When I was little, Rosh Hashanah was always my favorite holiday of the year. My mom would buy me a fancy new dress, and we would cook all my favorite Jewish foods for the big lunch we hosted for family and friends. It kicked off the start of the new school year and I looked forward to all of it. Except for going to shul.
On a typical Friday night Shabbat service I was always allowed to sit next to my mom, hold the giant prayer book on my lap, people watch, sing along when I could…and most weeks I really enjoyed it. But on the High Holidays I was forced into kiddie jail (as I referred to it), surrounded by other kids I hardly knew doing anything we could to escape from this random extra day of what felt like meaningless Hebrew school. I once did actually escape via a trip to the bathroom through a back staircase the janitors use.
As someone who grew up regularly attending services the ‘new rules’ of separation that we needed to follow just for the ‘two days’ Jews felt extremely unfair and hurtful. I think it did a disservice to my perception of what the High Holidays are all about. As a Jewish mom, I feel responsible for giving my children a Jewish experience that feels warm, welcoming and joyous – so the babysitting room isn’t going to cut it.
Now that I have kids of my own I am adamant about not sending them to the babysitting services offered by the synagogue. I’m sure things have improved slightly in twenty years and the kids probably enjoy a chance to play and run around with their friends, but for me, the whole point of the chaggim is to be together with people of all ages and walks of life. Jewish tradition is fundamentally about coming together. It’s why a minyan of ten people is required just to pray.
These core structural elements of Judaism are designed to create community and to support Jewish families. Traditionally women are exempt from many synagogue based mitzvot because of course who would watch the kids if they had to be there? Now that women can play an equal role in the synagogue we need to make welcoming our little ones there as equally important.
How can a mom pray with little feet pattering around and little voices making noise? To me, the Rosh Hashanah services are a time for communal prayer but total silence and internal reflection can be done somewhere else some other time. When I need to talk to God with no one else around I go on a hike, or if I’m feeling like I really need to atone or pray with my whole mind and heart I’ll go to the mikvah.
This year, and I hope every year moving forward, I will go to Rosh Hashanah services to teach my children the joy of Jewish community and loud exuberant prayer. Yes, I’ll bring some sticker books and yes, we’ll have to take many bathroom breaks. We also choose to belong to a synagogue that has family services so we don’t need to be separated.
For more tips and ideas for celebrating Rosh Hashanah with kids you can watch my video all about it here:
Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her YouTube/MyJewishMommyLife channel and Instagram @MyJewishMommyLife page where she shares her experience living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life. Haberman is currently writing a book on Judaism and pregnancy titled “Expecting Jewish!” to be released Winter 19. She is also a professional social media consultant and web and television writer for Discovery Channel, NOAA and NatGeo and has an MBA from Georgetown University.