I’m the father of a very enthusiastic 3-year-old who loves attending Shabbat services at our synagogue. He sings along and is very happy to be there, but he doesn’t always sit still. I’m sure to take him out when he’s making too much noise, but when he’s generally quiet, I let him be, and most people in the congregation seem supportive. On a recent Shabbat, he was walking up and down the aisles, walking — not talking, and an older person turned to me and said, “That’s very distracting. Can you keep the noise down?” I was pretty shocked, and I said, “If you don’t like it, you can move.” I know that wasn’t the kindest thing I could have said, but who was in the wrong? And what can I do differently next time?
As Quiet As Can Be
The relationship between kid noise and prayer spaces is fraught, and I’m sure your story is one that many other parents (myself included!) will be able to relate to. Your son is 3 — of course he doesn’t sit still! I love hearing about kids who love their Jewish communities, and it sounds like you’re doing a great job.
Different synagogues have quite different expectations about kids and noise. Some buildings have quiet rooms where kids can play and parents can hear services, but others can’t hear the kids. Some have children’s sections with toys available in the sanctuary or children’s activities in another space or particular times when children can participate as they are. Still others have a constant struggle between those who recognize children as an essential element of Jewish continuity, and those who have no patience for anything other than what they consider proper decorum.
As you know, snapping at an elderly congregants was probably not your best move, but your surprise is understandable, and your sentiment is ultimately correct. If children walking in the aisles is distracting, this person would do well to move away from the aisles, or to move further towards the front where are there likely to be fewer distractions in general. In the future, if you see where this person is seated, direct your son to a different aisle to avoid the confrontation. If you receive similar remarks, try saying, “He’s 3,” or, “He really loves shul,” or “Don’t worry, he doesn’t stay anywhere for long,” and moving your son along to another part of the sanctuary.
I also encourage you to talk to the leadership at your synagogue. Maybe there are policies in place that you or other congregants don’t know about regarding children, or maybe it’s time for the leadership to be explicit with the community about the expectations. Unless the communal norms and stated rules involve keeping children out of the sanctuary during services, you are doing the right thing as a parent.