As a son of a community Rabbi and Principal, one of my earliest memories is DREADING the High Holy Days. I used to literally count how many days it was until next Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur like most kids would count how many days before school starts. Being a child of a public role model, I was expected at an early age to sit quietly and attentively during prayers. To make matters worse, in my childhood there was no genre of English Judaica. We had the stiffly translated Birnbaum Machzor, and one Jewish book, “Tales of the Baal Shem”. I went stir crazy as the Cantor warbled Mussaf incessantly. (Did I mention that in my time there no one really knew about ADD?) While most people were praying for a good year, success and health I was simply praying to be let out of this purgatory called davening.


Fast forward four decades and my most intimate friends and family will testify that I LOVE davening. Honestly, how did such a transformation occur? The Ten Plagues or the splitting of the Red Sea are redundant as signs demonstrating G-d’s wondrous miracles. That my Father’s misguided, but pure intentions translated into me truly loving davening despite the insanity that I was subjected to, is alone evidence to providence.


Now that I am a successful father and grandfather and survivor of the oddly strange practices of a religion that sometimes alienates those it wishes to draw close, I offer parents some advice about shul during these days of awe:


  1. Please talk to your children in advance about what davening on Yom Tov means
  2. Make sure the ratio of talk to listening is 5:1 in favor of listening.
  3. Ask your children what davening means to them .
  4. Trust them to be co-collaborators in beseeching the Almighty for a blessed year and for forgiveness.
  5. Ask them how they feel, given their age and temperament, that they can contribute to the community’s prayers.
  6. Ask them what tools (i.e. books, agreed upon breaks etc) they need to make davening a pleasant experience.)
  7. Tell them about the parts of davening that mean the most to you, why, and ask them how they would like to join you.
  8. Never, EVER, talk in shul. Not during davening and not AFTER davening. Even for so-called  “important” matters DO NOT break you “vow of silence”. This is the most important thing you can teach your children — that shul is a sacred place and it is non-negotiable. If there’s one thing that could possibly attribute the supernatural success of my father’s influence upon me in prayer, is despite his unawareness of my torturous experience, he never, ever, no matter what, no matter when, no matter for whom, rich or poor, ever talked from the beginning of prayers until the end.