Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review August 22, 2002/ 14 Elul 5762

Seeking help for hubby's High Holy Days hi-jinks; perplexed by parents' request; take 'em or leave 'em?

By Wendy Belzberg | Q: My husband and I have the same argument every year: I ask him to attend High Holy Day services with me, and he refuses. He claims he is not a believer and does not want to be hypocritical. I've tried every argument to change his mind. Perhaps you can come up with something I've missed.

A: Start slowly and build your case: Does he admit to being a Jew? Does he identify himself as a Jew? Does he ever get hot under the collar when he reads of antisemitism? Or privately cheer when a member of the tribe is appointed to the bench or gains prominence in the boardroom? If the answer is yes to any or all of the above, then your worries are over.

If your husband identifies himself as a Jew, there is nothing remotely hypocritical about behaving as one on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. You are not asking him to believe; you are not even asking him to pray or to receive an aliya. All you are asking is that he be seated in a congregation filled with his fellow Jews and be counted. Especially in a year with antisemitism as virulent as any we've seen in decades, this would seem a meaningful time to take a seat in your community.

If this fails, try the obvious. Ask him to go with you because he is your husband, because you are family and because it is important to you. If he can't say yes to that request, then he is a hypocrite indeed.

Q: In the wake of September 11 and a string of antisemitic incidents, my parents believe that synagogues are likely terrorist targets. They have asked us not to go to shul this year on the High Holy Days. (They live in a small town in northern Oregon and watched on television while the Twin Towers burned, knowing that our apartment was within a mile of the site.) My parents are asking us to do them a favor by respecting their wishes.

A: If you view your parents' request as a straight-ahead opportunity to score points - with your parents and with G-d - for observing the Fifth Commandment, then I suggest you call your synagogue and inquire about alternative options. Many shuls send rabbinical students to lead services for people unable to leave their homes due to illness or old age.

It is my opinion, however, that your parents have crossed the line and are as guilty of manipulation as they are of love and affection. I don't have the statistics at my fingertips, but I would guess that you are more likely to be hit by a drunk driver, lightning or a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus, than you are a terrorist.

Our world has changed since September 11. Our responsibility is to offer comfort and strength to one another, and to embrace a sense of community - not to lock ourselves in our homes and duck. I would go so far as to say that it is important to attend shul in September for the very reasons that your parents would prefer you stay home.

Q: At what age is it appropriate for children to attend High Holy Day services? Last year I took my 4- and 6-year-olds, and they had trouble sitting still. I received a lot of sidelong glances, and I found myself having uncharitable thoughts about the people bestowing them - not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the holiday. This year I am thinking about leaving the children at home, but my husband believes their place is in synagogue with us.

A: You're both right. As are your fellow shul-goers. It is not easy to pray, reflect and repent with children screeching in your ears or climbing up and down chairs. On the other hand, even at the age of 4, a child is old enough to understand the significance of the holiday and to be counted. If your children do not go to shul when they are young, they may resist going when they are old enough to have a say about it.

And now that I've objectively presented both sides, I say the kids should go. Here are some suggestions to help you incur the least amount of ill will: Remove your children from the sanctuary when the rabbi speaks. Make sure your synagogue has children's services - and that your children attend. Go early before the shul fills up. Fewer people, fewer dirty looks. Remember, children do not have to sit for the entire service; 45 minutes to an hour or an hour and a half seems about right. And finally, take along plenty of books, puzzles and games, but not the kind with batteries.

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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg