Children and the High Holidays

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As part of my job as a staff member for my synagogue’s youth group, I helped our high school students navigate the High Holiday liturgy. The youth community service is held for students in grades 8-12 and is led by them exclusively.

The kids are bright and well-educated Judaically. Many of them have attended day school their entire lives. But when it came to the mahzor, they were clueless. I listened painfully as a student tried to do the entire repetition of the Amidah yesterday, without being familiar at all with the words. Nusah for prayers as common as Avinu Malkeinu and the Al Het were totally foreign. I cringed as the leader unknowingly dipped into the martyrology section. Not surprisingly, by the end of the services, nearly all of the teens had left.

Now of course I realize that the kids needed much more guidance in preparing the service. But it raises a larger issue.

As it is the case in the majority of non-Orthodox synagogues, we ship our children to babysitting and specially designated “children’s services.” As a result, few of them have ever hear the melodies that are familiar to Jews, even those that only attend a few days out of the year.

I know that services are long and sitting in them for the entire day is perhaps not the best option for our children. But somehow removing our youth from the most crucial services of the entire year seem equally as wrong.

Posted on October 10, 2008

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3 thoughts on “Children and the High Holidays

  1. chaimsmom

    My synagogue has a children’s service in the afternoon as well as an abbreviated “alternative service” in the morning at the same time as the traditional service.

  2. The Doctor

    I agree. Our old synagogue had a “no one under 16 in the main sanctuary” policy for many years and [even though kids and their families were "welcome" in the parallel service] this cost them dearly in terms of membership of families with children. A new rabbi decreed that “if we don’t hear the voices of children in the sanctuary now we won’t hear adults in the future.” In addition to children’s services, youth were welcomed into the main service [when children's services were out] and the Rabbi chose to call the children up to read them a holiday-appropriate story instead of a study session for adults. The average age of the membership has improved since these changes. Still have some people who get very vocal, though, about how having kids around “interfere with” their holiday experience.

  3. Ezekah

    I agree with the rabbi that talked about lack of children’s voices in the sanctuary being a problem. Our synagogue provided children’s services, but the children are welcome to stay with their parents in the main hall. Our rabbi doesn’t mind when kids make noise. He’s always finding reasons to bring people up on the bima. During Yom Kippur, me and my wife were up there among the group of people born or married during a named 3 year span.

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