Friday Night Lights Vs… Friday Night Lights

“Where’s your family?” A friendly “old timer” asked me at Friday night services a couple of weeks ago. When you’re a member of a smaller congregation, like our home synagogue in Jackson, Mississippi, everyone knows each other. It’s perfectly charming when the question is “where’s your family,” and I never mind giving an honest answer.

“They’re not here this week – it’s just me,” I smiled. “They’re at the high school football game.”

A quick nod of understanding, and my fellow congregant was off to wish another friend a “Shabbat shalom.”

Attending Friday night Shabbat services regularly has been a part of my life since I was a kid. However, when I joined my high school marching band in ninth grade, I did not make it to any Friday night services during football season. Instead I enjoyed the football games, the performances, the bus trips to away games. It was a large part of my social life and certainly being part of that group was a significant part of my high school experience. After football season ended, I rejoined the family each week back in the pews for Shabbat services.

Fast forward: My youngest is now in high school. Attending Friday night Shabbat is something we value. But if my son (or my son and his dad!) decide to go to the game instead of the temple, I might be heading to services on my own. And I’m okay with that.

My husband and I believe that going to games, participating in activities, spending time with their friends outside of the classrooms, is all an important part of socialization and the high school experience. Community matters — we want our children to continue being involved in the Jewish community, of course, and we also want them to be involved with the rest of their community. Living down South, high school sports are a huge part of that experience.

High school football really is almost as big as SEC football around the South. (No joke: Several of the congregations with which the ISJL works are located in SEC college towns, and we’ve learned to be careful about planning programs around home games, since attendance at temple those nights is always apt to be a “little light”) We know this — and acknowledging it is a good thing.

But is allowing skipping services in order to partake in another kind of Friday Night Lights a “slippery slope?” What if the State Fair is in town, and a group of friends are going Friday night when the all- you- can- ride wristband is just $20 — is it okay to skip services for that? Or what about when my son says “I’ve had a rough week and a ton of schoolwork. I’m tired. I’d really rather just chill Friday night and watch a movie.”

Does not making our son attend worship services mean that we are abdicating our responsibility as parents? Will our three kids (two of whom have already been through our high school football “policy,” graduated and went on to college) choose not to be active synagogue members because going regularly to Shabbat services isn’t an enforced part of their routine?

I don’t think so.

Even some of our most Jewishly engaged community members don’t find attendance at Shabbat services to necessarily be what fulfills their Jewish heart and spirit. Also, if service attendance is a punishment, and something my kids had resented because they would rather be out with their peers, cheering at the game… couldn’t that have even worse consequences?

I think every family has to find what works for them, and for my family, being actively Jewish while also participating in our larger community’s activities works for us. We’re proudly involved on both fronts.

What do you think?

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