Tuesday, August 03, 2004

So glad you could join us: An egalitarian mom & her toddler are cordially invited to stay home

When we first moved to our current neighborhood, we were royally unwelcomed to the local Conservative synagogue. For years, I got little more than grief from many of the other congregants. For openers, I got the fish-eyed stare from traditionalists who’d never seen a woman wear a tallit before. The Sunday morning “minyannaires” didn’t take too kindly to having me show up instead of my husband, since they wouldn’t count me for a minyan. At first, I told them that, if they refused to count me, they had no one but themselves to blame if they couldn’t get a minyan. But, after a few years of this, I got tired of the grief they were giving me, and just stopped going. (I started going again after the kid became Bar Mitzvah, since I figured I had no more excuses to stay home.)

And then, of course, there was the problem of bringing a “vilteh kint” (wild child) into a shul populated largely by retirees who were no longer accustomed to having kids around. The first time we went there, an elderly lady yelled at me because my little wild man kept opening and closing the old-fashioned accordion door of the phone booth, thereby turning the automatic light on and off on Shabbat. All I could say was, “He’s only 17 months old.” It had never occurred to me that Shabbat observance would be expected of a child that young. So, the first thing I learned was that my kid could disturb people even when I took him out of the sanctuary in the hope that he wouldn’t disturb them. (Needless to say, I spent the next few years chasing after him to ensure that he stayed out of that phone booth on Shabbat. Whoever said that *parents* get to rest on the Sabbath?) Despite the fact that I took great pains to haul my son out of the sanctuary whenever he got too noisy, all the older folks wanted me to do was to stay home with him until he was 6. Naturally, I refused. It seemed to me that being kicked out of shul was a dubious reward for having helped perpetuate the Jewish people. I can honestly say that, for the first decade or so that we lived in our current neighborhood, we went to shul not *because* we had a child, but *in spite of* that fact.


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