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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.

Great post and important questions.
Great post and important questions.
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