It’s one thing for a rabbi to say it’s a child-friendly synagogue and it’s another thing for a rabbi to make children feel welcome at synagogue. Our rabbi does both, which might be why Isabelle adores him.
THE BACK STORY: Today was Chaverim Shabbat, which my husband coordinated with another congregant. It was a lovely event where younger members (i.e., those of us in our 30s and 40s) led services. With younger congregants comes younger children. Much to Isabelle’s dismay, there was no Mini Congregation service this weekend. Fortunately, my in-laws are in town so they brought Isabelle to synagogue around 10 thereby giving her a mere hour and 45 minutes to be in synagogue. She spent some time sitting in her own seat, but she has schpilkas, which means she can’t sit still. Therefore, we took turns doing laps in the hallway, visiting Junior Congregation, and spending some time in the quiet room. (Let me be honest, it was mostly Linda, my mother-in-law, who amused Isabelle since my husband had to be on-hand, plus we both had aliyot, and I had to deliver my D’var Torah.)
Right after I finished giving my D’var Torah, I placed my tallis on my seat and went in search of Linda and Isabelle. I checked the hallway, but they weren’t there. I checked Junior Congregation, but they weren’t there. I checked the quiet room, which is where I found them. Linda and I chatted for a few minutes before Isabelle declared “I want to go in!”
“But you’ll have to be very quiet,” I stated with a serious face.
“Okay,” she said.
I looked at Isabelle. “Wouldn’t you rather stay here with Grandma?”
“No. I want to go in now.”
I peered through the quiet room’s one-sided window. The Musaf service was beginning. I knew it would be short, but there are several minutes of silent prayer. I didn’t think Isabelle could handle it. But I wanted to go back in so I led the way, holding Isabelle’s hand as we walked from the quiet room through the sanctuary to our seats.
I donned my tallis while Isabelle scurried to her seat, which she sat in for about a minute. Then she decided she wanted to go from Grandma to Papa to Daddy to me and back again. Once we rose, she shimmied her way out of the pew and on to the ramp that leads to the bimah. She walked back and forth on the ramp for a few minutes. Every now and then she’d take a step or two on to the bimah at which point I’d give her a look and tell her to go back on to the ramp. (You have to understand, dear reader, I was raised in a synagogue where kids were not allowed to roam freely around the sanctuary. You can imagine I was freaking out every time her size seven toddler shoes touched the bimah.) At one point I walked over to Isabelle, knelt down beside her, and told her to stay on the patterned (ramp) carpet so she wouldn’t disrupt the service.
But Isabelle is a typical three year-old who likes to test limits. So what did she do? She moseyed her way up to the bimah. I motioned for her to come back. That did nothing. I mouthed for her to come back. That did nothing. I walked over to her in an attempt to bring her back to the seat. That did nothing but make her take more steps on to the bimah. She crossed behind the congregant who was leading the service and went straight over to the Rabbi.
My “I’m sorry” to him was met with “Isabelle can sit here.”
Just as I was about to scoop her up and remove her from the bimah, she climbed up on the chair next to the Rabbi.
I felt as if everyone’s eyes were on me staring straight through me. As for my eyes, I was trying to use them to plead with Isabelle to get her to come back with me. I used to sit so quietly in synagogue as a kid. How did I get the kid who runs right up on the bimah?
“I’ll take her back. I’m sorry,” I said.
“Isabelle is invited to sit next to me,” the Rabbi said. “It’s okay.”
I looked at him and he smiled. His face truly meant it was okay. So I did what any grateful, but slightly humiliated parent would do. I left the bimah by myself.
And there my Isabelle who sat on the chair without wiggling. She sat next to the Rabbi on the bimah for almost 10 minutes before making her way back to us.
Some rabbis would’ve asked me to take my daughter back to the her seat. Some rabbis would’ve given me a stern look to make me feel bad. But not our rabbi. Our rabbi allowed Isabelle to sit beside him on the bimah as if she were the Bat Mitzvah girl. His gentle reaction to her presence, “Isabelle is invited to sit next to me,” speaks volumes about the way he views the next generation of our synagogue.
I guess Isabelle senses she is wanted in our synagogue. She often tells me that she loves synagogue and our Rabbi. It is my hope her enthusiasm about going to synagogue continues as she matures. Few things would make me happier than to have a daughter who embraces the teachings of her religion and wants to have the synagogue at the forefront of her life.
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If you’re interested in reading my D’var Torah about this week’s parasha, Vayikra, you’re welcome to click on the link below.