After a relatively quiet Friday, we walk into synagogue, meeting the rabbi for the first time. My 17-month-old daughter Shira is beyond excited about the sights and sounds around her: a high-ceilinged room, lots of chairs, a box full of musical instruments, and a welcoming voice that greets us with, “Shabbat Shalom.” She looks back at me with a big grin and says, “Bat!” which is her version of “Shabbat.”
I’m cheering to myself on the inside, thinking she gets it. This is Shabbat! We’ve been talking about this all day and she understands what we are about to do. Mommy win!
The last time we tried going to Tot Shabbat services, it was far too close to bedtime. Now that she’s a few months older and the sun sets quite a bit later, I figured it was time to give it another try.
We are the first to arrive for services, and Shira is very comfortable with that, getting the one-on-one time that she enjoys. She pulls out instruments, shakes them around, and puts them on the floor one by one until she finds one (OK, maybe two) she wants. She looks down at her feet and declares, “Mess!” and the rabbi just loves the fact that Shira recognizes a mess when she sees one. My child is somewhat obsessive about calling out messes when she sees them and then cleaning them up. I only hope this continues through her teenage years.
More children and parents arrive and as they grab instruments and take their seats, we get started.
Bim bam bim bim bim bam bim bim bim bim bim bam…
Shira keeps giving me this look of awe as she realizes that we aren’t the only ones who sing this tune. I’m feeling excited about how well this is going this time around. She says, “Again!” after the first song is over, but of course, we move on. We sing something unfamiliar to her, and suddenly, the evening takes a turn.
“No!” she shouts. Everyone continues singing and Shira keeps intermittently yelling out, “No!” from the front row, looking right into the eyes of the rabbi.
For the next 10 minutes, I keep wavering between the idea of removing her to watch and listen from just outside the sanctuary, or leaving entirely to go home. For a few minutes at a time, she is calm and attentive, and then she has a sudden outburst, throwing herself on the ground crying or saying, “No.” I am mildly embarrassed, but also trying to see it all through her eyes.
That’s when it comes to me. This is not Shabbat. Shabbat, to her, is a day full of baking challah, cleaning all those messes, lighting candles quietly at home, enjoying some grape juice and challah, and reading our favorite PJ Library Shabbat books together. It’s a quiet and peaceful night with family, true to the essence of Shabbat. This is not that. This is chaotic and far from restful.
I decide to make our exit through the tears and I whisper to her that we will go home and do Shabbat. We get in the car and drive to the supermarket to pick up a store-made challah as we race the clock to get home before candle lighting time. With two minutes to spare, we get the challah out of its packaging, pour some grape juice into the Kiddush cup, and light the candles together.
Her eyes light up. This is Shabbat!
Though the challah tasted more like Italian bread braided into a challah shape, this felt right. This is what she needed, and this brought me the joy that Shabbat brings each week.
One day, she will be ready for Tot Shabbat, and we will be ready to join our local Jewish community. Until then, I’ll continue ushering in the most peaceful day of the week by sticking to our routine that we’ve both come to love sharing with each other.