence for what attending shul means. It was special. You didn’t act the way you normally were allowed to act. This was serious business. Even though it was hard to stay quiet sometimes, and I was often born out of my skull, I learned how to act pretty quickly because the expectations were so high. I am so often disgusted but what I see at shul when I go, and I am embarrassed for our kids and how it reflects on what we value as a school. I do appreciate that our shul is a come-as-you-are sort of place, where you don’t get weird looks if you come in cut offs or your little league uniform, but there is no reverence. Kids treat it like is it insignificant and no different from their day to day routine. So why bring them at all?



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Rose

posted June 13, 2010 at 1:15 pm


They need to have some really good youth programming, geared to the various ages of the kids, but once they have that in place, they also have to make and enforce a rule that kids must be either with their parents, or participating in the programs. Their insurance company would be happy too.



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Riqi

posted June 13, 2010 at 2:05 pm


ummmm… one word: BABYSITTER. At my shul we call it CHILDCARE. The kids LOVE our on-site childcare worker. She is in high demand. She also doubles as the Sanctuary setter-upper before services. A committed group of parents and an ed team can figure out how to afford it. Running around like that is not okay, but every shul needs to have a dedicated youth area (or two, if large group of mixed ages) so parents and families can daven successfully at the pace they are able.
As my camp director used to say, meeting out the big nix to our banging on tables for hours during Friday night song-session (much to our horror and endless meetings/aseyphot in protest, as we insisted it was intensely spiritual banging,) “Ruach does not mean rowdy.” (G-d help me if he knew I was quoting him!)



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Riqi

posted June 13, 2010 at 2:06 pm


p.s. In my humble rabbinic opinion, one should never consider giving up a synagogue membership over any one thing – instead it means you have to step up, step in and help create a better solution. The community will thank you.



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Bill Sweet

posted June 13, 2010 at 5:01 pm


Amen, Amy. The shul in question needs to have ACTUAL, consistent childcare, and somebody watching the halls. Too many parents have a “drop ‘em off” approach.
As a participant of an alternate minyan that meets on the other end of that buiding, I am routinely appalled, even by the “good” kids I know.
I don’t blame the kids. In a vaccum, kids are likely to wreak havoc. It’s the parents that should be keeping an eye out for this. And the shul should not be asleep at the wheel, again.



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phyllis

posted June 13, 2010 at 11:22 pm


I’m with Riqi – don’t leave over it…can you think of how to become part of the solution?
This is a problem that I personally run into. I also want my kids to have fun in synagogue, and I know that they definitely are comfortable there (spend way more time than most kids!) but it’s very hard when parents don’t supervise their kids and then it gets out of hand…I agree, childcare sounds like the best option.



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Sarah Buttenwieser

posted June 14, 2010 at 12:33 am


I am with Riqi on this one/ Childcare seems a far better solution than anarchy which really does bring everyone down.



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Leah

posted June 14, 2010 at 8:43 am


AMEN. I wholeheartedly agree with you. “Having Fun” does NOT = “Wreaking Havoc”! And I think the suggestion of possible alternative programming is a good one, but it will not solve the problem of absentee parents.



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Dee

posted June 14, 2010 at 11:25 am


I agree. I love seeing children at play, and enjoying being at Shul. However, when children act up, act out, etc. it makes other people feel that their is nothing that they can do, since the parents won’t handle the misbehavior. Fortunately, we have limited hall space, and most folks will take the children to task and tell them to settle down or they will be taken to their parents. It works. Some training of children and parents would be good as well. Volunteers are needed for the child care rooms so that the children are supervised and the parents can feel assured that they are getting good, quality care. If you complain, then volunteer.



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ana sara allessio

posted June 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm


Our beloved Rabbi has a small boy child from his second marriage. The daughters he has from the first are models of perfect behavior. The little boy had to be forceably disconnected from the burning candles during a Shabbat service by a member of the congregation, no less. He has stopped many a heart from beating (albeit briefly) when he swings from the banister surrounding the bema which is a several foot drop to the floor. He is adorable and his antics are really cute until he starts to endanger himself. No one is paying the slightest attention to anything else when he is around and he enjoys the attention I am sure. I would not dare to say anything about this but believe me it is constantly being discussed by other members who are not as kind as I. I am stumped, will he grow out of this or since neither of his parents seemed moved to do anything should I just “hush” & hope.



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Tzipporah

posted June 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm


We don’t go to shul anymore, except for Tot Shabbat, or when my husband goes by himself, precisely because of this problem.
There seems to be a huge gap for (liberal) synagogues around what to do with kids older than 9 months and younger than 7. The Orthodox leave them home with mom (because only the dad is “obligated” to daven), but that doesn’t work for egalitarian shuls, or couples/families.
Wish I had an answer.



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Allyson

posted June 15, 2010 at 12:42 am


Well, my advice is to say don’t suffer in silence, and certainly don’t leave shul without letting someone know. I serve on the board of our synagogue,and I can tell you that sometimes the board or the Ritual committee (usually made up of people with older or grown kids, is not aware of things with small kids. Your board is ALWAYS ready to hear from you.



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Homeshuling

posted June 15, 2010 at 4:20 am


I agree. I actually wrote a letter to the board expressing my concern (and offering to help.) We’ll see what comes of it. Stay tuned….



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Rabbi Richie

posted June 15, 2010 at 10:32 am


I grew up in the late ’50s and the turbulent ’60s, and these were watershed times for community attitudes on so many levels. Regarding children and their behavior in the shul/synagogue/temple, it was no less a study in change.
When I was a kid, kids were tolerated, at best, in the Bet Knesset area. They tended to congreate in the streets, the halls, and anywhere they could; teenagers were an expecially egregious problem, a clear and present danger. How do I know? I was one of them. We wore our orthodx Young Israel fedoras –short brimmed Shabbos hats, only, please –at a rakish tilt, congregated infront of the shul, talked to the opposite sex, and inspired fear and liathing in the hearts and minds of the elders.
Now, WE are the elders.
Social mores have changed markedly, and Jewish houses of worship — especially liberal ones — are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to do with “those kids.” On the one hand, the organization realizes that Jewish continuity is a real problem, but on the other hand, especially in South Florida, the land of the outdoor child who can’t sit for a moment in a seat indoors,there is the rowdiness factor that is overarching. What shouldbe don? Nothing.
When all the political correctness is peeled away from the issue, the key element is the parent. The parent must parent — from Day One. Rowdy kids are nurtured to that dubious appellation by parents who are unable/unwilling to proactively parent their children and instruct them on propriety in life. So, if you don’t learn from your parent, from whom DO you learn? Your friends, of course! Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who YOU are, as the old saw goes.
Once, there were gabba’im who ruled the aisles in the shul. These gave way to “ushers”, who were the shushers of a later time. With the Fall of the House of Usher — isn’t that apro-Poe? — in our own time, who’s in charge? The kids, of course! What to do? Some synaogues hire uninformed and uniformed professionals — seucrity forces like Halliburton and Blackwater? — to protect property, life, and limb at prayer halls and Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations. They take no guff and do their stuff, but they are the solution atthe flashpoint. The real “control” comes from the parent, and only the parent. When push comes to shove, it is up to the parent to put into practice the high-minded sentiment of Deuteronomy’s Shema: “VeShinantam le-Vanecha.” Or, as Crosby, Stills, and Nash put it, teach your children well.” (OK, so they plagiarized Proverbs or mangled Mishlay.)
Neither the executive director, the rabbi, the ritual committee, nor the early childhood guru is responsible for your child and her/his behavior. YOU are. If you are a parent, BE a parent. And you shall parent well. I guarantee it!



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Suburban Mom

posted June 15, 2010 at 11:08 am


How refreshing to see this discussed! I have 4 school-age children who know that misbehavior is not an option during services. We do not go to services that often, but our synagogue is really good about offering engaging services.
Our religious school, though, is another story. The kids are supposed to go Sundays and one day a week after school. My daughters were so uncomfortable and almost frightened the few times they went to the afterschool sessions of religious school. I walked them in and saw kids running wild through the lobby and the hallways, eating and dropping food, screaming, etc. The religious school director actually climbed on top of a chair to get their attention (which to me, seemed desperate and completely undermined her authority; I think somebody in charge of 3rd-6th graders should inspire a hush when they enter the room); she thought it was cute that the kids viewed the place like a camp.
I don’t send my children on weekdays anymore. Not all children want to run around like animals. It just makes it uncomfortable for everyone. Parents and adults can set the standards.



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Stephanie

posted June 15, 2010 at 4:33 pm


This is a widespread problem, and not just in liberal shuls. I attended a bar mitzvah at a Young Israel congregation where the kids were also running around, unsupervised. I am a parent of two young children who like to run around, and was for many years a synagogue professional, so I have seen this issue from both sides. As a parent, on the rare occasions when I attend services with my kids (because they can’t really yet be quiet for long), I sit near the aisle and bring a bag of toys and snacks. When that runs out (usually by Mi Chamocha), we quietly leave to go play together and listen to the rest of the service over the speakers. I always stay with them. In my experience as a self-appointed patroller of halls, when I sent the rowdiest kids back in to sit with their parents, I learned that the parents had sent them out precisely because the kids were interfering with their ability to daven! The only solution I see is, has been said before, to PARENT your children, but not just individually – collective responsibility is the answer. Know your child, and know what they can handle. If another responsible adult tells you your child is doing (fill in the blank), believe them. And take steps to see that it doesn’t happen again. If you are in the halls and see someone else’s child being pushy in the coat room (or jumping on furniture or sneaking food from the oneg table), do you just grab my child’s hand and walk in the other direction? Or do you also intervene with someone else’s child? Having been a paid staff person, I still feel free to be an ‘enforcer’ with other people’s kids. I also feel totally comfortable when my circle of friends intervenes with my children, which happens often when we are in each others’ homes. But how does a community with diverse ideas about appropriate behavior come up with shared expectations? That might be the beginning of the conversation with your board. It could help to talk it over with some other members, too. You should be proud of offering to be part of the solution, and not just complain about the problem. If and when your community is responsive, it will bolster your good feelings of having decided to affiliate.



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Rachael

posted June 15, 2010 at 7:20 pm


It is up to both the parents and shule leaders to create and enforce expectations as to how the kids should act in shule. I think it’s great that you wrote a letter and offered your assistance in beginning this process. I’m sure that there are lots of parents who agree with you and feel helpless to make this change.
Our shule has 700 families and because we are so large, we have bar and bat-mitzvah’s and other simchas just about every week. We are able to have programs during services and child care for every Shabbat and the holidays. The kids, because they are engaged, are pretty good. In addition, if there are kids who are acting rowdy, then parents, shule leaders and Shabbat greeters are on hand to shush them/tell them to calm down.



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kel

posted June 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm


These shuls should implement more structured but fun programming for kids as my synogogue has for the kids.. My kids love going to shul–they have age appropriate minyans with contests, activities and prizes given out for raffles tickets that they receive for praying with concentration. There is a separate kids minyan; there is a breakfast or lunch set up for them for after prayers. Granted- it costs some money, but the kids get to enjoy shul as there are many incentives without losing the meaning of it all. It really is beautiful and the kids really pray and so can the adults.



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Rose

posted June 16, 2010 at 1:30 am


I understand completely! At my son’s Bar Mitzvah, within the first 30 minutes of the party at our synagogue, someone deliberately clogged up the sink in the men’s restroom, left the water running, flooded the bathroom and the carpet all down the hall, causing the men’s room to be closed during the party…….AND the custodial staff had to mop, squeeze, vacuum, and blow big fans in the hall. We never found out who caused such destruction, but a similar incident happened again during Sunday School. Oddly, that time the culprit was identified, and he WAS NOT at my son’s Bar Mitzvah. So………apparently two different people were responsible for this hideous behavior. I mean, really! Clog up your mother’s bathroom if you must, but forego a sacred house of worship! It’s difficult to send kids to services when others around them act like heathens! By the way, I have little cousins named Zoe and Ella! How sweet.



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Keturah

posted June 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm


I totally agree!!!!!!!!! I have a 2 yr old that is very smart and advanced for her age. I love to see her play but some other parents at shul let their kids run everywhere and expect other parents to watch them. While I feel bad because my daughter is the only kid and I want her to be a kid and have fun. I think that there is a time and place for fun. We should teach our kids that Shul is for honoring the Torah. Not that it should be boring, but if more shuls had a great kids program, it would not be boring. The kids can be there with other kids and learn and play with supervised adults. And the parents can hear Torah as well. That is my ideal shul.
I don’t mind kids or watching other people’s kids but once they start acting bad and you can’t discipline them because they are not your kids, it gets frustrating. You tell their parents or send them back to them and 5 minutes later the parents are letting them join in the fun again, with no time outs, no discipline. Ten minutes later those kids are in trouble again and you have to return them to parents. I think parents need to be more involved and make them sit there with them if they can’t listen or take them back home and teach them Torah.



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Ms. Krieger

posted June 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm


Hmmmm. This post really made me think. I grew up as one of those kids who regularly ran around shul (and the exterior of the building) with a posse of other children. No one ever seemed to get upset, unless we did something that was obviously destructive/interfered with the davening. A bunch of kids pushing a few other children out of the coat closet seems harmless as long as no one lost limbs/eyes etc.
In fact, the tone of this post seems almost hovercraft parenting-esque. I.e. similar to those parents who don’t let their children walk through the neighborhood unescorted, etc. (And I’m kind of new here so this may be your style and if it is, I assume I will be spanked by the readership/blog-owner. ;)
Kids run around during shul and play games, tell secrets, shove each other out of the coat closet, etc. Canceling your shul membership in response seems a tad extreme… Of course, my first born isn’t even ambulatory yet, so I may yet see things differently. Or not.



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Homeshuling

posted June 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm


Thanks for commenting. Don’t worry I don’t spank – my children or my readers….
I think there’s a difference between strict parenting and helicpoter parenting. I will cop to having high expectations for my kids’ behavior, but I also trust them in lots of situations to be out of ear and eyeshot – because they are really good kids. What I do try to keep them away from are situations where I think it would be unrealistic to expect them to be reasonably well behaved. This was one of those situations.
Our shul building is *very* small and it’s impossible to run around inside without disturbing the davening. Also pretty hard not to knock people over. The coat room , for example, is about 12 feet away from the doors of the sanctuary. I had tutored the bat-mitzvah girl and I felt terribly for her that at times it was hard to hear her dvar torah because of the hoots and sqeals in the hallway. (Really, I’m not exaggerating.)
Anyway, I appreciate the conversation, and don’t expect or even want everyone to agree with me.



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Shira

posted June 25, 2010 at 11:10 pm


I love many things about being Jewish. We are each different and Judaism offers many different kinds of services and activities and programs that can fit all. HOWEVER, it is a commandment to be part of the community. I find this very, very hard as we can never reach consensus. (That is probably why it is a commandment!).
I think when you’re children are young, one thinks they know what parenting should be like for all children. You don’t. When those children shoved your child out of the closet, it is an opportunity to teach your child how to deal with this kind of behavior…not to condemn the behavior…Adults do the same thing!
Every challenge is an opportunity and you are modeling isolation rather than community responsibility to your children.
I have heard parents say to me that their kids did not want to be part of the community. So, you find SOMETHING in the community that works. We changed shuls twice to accommodate the kids as the got older. I also believed that my children should be familiar with every denomination so that they would be comfortable with all Jews and honor all denominations.
A woman who I knew from Jewish Cub Scouts told me her child hated it. I do not remember telling her to just find another Jewish group for her child to be involved in as they will not develop a connection to the Jewish people just from homeschooling. She thanked me as she exposed him to all different groups and he ended up choosing to be involved with Young Judea.
When my kids got to high school, they no longer wanted to attend shul. We struggled with this and received great advice from others. We concluded that we would not force them to go. We spoke with them honestly and told them we wanted them to love being Jewish and therefore we wanted them to choose 1 youth group (BBYO, USY, NFTY or whatever) and get involved which they did! Then AISH Denver created a Teen Center for all teens with an amazing rabbi that the teens loved… So, we call ourselves the wandering Jews…
My csons are both in college now. They have both chosen to attend shabbat services/dinner and be involved Jewishly and next year they are both choosing to go together for the 1 year program abroad at Hebrew University!
I am thrilled. BUT I will say it took a lot more work than homeschooling (which I also did!!!)
May your children bring their families happiness. May they bring the light of Torah to the world and serve the Jewish People and all mankind.



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Homeshuling

posted June 27, 2010 at 9:03 am


I’m glad you found a solution that worked for your family. I’m sure that’s what we are all trying to accomplish in our own way.



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Francine

posted June 29, 2010 at 11:46 am


Great post. I have struggled with this topic for several years. My sons are now 11 and 8.5. In the early years, I was continually horrified by the behavior of the older kids. Why weren’t they sitting in services, either in main sanctuary or in children’s services when available?
So I hovered. I was strict with my own kids. And I was in no way shy about admonishing other kids – to be quieter or to be nice to each other or to stop doing something totally inappropriate like wrestling on the bimah.
Now, my kids are part of the “well behaved” group. Kids who are known as being able to be around the building without a lot of supervision, kids who will try to influence their peers for good or who will simply walk away from disruptive situations.
That said, my youngest, my daughter, has special needs, and I cannot simply let her run wild. So I am back to hovering. And correcting. And being The Strict Lady again.
(And I used to work with Allison – I was her Cantorial Soloist for high holidays! Lucky lucky you to have her as Rabbi!)



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Homeshuling

posted June 29, 2010 at 12:27 pm


Thanks, Francine. It happens that Allison is a friend, but not the rabbi at our congregation- but she is wonderful!



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MKZ

posted June 23, 2011 at 8:39 pm


Hyper, maybe, but these kids don’t seem all that bad. Relatively speaking they sound great! Believe me, there is much worse behavior out there!



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