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June 13, 2003 - Image 45

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-06-13

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Cover Story

"Amazingly, the synagogue is the only
setting where we would even think to
put our kids with their 75-90 most inti-
mate acquaintances without supervi-
sion," said Fran Pearlman, director of
education at Temple Israel. "You don't
send seventh-graders to a dance without
supervision. How can we send them to

What's Been Tried

In some congregations, overseeing of the
kids is left to the clergy. It is not unheard
of for a rabbi to step down from the
bimah to reprimand or even to sit down
among unruly b'nai mitzvah guests.
"I once saw a rabbi stop the service
and look down at a group of kids until
they were quiet," Jared Berman, 13, of
West Bloomfield.
Ushers in many synagogues are asked
to patrol the sanctuary to control disre-
spectful behavior, or to escort disruptive
young congregants out of the room.
At Congregation B'nai Moshe, par-
ents of b'nai mitzvah are required to pay
for a guard who polices the hallways
during services if more than 30 b'nai
mitzvah-aged guests attend. There is
even a local company on call, established
specifically for that chore.
In some larger sanctuaries, kids are
asked not to sit with too many of their
"They have learned not to sit with six
rows of kids. If there are 20 kids sitting
together, they know they'll get shushed
or get dirty looks," said Elissa Berg,
director of youth and education at Beth
Achim Religious School, based at Adat

Shalom Synagogue.
When kids are somewhere where
there is a choir or music, they know peo-
ple cant hear them, so they talk," said
Eric Weingarden, 12, of West
Some congregations have considered
setting up a quiet room" for those who
are asked to leave the service, or calling
the parents of those who are disruptive.
Rabbi Spolter offers an unexpected
approach. "I tell people with kids not
familiar and comfort-
able with the service ...
to come late," he said.
"Come at time when
you can maximize the
ability to get the most
out of what is going
on in shul."
Sometimes allowing
the kids to leave the
service gives them the
break necessary to revive their comfort
level when returning. At Adat Shalon,
they are told that if they would like to
leave during the rabbi's sermon, that it is
"We let them know the better times
to leave the service, if they need to. We
realize the service is
long and we want to
help guide. We are
definitely not looking
to punish, but rather
to help the kids make
proper decisions," said
Rabbi Joseph Krakoff
of Congregation
Shaarey Zedek. "

"What 13-year-old can sit still for
three hours straight?" Berman said.
At Temple Israel, an attempt to invite
students who were already b'nai mitzvah
to serve as ushers failed for lack of volun-
While in some synagogues the prob-
lems lie with disruptive behavior during
the services, at others it takes place when
kids leave the service and file into rest-
rooms and available classrooms, often
being loud and messy.
Once outside of the sanctuary, the
kids are smart enough to learn their sur-
roundings quickly. They know where not
to congregate -- like the echoing B'nai
Moshe lobby with its high ceiling. But
they also know where they can go, with
the girls filling the cushioned sofas in the
spacious Adat Shalom ladies room.

Written Guidance

"Our clergy recently devised an etiquette
card for students that tells them,
`Welcome, we are so thrilled to have
you. Here's what you can expect from
us, and here's what we expect from
you,'" Rabbi Krakoff said. "We know
that each service has a different flavor
and we- want the kids to feel welcomed
and comfortable. We want to greet them
in a mature and respectful way."
The cards, distributed by ushers at
each b'nai mitzvah service, are upbeat
and positive.
"It is really important to us that they
are coming to celebrate the simchah of
their friend who studied very hard to get
here," he said, "and we stress that this is
a very special day and we want them to

Far left. Ethan Keidar and Eric
Weingarden, both 12, ofWest Bloomfield.

Above: Shoshana Hirschhorn, 12, and
Ellie Lederman, 13,
both ofWest Bloomfield.

The Adat Shalom students are
discussing b'nai mitzvah behavior.

look out on their friends with pride."
Each year at Temple Israel, parents of
sixth-graders are invited to a meeting to
discuss the upcoming b'nai mitzvah year.
"We hand out bar and bat mitzvah
inserts that I have collected," Pearlman
said. "They include information on what
the service will be like and what type of
behavior -- and even what type of dress
— is expected." She suggests making a
pact with parents to remind the kids
how to behave — each time they leave
for a service.
"While many parents have had con-
versations with their kids about
what about talking about not being dis-
respectful and blasphemous?" she asked.
One of the sample letters Pearlman
shares with parents was sent to guests of
Julie Hack's bat mitzvah service five years
ago. "We invited a diverse group of kids,
and for some it was the first bat mitzvah
they had ever attended," said Julie's
mother, Anita Hack of Bloomfield Hills.
"We wanted to make sure the kids knew
ahead of time what the deal was."
The letter, printed on stationery fol-
lowing the jungle-theme that would dec-
orate Julie's post-service party, included




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