Purim’s coming, and it will be one of the few times per year that I actually set foot in shul.
I used to attend shul all the time. In fact, before the Cap’n and I were married, we used to walk a mile and a half and got to shul half an hour early to attend the rabbi’s pre-Shacharit shiur every Shabbat morning. Marriage gave us a little less incentive to get up so early for shul, and children made it nearly impossible. Even if we were to have gotten up, gotten ourselves and the kids dressed, the kids breakfasted, snacks packed, stroller loaded, and the .9 mile walked to shul, the three-hour service with the stern, disapproving looks from some of the older congregants would have driven us away.
This last thing is something that has irritated me for years about shul-going. When I first began to attend shul in Israel, I was frequently annoyed by the sound (and sometimes the body-slam) of children running and playing in and just outside the shul. Their parents seemed oblivious of them, only stopping praying to attend to whatever need the child had burst in to convey, and then going back to their davening. I was put off by their lack of courtesy to other daveners, but kept my mouth shut. During the many services I sat through with the sound of kid-play in my ears, I realized that the tone the parents (and by extension, the uncomplaining congregants) were setting for the kids was one in which they felt welcome and accepted for what they were—children. I also learned to tune out the noise and focus on the words in front of me, relegating the laughter and shrieks to a dull background roar.
I haven’t forgotten those lessons, and now that I’m the one with the kids (who usually whisper rather than shriek), I appreciate even more when fellow congregants withhold their scorn and indignation. Today’s boisterous kids are tomorrow’s docile shul-goers. (And the doted-upon grandchildren of the scowling sestogenarians.) This is why the Cap’n and I don’t let it bother us when every fall someone on the shul committee puts out a reminder to the parents of young children to keep them out of shul, please. I deal with this by choosing a seat in the shul’s plywood extension that goes up just before Rosh Hashana, right near the door. That way, when I go hear shofar, the kids can come in and stand with me, and when it’s over we can all leave without disturbing the others. And the Cap’n deals with it by ignoring it completely, putting Bill in his backpack carrier and wearing him to services, with one or more of the Crunch girls standing beside him. (That said, the Cap’n does remove Bill when his chanting gets louder than the shatz’s.)
A friend of mine took her toddler with her to services last fall (at a different shul) and sat next to one of the shul’s senior members. She apologized for bringing the child, saying she really wanted to hear some of the High Holiday davening, and acknowledged that the senior member in the past had not approved of bringing young children to shul. The senior member (now a grandmother) smiled and said, “I made a mistake.”
Amen to that.