I hate shul, I wanna go to shul

First sketches towards a Beyond Noah's Ark siddur

First sketches towards a Beyond Noah's Ark siddur

"I hate shul, I wanna go to shul. (Whaaaaaaa!)"

Thus spoke my four year old this past Shabbat morning. I hate Shul -- why should I stop playing only to get dressed in nicer clothes, be forced to walk, and finally, upon arriving, convince you that the only way I will remain calm is if I'm allowed to resume playing, now in the shul playroom with you there. I wanna go to Shul -- but if by staying home you mean that you will be davening, not playing with me or reading books to me, or running around pretending to be an elephant with me, then I take staying home to be, implicitly, a punishment, and I will have none of it.

In a co-written piece called Home, Mosque, and Synagogue: On Parenting and Sacred Spaces, Mom and incredible writer Shoshana Kordova articulated the Shabbat morning with kids experience pretty perfectly:

When you have little kids, taking them to shul on Shabbat can seem like one big errand, and a complicated one at that. Getting out of bed on Saturdays was never a problem for my kids. They’d be up at five or six in the morning, eating screaming fighting playing whining, and just as they’d finally start to settle into the day and there was a chance I might be able to lie down again (day of rest and all that), it would be time to try to pull a shirt over the head of a moving child, to nurse the baby one last time, to find something that still fit me, to make sure I had enough diapers wipes crackers bottles toys to last us through the half hour, maybe, that we’d actually be there.

While this describes our reality most Shabbos mornings, in this instance, I just did not have the energy for all that. So my husband set off with our 2 year old in tow, and I stayed home with the 4 year old and the baby. At which point I proceeded to stick to the plan -- I davened, and (wanting to preserve some hope of getting to shul in future weeks) no-way no-how did not acquiesce to having the time turned into momma play time.

Which, of course, was deeply unsatisfying. I did daven, which is more than I can say for the weeks when we actually all make it to shul, but the whole time was aware that my davening was essentially shutting my son out of an active experience of shabbos morning. And yet, I didn't want to proceed as he would have wanted to, because then it would just be like any standard weekday play time. What I really yearned for was a siddur, a script, a playbook of some kind, that would involve both of us in a genuine davening experience -- educator Amy Meltzer has coined the term "home-shuling" and I think that really reflects what I'm aiming at. Something that, on those shabboses when we just don't make it to shul, would set the time apart and create a focus on being consciously present in gratitude for the day of rest. For my son, and I imagine, many young kids, this would have to include lots of movement, some songs (but not too many), relatable explanations, and most of all, not take too long.

We're definitely fans of the Bim Bam Shabbat songs (including such favorites as "There's a dinosaur knocking at my door...and he wants to spend Shabbat with me") but I'd love some additions that focus on the core spiritual resonances of shabbat, while still being relatable (or even silly! Just maybe a little less silly than the Torah Pokey).

Then there's the question of how a book, in this case the siddur, can really provide the framework for a spirited, engaged experience. While I'm glad that many children's siddurim already exist, those that our family has tried seem to really stay on the page. The illustrations are pretty self-referential -- look! This is what children davening look like! -- and the chosen text is for the most part an abridged version of the traditional service. (The Koren siddur includes questions for thought, but it's not clear to me how often one would come back to these.)

I'm imagining illustrations that are evocative as opposed to proscriptive. I'm imagining content that draws from traditional sources, but focuses on embodied components of prayer, and is not devoutly tied to the standard flow of the service. There will be plenty of time for that once these youngins grow up and can actually sit in shul, which will only happen if they have positive associations with davening in the first place!

Still I'm not sure what can actually be accomplished through a even the most thoughtfully crafted siddur. Does the book itself create a cognitive dissonance with really engaging in an experience of prayer? What else might work that could be self explanatory (ie, not require a facilitator) for parents and children?

As always, I'm just gonna push myself to create something and we'll see what happens next time we home-shul. I will report back. In the meanwhile, I'd love to hear -- what are your experiences with Kiddie Siddurs, Tot Shabbat, Tefillat Yeladim, Mini Minyan, home-shuling etc?