The temple I recently joined offers fabulous Tot Shabbat programs throughout the year, but none during the summer. And recently, over lunch with a local mom friend and fellow member, I casually mentioned that since we hadn’t been to services in a while, we were thinking about going before the summer ended. Her response: “Oh, nobody goes to temple during the summer. The place is empty.”
I’ve heard this of other temples too and wonder why it is that come summertime, so many people tend to put temple-going on hold. Granted, some families do go away, but most don’t have the luxury of taking a two-month-long summer vacation, which means they’re probably in town for a good part of the summer but either making other Saturday morning plans or simply choosing to stay away.
Now, as a once-a-month temple-goer at best, trust me, I’m not judging. But I do find it odd. Children are generally encouraged to keep up with reading and certain skills over the summer so that they’re not rusty come the start of the school year. Why doesn’t the same hold true for Judaism?
I wonder if there’s any correlation between the lack of temple attendance during the summer and the lack of Jewish holidays between Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah (Tisha B’Av being the exception, though it’s not exactly family/kid-friendly). Does a gap in religious milestones make people less excited about attending services? Maybe some of the allure simply gets lost when you’re going through the same motions week after week. Or, maybe more families simply want to take advantage of the warmer weather and do things like go to the beach or enjoy weekend getaways. There’s nothing wrong with that either.
Still, I can’t help but wonder whether children who normally attend services and then take the summer off come back feeling excited to resume their temple-going routines, or annoyed that instead of going to the park or the beach, they’re stuck sitting in temple. Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder in this regard, and taking time off from temple is actually a good thing.
Right now my son is only 2.5 years old–perhaps not too young to appreciate the consistency of regular temple attendance, but definitely too young to sit through regular services that aren’t specifically geared toward tots. Like many other families, we too have taken the summer off with regard to temple-going because frankly I can’t see the experience being very rewarding if there’s no tot program and the temple itself is basically empty. To compensate, every Saturday morning we bust out our PJ library books and read about various Jewish holidays and themes. And lately I’ve also been reminding him that pretty soon it’ll be time to start going to temple again.
What’s funny is that I think for the first time in my life, I’m actually excited at the idea of going to services. It’s not one of those things I feel I have to do, but rather something I actively want to do. So maybe taking a break from temple isn’t such a bad thing–because the more you grow to miss something, the more meaningful it becomes once you get it back.