Children and the High Holidays

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.

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