aged to sit with them. We almost have
to give them permission to do some-
thing they are not used to."
Adat Shalom's Rabbi Daniel Nevins
suggests one parent
attend services with
each small group of
kids. "If every three or
four kids had one
them to synagogue, to
sit near them and to
be responsible for
their behavior, it
would help greatly,"
"But parents should not come to shul
as baby sitters," said Rabbi Levy of
Tiburon, Calif. "Our bar and bat mitz-
vah kids are required to attend 18 servic-
es before their own b'nai mitzvah — and
they must attend with their parents."
Pinpointing the parent as the solution to
an age-old problem doesn't solve it,
according to Dr. Smiley.
"While a bar or bat mitzvah service
should be the extension of a family, it
isn't necessary the case," he said. The
reality of our_generation is that many
parents of bar and bat mitzvah do not
set clear examples and guidelines of what
it means to go to synagogue and do not
model for their children in synagogue
Rabbi Spolter said, "Synagogue
behavior is a small symptom of the larg-
er problem of not internalizing religious
values. If parents are not investing in
religion and the spiritual things in their
kids' lives, how do we expect the kids to
Dr. Smiley said: "If we want children
to sit and open the siddur (prayer book)
and not chew gum, we need role mod-
els. When parents don't take on the role,
the synagogue needs to fill in the gap."
While many congregations have staff
on hand to direct and monitor the con-
gregation, reprimanding those who mis-
behave proved largely unsuccessful in the
long run. "These things are not solu-
tions — they are merely control," said
Franklin of Synagogue 2000.
"It's not about discipline as much as
the educational leadership to help a
child maximize the experience," Dr.
Smiley said. "If we are just there to refer-
ee and keep the kids quiet, we are miss-
ing the point. We are not here to be
telling, but to be modeling."
In addition to the usher in charge of
greeting, seating and crowd control —
and the parent chaperones often recruit-
ed by the b'nai mitzvah families — he
suggests the addition of a group he
terms "educational ushers.
"During their bar and bat mitzvah
year, kids may be spending more time in
the synagogue than in the congregation-
al school," Dr. Smiley said. "That adds
up to enough hours to make another full
year of exciting, educational opportunity
for synagogue leaders and educational
directors to be curricularizing the experi-
ence for minimally committed families."
The ushers would be trained to maxi-
mize the experience of the young adult
in the congregation, helping them to fol-
low along and teaching them to be more
proficient in the service. "There could be
a time-out space for asking about the
specific service or the specific ideology of
the service," Dr. Smiley said.
While nationally, Synagogue 2000
has hopes for an eventual curriculum for
bar and bat mitzvah children and their
parents, for now, Franklin said, "We
have not implemented a program specif-
ically focusing on the spiritual side of
b'nai mitzvah life." She hopes the future
plan will go beyond behavior issues.
'As an institution, the American syn-
agogue has not yet figured out how to
make lifelong commitments to
Judaism," Franklin said. "The b'nai
mitzvah is still regarded by many as the
end." And by the end, she says there is
not much use for the service.
While overall, educators, clergy and
parents maintain that most kids are not
disruptive during services, it just takes
one to cause a chain reaction. Proper
supervision, adult role models for whom
the synagogue service is paramount and
the education to allow young adult to
participate comfortably could not only
relieve the frustration of those sitting
near a group of kids, but also for the
b'nai mitzvah themselves.
"If I could have had a different date
for my bat mitzvah I would have," said
Lainey Rubin, 12, of Farmington Hills,
whose bat mitzvah service was held May
17, near the end of this year's b'nai mitz-
vah cycle. "I know by the end of the
year everyone's antsy and I worried
about if they'd stay in services or listen to
me, and I worked really hard to get
ready," she said.
Largely, though, as Eric Weingarden
said: "We try to be respectful and follow
the service, but basically kids come to
support and acknowledge friends."
"We've been to a lot of services by
now, by the end of seventh grade," said
Ellie Lederman, 13, of West Bloomfield.
"But we keep going, so we can be there
for our friends at their bar or bat mitz-
vah. Because we know that every person
has only one chance to shine." ❑
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