This past August, when I started talking about and planning for the High Holidays with my family, my 7-year-old perked up. “Are we going to services? Yay, I can’t wait!” Certainly a different reaction than I had at her age (or admittedly, sometimes now).
When she was 2, Mirabelle began pre-school at the local JCC and that began a level of excitement and comfort in the Jewish community that I hadn’t anticipated. Every year she is excited to go to services, looks forward to reciting the prayers with our family and loves playing with her Jewish friends.
Now, she is in second grade at a secular public school and we haven’t spent as much time participating in Jewish activities. Like everyone, we’re busy with school and work and friends and family. We go to services on the Jewish holidays and celebrate with our families, but that day-to-day immersion just doesn’t happen like it did when she was at the JCC.
And for the first time, Mirabelle wasn’t as excited after Rosh Hashanah services. This year she was in an older age group and thought the kids’ services were boring.
My first thought was that services are boring and that’s just the way they are. But, for years she has gone with excitement and loved them. Why doesn’t that excitement continue as we get older? I know I’m not speaking for everyone, but let’s be honest—I know many people who go to services out of a sense of obligation or tradition and count down the hours until they can leave.
Like so many things, it has taken having a child to open my eyes. We’re not born with a sense of impending boredom about attending synagogue. In fact, just the opposite.
So now, I feel an urgent need to get my family in gear and take advantage of this window of opportunity to make Judaism fun, exciting and part of my daughter’s life. And while our last experience at services was boring for my daughter, I think that joining a synagogue—something we haven’t done yet and a big step—will be the most important step in finding a place for us in the Jewish community.
For years we’ve put off the decision to join a synagogue. While Mirabelle was at the JCC for pre-school we didn’t really feel that we needed it. Plus, there’s the cost factor; joining a synagogue is expensive. And lastly, we weren’t sure exactly where we would want to join. My husband is not Jewish so the local Reform temple might be a better fit, but my extended family belongs to the local Conservative synagogue and we already know a lot of people there. Where do we fit?
That’s a question we haven’t answered yet, but we’re working on it. We visited both synagogues during the High Holidays and have made our daughter part of the discussions. We truly value her input as she is the main reason we’re looking to join.
Ultimately, I’d like our daughter to have a sense of belonging in the Jewish community. I want her to have a sense of community, a physical presence in her life and a place for education. Even more important, I’d like her to see the synagogue as a community center, full of fun activities, and not just a place we go to once a year for a “boring” service. I think by joining someplace where she sees friends and feels a connection, she’ll even enjoy those services more.
While we’re deciding where we want to join, there are other ways for us to get involved too. Here is my plan:
1. Attend Jewish community events. There are tons of activities surrounding the holidays, Shabbat and volunteerism that take place in our community every week. It’s a great place to see friends and learn about Judaism in a fun, social setting.
2. Interact more with our Jewish friends. We have a lot of good Jewish friends that we socialize with well beyond the synagogue. As we all get busier we see less of each other, but having those people as a part of our day-to-day life is key to making Judaism a part of our lives.
3. Model behavior. I try as hard as I can to not complain about going to services or calling them boring. Now, I just need to get more involved in the Jewish community myself, so my daughter can see that and follow in my footsteps.
Number three may be the hardest for me, but also the most rewarding. I grew up in a tiny Jewish community and if anything, being Jewish made me feel different and like an outsider—the exact opposite of what I want for my daughter.
Like many perks of parenting, it took my daughter to open my eyes to the wonderful community at my fingertips—a community that she found much earlier in her life, and that I will be sure to foster.