Getting to services on Shabbat morning is a lot of work. We have to make sure everyone is up, fed, caffeinated (ok, at least two of us), reasonably clean, and dressed appropriately. The baby may still need her morning nap, which can make for tricky timing. Meanwhile, the toddler wants to wear the pink kippah (which, of course, is the only one we can’t seem to find), and there are more than a few negotiations about which toys can come (the quiet ones) and which can’t (everything else).
The work doesn’t end once we walk out the door. We spend the ride over reminding the toddler that if she has to say something (such as asking to go to the potty so she doesn’t pee all over the sanctuary floor), she needs to whisper. We spend much of services wrangling babies; although the toddler is pretty good at sitting, we’re still shushing her frequently (it’s hard to get too annoyed, though, when she’s just so excited about being so close to the Rabbi and the Torah). The baby squirms and fidgets because all she wants to do is walk, which she can’t quite do on her own yet. Thank goodness our synagogue is kid-friendly, otherwise we wouldn’t last five minutes.
Needless to say, services are no longer the relaxing retreat of meditation, prayer, and learning that they once were. By the time we get home, I’m exhausted. But every time we go, I am reminded of all the reasons why taking our daughters to synagogue is totally worth the work.
1. They love it. My big girl has been particularly interested in Jewish books and music since she was able to communicate preferences, and her sister seems to be following suit. The girls love the singing at services, and get really excited when they get to go on the bimah to open the ark or help say hamotzi over the challah.
2. They learn about Jewish practices and culture from someone other than me or my husband. Josh and I are doing the best we can to teach our girls about Judaism, but we can only share what we know, from our own experiences and history. It’s important to me that the girls are exposed to different ways of being Jewish, and taking them to services is a great way to do that.
3. I get to experience services from a different perspective. My toddler loves the Torah, and she got really excited this past week when her Zayde was chanting. She wanted to see what was going on, and I was able to take her right up to the bimah. In that moment, I got another opportunity to see our Torah up close, and I was reminded of just how amazing it is. Even though I can’t read the Hebrew, I was struck by the beauty of the calligraphy, the texture of the parchment, and the decades of history embodied in this holy document.
4. My daughters are practicing how to behave in spaces that aren’t kid-centric. Between daycare, playgrounds, friend’s houses and our house, the girls spend much of their lives in spaces that are geared towards tiny Tasmanian Devils. Although our synagogue is definitely kid-friendly, Saturday morning Torah services are for adults (and reluctant b’nai mitzvah students). I think it’s important that my girls learn how to greet adults appropriately, walk quietly, whisper, be patient, and generally learn how to conduct themselves in houses of worship. (For the record, we’re not even close to attaining this one. But it’s always good to have goals.)
5. The girls are learning what it means to be a part of a community. Judaism was meant to be explored and practiced in the context of a community. Every time we go to services, the girls experience this up close. They see us sing and pray together, they play with other kids, and they experience Jewish practices that usually happen at home (such as singing the Sh’ma) in a communal space.
6. We don’t have to plan a morning outing, or worry about feeding them lunch. Let’s be pragmatic. Taking the girls to services is like going to a playdate, music class, storytime at the library, and Hebrew school all in one. There are many kind folks (including Bubbe and Zayde) around to pay attention to the girls and kvell over them, and even better, we get to enjoy a delicious lunch with our friends.
7. I might even get to enjoy a few minutes of services. Our synagogue has a childcare room, and when I’m lucky, the girls’ father or grandparents will take them downstairs to play. As much as I enjoy my daughters, it’s also really nice to have a few minutes to sit in quiet prayer, or learn from our Rabbi and community. It reminds me why Judaism is so meaningful to me, and why raising our children Jewishly is so important, and definitely worth the work.