Last Shabbat my 2.5 year old son sat through an entire service with me. He was moved by the word “Amen” and started belting it out after every time the congregation did it. The other night my children picked up their guitars and an empty notebook and started playing Shabbat. The empty notebook became my 5.5 year old daughter’s siddur. As she turned the pages she sang her heart out, singing V’ahavta, Kiddush for Friday night (long version), Adon Olam, V’shamru, and then my 2.5 year old son joined in with Ki Mitziyon. My heart was soaring.
But here’s the backstory. On Friday nights my daughter covers her ears and fights me when I insist we sing the “long” Kiddush. And on Shabbat morning my kids are always running in and out of the service, spending more time chasing friends and talking in the lobby than sitting still in the actual service.
On Shabbat I am often given looks from congregants who feel my kids are too noisy or a distraction from the service when they use their “quiet voices” and run in and out. I myself was shushed as a kid. And yet, while they are busy moving their bodies, reading books, talking loudly, they are also listening and absorbing and retaining.
Children running in and out of services can be a distraction. But children are also learning as they move, absorbing the feel and sounds. My kids and so many others have learned our tradition simply by being surrounded by it.
To all you families getting side eye and shade for having noisy children in shul: KEEP AT IT. You are not alone, and it will pay off. To all of you wondering what you can do to make it easier for your children to internalize their Judaism, or even learn for b’nai mitzvah: SHOW UP! To all of you complaining about children and their “noise” in shul: LOOK UP and see the joy that is the future of our people.