Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Shabbat for All Generations" comes also to Saturday morning!

As you may know, our synagogue has been holding an all-musical service each month, on the third Friday night, for the last four years.  We call this special service Shabbat Midor Lador, a “Shabbat for All Generations,” with the hope that we can bring together worshipers young and old, singers and non-singers, for a joyous and rollicking Shabbat that enriches us as individuals and as a community.

Our all-volunteer band, made up of Temple Beth El members and me, leads us in song, story, and learning in a pleasurable worship service.  And this coming December 3, our “Shabbat for All Generations” comes to Saturday morning, at 10:30 AM at Temple Beth El.  We hope you can be there as well.

“Shabbat services for the community on Saturday morning?”  I hear you say.  “But we’re accustomed to come to Temple on Friday nights.  Is this a change?”

No, it’s not a change, just a one-time experiment to see if perhaps we should have services also on Saturday mornings when we don’t conduct B’nai Mitzvah.

In fact, the Friday evening communal service, usually a late one, is an invention that’s only one hundred and fifty years old, conceived and developed by the founder of Reform Judaism in America, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.  In those days, Jews stayed away from the synagogue on Saturday morning, but not for the reasons that you may imagine.  Here is what I mean.

Many Jews in those days were merchants and retail store workers and owners.  Many others were federal and state government employees.  Both of these groups had to work on Saturday mornings: Retail workers obviously had to be present when most of the rest of society had free time; government employees worked a six-day week.  So Rabbi Wise wanted to find a solution to the empty synagogue pews that he saw on Saturday mornings.

And the late Friday night service was born.  It was a service with the traditional Shabbat liturgy, usually not a Torah reading (at first; the Torah would still be read on Saturday morning), but did include a sermon to inspire the members.

But over the last 50 years or so, people’s responsibilities and lifestyles changed, and Saturday mornings have now been freed up from work and given over to leisure time.  So we are hoping to fill some of your leisure Shabbat time with good music, fun stories, and worshiping in community.

Please join us for a great Shabbat experience.  You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Children in the Sanctuary: What’s Not to Like?!

Last Friday evening, November 4, we tried an experiment at Temple Beth El.  We had our usual First Friday night service (oneg Shabbat at 5:30, service at 6, adjourn with a “Shabbat Shalom” at 7 PM) but with a twist.

We specifically invited families with young children to the service (along with the usual attendees, who are mostly adults), offered a few more child-oriented foods on the oneg Shabbat table, and changed our service only slightly.  Our hopes were that we’d attract parents who’d like to offer their children a Shabbat experience that is geared toward them, and yet have a contemplative atmosphere that also addresses the spiritual needs of adults.

This is what happened.

At 6 PM, we began our service where the congregation was, in the Community Court, with songs and table blessings of candles and wine.  Then we led everyone into the Sanctuary while singing.  Then we began the service with readings and prayers, leading us up to the Sh’ma.  After everyone was seated again, I invited the young people, ages 8 and below, up to the bimah steps to listen to a story especially for them.

When the story concluded, teachers and assistants escorted those children out for 45 minutes of a special Shabbat activity: crafts, stories, and fun.  In the Sanctuary, the adults had 45 minutes of calm, quiet, and meditative worship, as well as a brief d’var Torah on the weekly portion of Lech Lecha.

At 7 PM we concluded the service, and, behold, there were the kids in the Community Court, finishing up the pre-service oneg Shabbat foods, and waiting quite patiently for their parents.  We also had some cookies for them as they exited.

What worked?  Most everything worked tremendously well.  We allowed our worshipers to have a peaceful experience.  We let our children have a fun Shabbat time at Temple.  And we had a larger congregation that night than many First Friday nights.

There were a few logistic kinks to be worked out, but the feedback from both parents with kids – and adults who came alone – was quite positive and upbeat.  It is definitely something to be replicated at our earliest opportunity.

It is crucial to stress that both adults and children felt comfortable in this worship environment, and that we hope that both of these groups join us in the future.

If you have ideas about this important facet of Jewish life, that is, attracting young kids to positive experiences at Temple, please comment on this event.