Torah Tuesdays

Torah Tuesdays: Rosh HaShanah davening with small children afoot

blowing the shofar (by Alphonse Lévy)
Image via Wikipedia

I recently started davening  from a siddur again after a long stretch of it not being feasible.  Though I definitely have had finer moments with my concentration level, I’m happy to at least do what I can.

Weekday Shemoneh Esrei?  No problemo.  Thank G-d, my kids are able to occupy themselves while I daven.   Shemoneh Esrei for Rosh Hashanah, and, even more so, Mussaf?  I don’t think that’s gonna happen without some forethought (just open your machzor and LOOK at how long it is).

Now, before I lay out some options, let’s remember that the avodah of a mother on the high holidays is to take care of her children.  That is her spiritual connection (Rabbi Chalkowski says so).  When having to pick between tefillah and children, the children always come first.  In fact, in Rabbi Chalkowski’s latest Q&A email (love those), he stated that just hearing the 30 shofar blasts is enough to fulfill a mommy’s Rosh Hashana obligations.

Along this line, a friend of mine recently asked a well-known chinuch Rav how mommies should transmit the meaning and essence of Rosh Hashana to our (little) children.  He stated (and I’m seriously paraphrasing here) that since Rosh Hashana is when we coronate Hashem as King, we should create an atmosphere of coronation.  How?  By behaving as though royalty is actually in our home.  The table should be set beautifully, we should be dressed in our Yom Tov finest, the children should be dressed nicely as well.  We can continue to set the tone by singing beautiful Rosh Hashana songs, as well as Adon Olam.  Whatever conveys the importance of the day.

For me, davening to Hashem is part of conveying the importance of the day.  Standing in front of the King and acknowledging His supremacy through saying the words of Mussaf?  Yes, please.  Rabbi Chalkowksi also said, in his Q&A, that we should try to daven the Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharis, then later, Mussaf  (he also said that if it’s not possible, do what you can, and Hashem will certainly understand, so no worries!).

But how, pray tell, are we to accomplish davening (again, did you SEE how long those tefillos are)?

Davening in shul or at home?

Back in the day, I loved davening in shul on the high holidays.  To hear kaddish, to be able to listen to the chazzan’s repetition, to be surrounded by people immersed in prayer – geshmack.  It inspired in me a feeling of awe and connectedness.  I looked forward to the beautiful melodies and the intensity of the experience.

Now, on the (very) rare occasions when I have had the opportunity to daven in shul, I find it distracting.  I feel pressure to daven at everyone else’s pace instead of the leisurely one I’m accustomed to at home.  Sometimes there’s talking (though hopefully not!), sometimes it’s freezing, sometimes it’s overcrowded.  There’s also the matter of showing up at shul during various parts of the service, like in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei, or the Torah reading, etc., which make it tricky, if not impossible, to daven.

So, I decided that while it’s nice in theory, at this point in my life, I don’t connect so well in shul.  If I’m going to daven, I’m going to do so at home.  That’s me.  I know some people really make an effort to go.

Kids in shul?

I’m a big fan of NOT bringing kids to shul, as they can be distracting not only to their own mommy, but to everyone around them.  Even if your children are angelic beings who sit quietly in the chair beside you (I actually have a friend whose daughter can DO this.  I never thought it was possible), they are still distracting through their cuteness.

Disagree with me if you like, but I’m just not into bringing kids to shul for davening until they’re old enough to understand what is going on, the sanctity of the space, etc.

What about shul babysitting? 

Some shuls provide babysitting for their congregants.  Back in the day, when I was still single, I helped run a high holidays kids’ program for Aish.  The parents were able to focus on their tefillos (hopefully), and the kids got some educational programming (and candy).

On a personal level, though, shul babysitting is a creature with which I had extremely limited experience.  None of the shuls we’ve attended in the past three years have offered it, so it wasn’t even something I considered.  Now, when we visit my in-laws, their shul does has babysitting.  The one time I availed myself of it, I was quickly summoned back to the room, as my toddler (at that point, my only) needed me.  This experience basically nixed the potential for my concentration during tefillah.

Taking turns with a neighbor to go to shul

I know some folks who make arrangements with their neighbors.  It goes like this: The neighbor watches the kids  for a certain amount of time while the other mommy davens in shul.  Then they swap.  I also know families who enlist an older daughter to watch the kids, and then the mother switches off with the older daughter for shul time.

Again, davening in shul for me is not really a goal at this point.

Davening at home

As far as I can see, there are two options here:

  • Waiting for your husband to come home and having him watch the kids while you daven (Rabbi Chalkowski’s recommendation).
  • Having a Rosh Hashana playdate with a friend.  Said friend watches the kids while you daven (and vice versa).

If waiting for your husband, davening Shacharis is pretty much out of the question, but mussaf should be feasible.  You can even daven mussaf after the meal, if pressed for time.

Before arranging a playdate, there are a few things to consider:

  • Is this a friend your kids know well?
  • Do the children play together nicely?
  • Is your child going through stranger anxiety, or having difficulty with change?
  • Are your children happy to play with other kids?
  • Are your kids okay when you are away from them for short periods of time (say, a half hour)?

Again, when choosing between tefillah and children, the children come first.  However, if you feel confident that your children will be fine while you take the time to daven, by all means, go for it!

Much hatzlacha to everyone this Rosh HashanaKsiva v’Chasima Tovah.  May we all be inscribed and sealed for good, and may it be a sweet new year for us all!

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2 thoughts on “Torah Tuesdays: Rosh HaShanah davening with small children afoot

  1. As usual a wonderful, thought-provoking post, I’ve tried all of the above! When my kids were little, ultimately I came to the conclusion that being at home was the best solution for my family. My kids didn’t really like being in a big group of kids with a babysitter (arranged at a generous person’s house near Shul). Switching off with a friend worked better, but still wasn’t ideal. When my kids were in elementary school (and my own Shul didn’t allow kids), I tried taking them to a kiruv-type minyan where we were welcomed to help others daven. This had potential, but my naive kids were completely distracted by this “different” crowd. (On Yom Kippur a group of college students came to Shul without shoes or socks because they thought they couldn’t wear shoes on Yom Kippur–my kids were fascinated.)
    It’s a different experience at home, but it can be really special. Believe it or not–someday you will miss it! :-) K’siva v’chasima tova!

    1. I can just imagine your kids looking at the shoeless students! Ha! Thanks for the chizzuk, and for the reminder that these years are indeed precious. :) ksiva v’chasima tova!

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