I was going to write about Yom Kippur but Mordechai Schmutter did such an excellent job of it in his hilarious article “Fast Approaching” that I suggest you all go read that instead. It is hilarious!
So now, back to my column….
Shul is a phenomenal institution. I grew up non frum so perhaps my perspective differs from most. Looking back, I feel my parents led a pretty isolated existence. I remember them having a few friends, who didn’t live nearby, and whom they visited with infrequently. The only children I was acquainted with were ones from my school and I didn’t see most of them outside the school setting.
This is probably the norm for most Americans. I recently noticed a Facebook posting from a parenting site how mothers do not receive the community support that they need. I agreed somewhat with that premise but also reminded myself that I probably get much more support than those who do not have a religious institution and all the social relationships that go with it.
All this contrasts sharply with my family’s current situation. I feel so blessed to be part of such a large community. Every week, my husband takes my children to shul where they either sit with him or go to youth groups. When I do not have a baby, I go too. Otherwise, I try to meet up with everyone at the shul’s Kiddush. It’s a great chance for everyone to chat and/or play with their friends. The youth groups provide a nice mini-shul experience for the children including davening and storytime. They also allow parents to daven almost unimpeded.
There are exceptions: children who don’t want to go to groups or babies. I stay home with my baby as he’s too noisy for shul and too young for groups. I know some mothers have babysitters watch their babies so that they can daven. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I do not agree with that approach. Davening is a wonderful way to connect to Hashem. But Hashem has given us women these baby berachos to watch out for and nurture. That is really what He wants from us and partially why for the most part women are exempt from most davening. Perhaps I slack off in this area more than I should and I know I could take more opportunities to daven while the baby is napping or playing on his own. Still, as a whole, I am happy that my baby spends his whole Shabbos in a totally heimish environment. No cross wearing, cell phone using nanny having any undue influence on him.
Back to the idea of a shul community: I had an epiphany when sitting shivah for my father a few years ago. I was really gratified and comforted at the large turnout for the shivah, even though most of the people who came didn’t know my father. I realized that when I lost my father, and I assume most people who lose loved ones feel this way, I felt like I was sitting on a stool and one of the legs got kicked out from under me. I felt ready to fall into a mess. But then friends from the community, as well as some friends of the family, came out to be menachem avel. I realized that this was similar to sticking back in that missing leg — the community would become the supportive element which would be so sorely lacking after the passing of my greatest source of support until then, my father.
The large network of support from shul helps with business issues as well as parenting needs. While shuls are vital as makomei Torah and tefillah, the communal aspect of it is no less vital and a true fulfillment of vahavta lareiyaha kamocha.