Confessions of a Communal Prayer Junkie


As Elul and the High Holiday Season approached this year, Anne-Marie Slaughter sparked discussion throughout the country about women’s rights, family issues, work-life balance, and how to interpret personal satisfaction.  Within this particular forum, we started explore what it means to “have it all”, spiritually. Now approaching half-way through 5773, it is time for a check-in.

I have to admit; I am struggling.

In some areas, I know I am lucky. I draw strength from my connection with God, not struggle. I feel blessed to find the Divine in the important everyday moments with my children and husband. Our bed-time prayer routine is one of the most rewarding points in my day. We are “in process” on engaging regularly in other home rituals which mark the passage of time. I feel good about all of these things. But Good Heavens, I miss fulfilling communal prayer.

Why not just go to services, you ask. The real answer is this: the stress of trying to keep our two little ones – both under the age of three – more-or-less silent and not dancing in the aisles distracts from any sense of peace or connectedness that I might muster throughout tefilla. By the time you factor in re-arranging Friday night dinner and bed times to fit with the services schedule, it is often more than we can manage as a family without someone breaking down in frustration. And frankly, I want to honor Shabbat with as much peace and kindness as possible. That means not setting the system up for failure.

Why not get a babysitter, you suggest. We could. But part of me is ideologically against it. I hate using precious babysitter hours on something that could be family-friendly. Shabbat services isn’t a date night at the art gallery or a knife-skills class. It is something that I want to continue from generation to generation. (Not that art appreciation and knife skills aren’t valuable… just on a different level, let’s say.)  I want my kids to see and feel the awesomeness of communal prayer first hand, with me by their side. Letting them hang out at home with the babysitter while their father and I go to synagogue does not convey that message.

What about Tot-Shabbat, you say. Honestly, I find it … infantile. I know; that is part of the idea. And while I could try to change our local Tot-Shabbat, to be honest, I think the families find it really satisfying. They look pleased, or at least contented, as their children zoom around the room with Torah-themed arts-and-crafts projects, as a peppy prayer-music tape plays in the background. It only grates on me; to use a common two-year-old saying, I don’t want to yuck someone else’s yum.

So, what is a girl who loves communal prayer to do?

No, seriously. I’m really asking.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives in Ramat Aviv, Israel with her loving husband and two wonderful children. She is actively looking forward to a date night at the art gallery.

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About laurenbenshoshan

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives with her loving husband, four amazing children, and an over-large collection of books. They all reside near Tel Aviv, Israel, where Lauren loves the weather but is still searching for a decent Mexican restaurant.

3 thoughts on “Confessions of a Communal Prayer Junkie

  1. I feel the same way, but didn’t make weekly services part of my routine until my daughter was 5 and I wanted to keep 1 step ahead of her with her Jewish education! I’d bring coloring books, crayons and a blanket for her. She would sit on the floor or on the chair, but she was there. She even fell asleep on me sometimes! But she was there and absorbing. Within a few months, she was humming the prayers she’d hear every week. She is 12 and getting Bat Mitzvah’d this August! She thanked me for bringing her, as her studying for her upcoming Mitzvah is primarily studying her Torah portion, as she is very familiar with the service and the prayers. It’s a part of our ‘routine’ and it’s something that I didn’t have growing up. So glad she has it. Good luck… it’s SO worth it!

  2. Pingback: Women and The Wall | kol isha

  3. I’m just seeing this linked off of your WoW post… and you know we can empathize 🙂 To be honest I can’t remember the last time we went to Friday night services for exactly this reason. But Shabbat morning services have been much easier for us! We tend to get there a little late (by circumstance, not intention) and one of us typically takes J out right before chevruta. It certainly isn’t fulfilling in the same way as it was “back in the day,” but it at least scratches the itch. It also keeps us connected and starts our family down the path we want to travel in the ensuing years. We’re fortunate to be part of a minyan that views J’s presence as a welcome distraction (and blessing). Just imagine a gaggle of HUC faculty (including WC and RL) stopping mid-comment to turn around and make baby talk in a room full of fellow rabbis and worshipers.

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