My husband, toddler, and I just attended Rosh Hashanah services at our parents’ temple, and the highlight for my son was the blowing of the shofar. Granted, we’d been talking it up well in advance of services, but it was such a thrill for him to stand near the rabbi while it sounded repeatedly. But that excitement was quickly overshadowed by what happened next: Following the blowing of the shofar, all the young kids who had gathered around the bimah were given candy. This happened every time the shofar was blown, and frankly, I wasn’t happy about it.
First of all, from a nutritional standpoint, the idea of my 2.5-year-old consuming a series of sugary candies (chocolates, marshmallows, etc.) in the hour leading up to lunchtime was enough to drive me crazy. Candy is something my son gets sparingly, and while nobody forced him to eat it, I wasn’t about to risk a major public fit by yanking it out of his hands while all the other children around him indulged. (As a side note, I think it’s a better practice for adults to ask a young child’s parent if it’s OK to give him candy before proactively offering it up. When I host play dates, I always ask the adult guests if it’s OK to put out certain foods and beverages before actually doing so.)
But the bigger issue I have is that the distribution of candy almost seemed like a bribe to get the kids to keep coming back to hear the shofar. I can’t speak for the other children, but my son was excited enough about the shofar to have gone up to the bimah repeatedly, without needing any outside encouragement to do so.
Even if I were to look at the candy as a reward for hearing the shofar rather than a bribe, it still bothers me. Why isn’t participating in a timeless Jewish ritual reward enough? For my son, it would’ve been. But both days, on the way home from temple, when I asked my son to review what he did at services, his response was, “I heard the shofar and got candy.” And when I started to explain that we’d be going back to temple in a just a week’s time for Yom Kippur, he immediately asked, “And get candy?”
I know the concept of giving out candy during services isn’t a new one, and I don’t mean to blow it out of proportion or claim that it’s the worst possible practice to employ. But I do find it wholly unnecessary and fear that it sends the wrong message to young, impressionable children–that they should participate in Jewish rituals because if they do, they’ll be rewarded with sugar. I’ve worked hard to make my son not only appreciate Jewish traditions but actually want to partake in them. In my house, we have a weekly ritual where we light candles and have a small singing and dancing ceremony to welcome Shabbat, and the last thing I want is for my son to start asking for or expecting a mouthful of chocolate every time he participates. And yes, if he asks, I can always say no, but when you say no to a 2.5-year-old in this type of situation, your 2.5-year-old walks away thinking he did something wrong–whereas if he never thinks to ask in the first place, there’s no room for disappointment.
In the meantime, here’s my Yom Kippur backup plan: If my son asks for candy at temple, I’ll explain that sometimes we get a treat after hearing the shofar, but we only hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (technically it’s sounded to close out Yom Kippur as well but we don’t take our son back for evening services, so the story holds). Since my son tends to be pretty logical for a kid his age, I’m guessing that strategy might work–provided that no one tries to slip him a Milky Way just for showing up. If that happens, I’m really screwed.