Oh baby, baby: Five options for dealing with babies on the High Holy Days
New parents have a lot to figure out: how to get their baby to sleep through the night; when to introduce food; how to binge-watch Netflix while being sleep deprived. The High Holy Days present one more thing for new parents to figure out: how to atone for your sins while taking care of your baby.
While most synagogues offer a plethora of childcare options for children who can walk and talk, most new parents are trying to decide what the best option may be for their babies. Here are just a few helpful suggestions for new parents to consider.
Find services made for young families
Many synagogues offer High Holy Days services specifically designed for young families during which crying, nursing and screaming not only are tolerated, but expected. These services are often under an hour and free. For instance, Temple Judea in Tarzana offers a “Tot High Holiday” service where clergy appear in costume and put on “a fun and wild show,” according to Ellen Franklin, Judea’s executive director. “It’s entertaining but with some traditional prayers.”
At Sinai Temple, there is a 45-minute volunteer-organized “Shofar Blast” service that is “by kids, for kids,” according to Rabbi Nicole Guzik. The service features a “highlight reel” of prayers including Avinu Malkeinu and the mourner’s Kaddish and leads into the synagogue’s “Torah-in-the-Round” family-friendly service for those who choose to stay for a fuller High Holy Day experience.
During Shofar Blast, “you’ll get a message from the rabbi and a puppet show,” said Guzik, who noted that the service is not designed for parents to chitchat but really to connect to their kids and to the spirit of the holiday.
Be there but be flexible: Go to adult services
For many parents with babies, attending regular adult services is still an option. While some synagogues explicitly discourage babies from adult-only High Holy Days programming, others are fine with infants so long as parents follow the implicit rules of High Holy Days decorum.
When Betsy Uhrman’s children were babies, she would transport them in a carrier and follow her synagogue’s “unspoken etiquette” of sitting in the back or near an exit. If her baby started making noise, Uhrman simply stepped out, which happened often. “I was happy to have them there but I wasn’t actively present in services,” she said.
This year IKAR, the spiritual community located in Mid-City, is setting up a “Pray-ground” with toys for children younger than 4 in the balcony overlooking the space where their main services are being held. There will be a closed-circuit feed for parents to hear the full service, including the sermon.
“We are trying to create space that makes parents feel part of the service even if they are not in the room,” IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban told the Journal.
It takes a village: Attend services with family and friends
Childcare doesn’t need to be a one- or two-person task during the High Holy Days. Many new parents choose to attend services with their support networks to divide the childcare responsibilities.
Last year, Tova Leibovic Douglas, a rabbinic student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, wanted to spend some of her time in services actually praying — not just watching over her 18-month-old daughter, Eve.
For the High Holy Days, Tova and her husband, Austin, split their time between their home shul and the synagogue where Tova’s extended family was attending services.
“It made it easier for us,” she said. “Instead of Austin or me being the ones to have to watch Evie, we got to split the responsibility among ourselves, my parents and my sisters.” Austin added that in addition to being helpful, “going to services with my in-laws was a good opportunity for them to spend time with Evie,” adding that “it made services more enjoyable for everyone.”
Stephanie Steingold Bressler’s village of support wasn’t family members but other congregants at her synagogue. “When my kids were too young to go to official child care, I let rebellious teens, who were already in the lobby, take turns hanging with my kids,” she said.
Parents’ night out: Get a baby sitter
For some parents, the important work of accounting of the soul is more easily done when the kids are not around at all, so they choose to hire a baby sitter.
Betsy Uhrman, who does attend most services with her children, always hires a baby sitter on Kol Nidre. “It is really rare that my husband and I carve out time for our own spiritual reckoning,” Uhrman told the Journal, “so on Kol Nidre, it’s important that we are both present.”
Uhrman chose Kol Nidre as the time for a baby sitter because of how “powerful” the service tends to be as well as for the importance of maintaining bedtime for her kids.
Synagogues on occasion make accommodations for baby-sitting young children. Wilshire Boulevard Temple offers baby-sitting to member families that preregister for children at least 3 months old, and at Sinai Temple families can request caregiver passes — which enables nannies to enter the building to watch over children without having to purchase tickets.
Bowing out: Staying home
For some new parents, the right answer for their High Holy Days experience is to stay home with their children and observe the holidays in other ways.
For Jenny Platt, taking her 16-month-old son, Sawyer, to services last year was going to be too big of an ordeal.
“I read Rosh Hashanah books with him and he watched a video of shofar blowing on the computer,” she said. An unconventional solution, but Platt said she was grateful that she could still celebrate the holiday with her son.
For some parents with young kids, staying home feels like the only option. “When you have an infant and a 2-year-old that wants to run around and there is no programming for them, you stay home,” according to Tamar Raucher, whose husband, Noam, is the head Rabbi at Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center. When her kids were too young for formal programming, she said, “the day became about celebrating with friends afterward at Rosh Hashanah lunch.”