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Monday, October 30, 2006


Listening to parents, listening to kids

A strange and somewhat sad thing happened this past Shabbos, and it brought a bunch of important issues to the fore.

During the pre-Musaf speech, a half-dozen teenage boys arrived at shul and, instead of interrupting the sermon and finding seats in the sanctuary, they filed into a back room.

I don't mean to sound judgemental or obnoxious, but it was easy to see that these boys were not attempting to emulate the "yeshivish" style of most of the kids in my shul. They were not wearing suits and ties, for the most part, but they were dressed in what would be considered "modern" Shabbos style. Does this have any bearing on the story? Maybe.

My father, shlit''a, told me many, many years ago that instead of feeling fear or loathing or distaste when someone less couth or refined or frum comes to shul, or righteous indignation that they came so late, we should go out of our way to make him or her welcome, because hey, they came to shul! That's an accomplishment in and of itself, and we should encourage the behavior, not create a hostile environment.

Both my grandfathers, zichronam livracha, followed the same approach. Both would go out of their way to make sure every new arrival in shul had a siddur and a seat; both (in their positions as gabbaim) enouraged young congregants to participate in davening and leining and leadership activities.

So after the speech, as Musaf was beginning, I brought a stack of siddurim to the back room and invited the boys to come into the sanctuary. Two did. Four stayed behind.

At the end of Musaf (we're davening nusach sefard here), there's a kaddish after 'ein kelokeinu' and another after aleinu. Our shul doesn't have any mourners, BH, so we usually skip those.

Some people opine that it's important to have a kaddish after aleinu, so someone who has already lost a parent recites it.

We skipped the kaddish after 'ein kelokeinu.' Then, after aleinu, one of the older congregants began to recite kaddish. And one of the teens recited it, too.

I realized that this boy is probably a mourner, and probably needed to recite the previous kaddish, which we skipped without a second thought. This was wrong of us.

I further realized that this boy came to shul (instead of opting to stay home) in order to say kaddish, and that his five friends came along to keep him company, or out of solidarity, or guilt, or whatever. It's clear that they had very little motivation to come to shul, but they did anyway. I think that's admirable. Because many teens (at-risk and otherwise) wouldn't bother.

So, to conclude, I think we need to rethink a bunch of things about the atmosphere that prevails in our shuls. And this applies not just to mine, but to every one, in my opinion. Many shuls have policies in place or have already taken steps to remedy some of these problems, but more needs to be done.

1. Do people--especially strangers--feel welcome?
2. Do we take the time to make sure that someone who needs to say kaddish has the opportunity?
3. Do we have any measures in place to include teens (and singles) in the services?
4. Do we have any means of encouraging young, possibly disenfranchised people to participate in and enjoy coming to shul?

I don't want my shul to be a place that's dominated by stern-faced, black-suited (and hatted) sourpusses. For the most part, it's not. But I think a little more needs to be done (which I said already), and I'm going to try to push that agenda.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Get on the Bus

I've been kicking myself for leaving my notebook in the car, so often have I encountered foolish people or outrageous behaviors on the bus each morning.

Much ink has been spilled, and many pens have been broken, and many fingers and wrists have been damaged, writing about loud cell-phone talkers. There's not a thing I could add to the discussion, honestly. Except to say that perhaps, from now on, I'll post snippets of conversations to which I'm subjected on the bus. The client negotiations, the "what's for supper tonight?," the real-estate deals (especially the real-estate deals--are you listening, dark-skinned sefardi guy with the slicked-back hair and whiney voice?), the unsolicited career advice, the shidduch investigations, all of it. People have no regard for the comfort of their fellow passengers, and I've had enough.

But the cell-phone talkers exist in every transportation medium. There are some characters that are unique to the "frum" bus milieu.

First, there's the tall, clean-shaven, gray-haired guy who has made it his life's mission to antagonize every male rider more frum than he is, and to ingratiate himself to every female rider, provided they're young and attractive.

This is the guy who will protest loudly if anyone tries to put up a mechitza. He will tear it down if it's already up. He will sit next to a woman, regardless of the availability of "men's" seats and regardless of her comfort level. He also reacts very aggressively if someone talks on their cell phone - or has an audible ringtone - or sneezes. It's reached the point where he's banned from riding certain morning buses, on pain of ejection and humiliation from the driver. Of course, if a scuffle did break out, the police would be called in immediately, creating a devastating chilul Hashem and at least a 30-minute delay in my commute.

Aren't we supposed to be better than all this? How did we get to a point where a passenger goes out of his way to annoy and antagonize other passengers, and where other passengers and drivers are forced to hurl threats and insults - every morning?!

And then there's the clueless girl who thought it was completely acceptable to spread her three notebooks, four shopping bags, and two shoulder bags across four seats. During rush hour.

I debated whether to say something right away, or to wait until someone else commented more pointedly ("Whose stuff is this?!") when the bus filled up. Thankfully, she got the message on her own and cleared the other seats before someone had to yell. But what was she thinking? Did she really believe she was entitled to four seats, when she paid for one?!

And what about the time when a person new to Monsey tried to flag down a bus (at a non-designated stop, granted) and got cursed at and yelled at (and flipped off) by the driver? The bearded, yiddish-speaking driver?

There are dozens of other examples, each of which is more egregrious than the next.

Something has to change, or else these frum-owned and frum-operated businesses are going to continue grinding down whatever goodwill and Ahavas Yisrael I have left. And I'm not the only one.

Monday, October 23, 2006


She did it again...

Here's another priceless exchange, wherein my 3-year-old shows me up by combining her natural contrariness with a surprisingly advanced vocabulary.

Her: "I want more juice"
Me: "What?"
I want more juice?
Can you say that again?
More juice!
I'm sorry, what?
I. Want. More. Juice
Can you be a little more specific?
{she holds out her cup} Put. It. In. Here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


An Actual Conversation

Below is an exchange I had tonight with my young daughter, kinehora, who is 3 years old. And no, her name is not kinehora.

She was dissecting a particularly crucial plot point in the "Wiggles Magical Adventure" movie.

"Why did Wally take Greg's magic wand?" she asked.

"Because he thought it would help him win the magic contest," I answered.

"But why?"

"Because he felt that if he won the contest, people would like him and think he was a good magician."

"But why?"

"Because he needed external validation."

"But why?"

"Because he had low self-esteem and self-confidence."

"But why?"

"Probably because of something that happened in his childhood."

"Oh. Okay, Abba. Thanks."

Gutt yomtov, gmar chasima tova, gutt yohr.

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