For many of us, childhood memories involve holiday celebrations. I would venture a guess that Hanukkah, in particular, is a holiday that evokes many memories — gathering with family, cooking latkes, eating donuts, lighting candles, wrapping (and unwrapping) gifts. Hanukkah is only one of several holidays that evokes memories for me; I retain vivid recollections of childhood High Holidays, Passover seders and Purim costumes, as well.
Our shul has tried many different ways to make itself “kid-friendly.” Our early family services on Friday nights regularly enjoy good, and often outstanding, attendance. Our innovative family education programming attracts many members and non-members. Our Tot Shabbat programs have always been successful, too, but those are, of course, just for “tots.”
Recently, thanks in particular to Stacey and Evan Wyner, new life has been breathed into Junior Congregation at Temple Beth Sholom. Still a work in process, these Junior Congregation services – some led by capable young congregants like Jeffrey Spivack, and others led by adults – are held in the Chapel, during the regular Saturday morning service. Kids of many ages participate, whether leading familiar prayers, reading from the Torah in Hebrew or reading the weekly Torah portion in English. Some kids come with grown-ups; some do not. Please come. Please encourage your children to attend Junior Congregation. If you are a grandparent, bring the grandkids. If you have nieces and nephews, bring them too. It is a very comfortable environment, where nobody is pressured to participate and everybody is rewarded with “treats.” The Junior Congregation service is also timed to end when the regular service concludes, so that everyone may join together in a unified Kiddush.
And one more word about the Saturday morning Kiddush….. A number of people have committed to making our Kiddush more substantial, by adding cooked foods and other “enhancements” from time to time. All of this helps to build community and to create memories for our kids.
I had dinner with a law school classmate in Philadelphia recently. He and his family (including four children under the age of 10) are now members of the synagogue where his parents have always belonged . He shared with me what a strong “connection” he has always had to that shul, having felt like he “grew up” there. He and his wife are trying to pass this along to their kids, none of whom – he told me – will remember their first time in shul.