By Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R
As a son of a community rabbi and principal, one of my earliest memories is of dreading the High Holy Days. I used to literally count how many days it was until next Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur like most kids would count how many days before school starts.
As a child of a public role model, at an early age I was expected to sit quietly and attentively. To make matters worse, in my childhood there was no genre of English Judaica. We had the stiffly translated Birnbaum Machzor and one Jewish book, “Tales of the Baal Shem.” I went stir crazy as the cantor warbled Mussaf incessantly. (Did I mention that in my time there was no such thing as a diagnosis of ADD?) While most people were praying for a good year, success, and health I was simply praying to be let out of this purgatory called davening. Who needed Hell when you were living in it?!
Fast-forward four decades and my most intimate friends and family will testify that I love davening. How did such a transformation occur? The Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea are redundant as signs demonstrating G-d’s wondrous miracles; that my father’s misguided but pure intentions translated into my true love of davening despite the insanity that I was subjected to is enough evidence to Providence.
Now that I am a successful father and grandfather and survivor of the oddly strange religious practices that sometimes alienate those it wishes to draw close, I offer parents some advice about shul during these Days of Awe.
- Please talk to your children in advance about what davening on yom tov means.
- Make sure the ratio of talk to listening is 5:1 in favor of listening.
- Ask your children what davening means to them.
- Trust them to be collaborators in beseeching the Almighty for a blessed year and for forgiveness.
- Ask them, given their age and temperament, how they feel that they can contribute to the community’s prayers.
- Ask them what tools (i.e., books, agreed-upon breaks, etc.) they need to make davening a pleasant experience.
- Tell them about the parts of davening that mean the most to you, why, and ask them how they would like to join you.
- Never, ever, talk in shul. Not during davening and not after davening. Even for so-called “important” matters do not break your “vow of silence.” This is the most important thing you can teach your children — that shul is a sacred place. If there’s one factor that could possibly be attributed to the supernatural success of my father’s influence upon me in prayer is that despite his unawareness of my torturous experience, he never, ever — no matter what, no matter when, no matter for whom, rich or poor — talked from the beginning of prayers until the end.
Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R, serves as president of Nefesh International, a trade association of Orthodox mental health professionals.