Monday, January 9, 2017

Children In the Synagogue

I found this article that I wrote in 1996.  It is still valid today.  I only made minor edits and corrections.

Children In the Synagogue?
Daniel D. Stuhlman
September 1996

I. Introduction

Elul, the month before Rosh HaShanah, is the time we prepare for high holiday season. In the daily
services we hear the shofar. In school children learn about the holidays and their special customs and ceremonies. Adults especially those who have or know children are wondering, “What are the children going to do when I’m in shul?” We examine our feelings toward prayer and the services. Some of us wonder about the hazzan; some wonder “Am I going to be stirred or bored?”


       II. What is Prayer?

Tefilah (Jewish prayer) is a very complex process because the nature of tefilah is multifaceted. Prayer is a communication with that which is beyond human experience. Jewish prayer is a blueprint for every part of daily activity from the time of waking until one falls asleep. Tefilah consists of blessings, selections from psalms, hymns (or poems), quotes from the Tanach, systems or groups of blessings, words of thanksgiv­ing, requests, and outpourings of emotion.

The Siddur (prayer book) is one of the crowning achievements of Pharisees. They took the abstract teachings of the prophets, the liturgy and ritual of the Holy Temple, the living experience of their day and transformed them into the worship of the synagogue. In the Torah we have the spontaneous song of Miriam. In the book of Samuel we have the request of Hannah for a son. The prophets taught about the approach of the Jewish people toward God. The Siddur is a treasure house of the Jewish spirit and a guide to prayer. The Siddur is contains prayers in a particular order, but it is not tefilah. The Siddur brings us in contact with Jewish history and experience.

Tephilah is a vague esoteric term that is hard to define. We have a popular notion of what prayer is in our society, but the definitions change with time. Prayer is not the invention of rabbis or religious leaders, but they may write prayers. Prayer preceded revelation at Sinai. Prayer is communication between the heart and soul with God. The longing to pour out one’s heart to God is not a uniquely Jewish experience. One who believes in God and creation needs to show respect and admiration for his creator. Prayer is a search for all good and ultimate perfection--God.

Prayer comes from a person’s sense of wonder and awareness of creation. For example, the morning blessings (berkhot ha-shahar) thank God for every day events. Barukh she’amar is an appreciation of creation. Some prayers connect us to history (ex. remembering that we were slaves in Egypt). Some prayers are petitions asking for healing of the sick or welfare for the country.

Our challenge is how do we share a concept or feeling that is so indefinable? We can explain the words, the tunes, customs and laws for prayers, and order of the prayers, but that is not the same as prayer.

            III. Saying Prayers

The act of saying of reciting prayers is often called “davaning”. The word “davaning” is not the same as “praying”. Davaning is uniquely Jewish act. Davaning is an action that one performs. Getting ready and participating in “davaning” is a learned discipline. One must be encouraged at a young age to say prayers regularity. The act of praying is not the same everyday. Not only are one’s feelings different, but also everyday we have variations on the prayers said. Each day we have a different psalm and on Mondays and Thursdays we read the Torah. Each day people have different reactions to the words.

We teach children the words and mechanics of the prayers. As part of the teaching process schools and parents may enforce attendance at services. The teaching process must be repeated until it is internalized. We teach the routines and halakha for saying prayers. However, saying prayers is not the same as praying. Saying prayers comes from the mouth; praying comes from the heart. To encourage children to learn to say prayers, adults must set the example. The example of seeing adults at services is a powerful re-enforcement of what we teach children.

            IV. Children in the Synagogue

In the Talmud (Hagigah 3a-b) Rabbi Eleazar asked, “Why do people assemble for prayer?” The answer is that the men come to learn, the women to hear and children to bring reward to those who bring them.

In the middle ages[1] children had an over privileged position in the synagogue. His description is not very different than our synagogue. The medieval synagogues accepted the role to both train and nurture the children. The synagogue is an extension of the school and home. As soon as the child was old enough he was taught to answer amen. He was taught to hold the siddur with reverence. Gradually the parents would teach the words and process of the prayers and service. On Friday night the child would be give the privilege of drinking some of the wine of kiddish. On Shabbat morning he would be encouraged to kiss the Torah as it passed. On Sukkot he may be given the lulav and etrog to hold. Finally, at bar mitzvah the boy would be called to the Torah as a sign the he is a part of the congregation.

We often balance conflicting demands of children, community, and personal davaning during this season. I offer my own guidelines based on my experience as a teacher, parent, and gabbal for the position of children in the synagogue.

1.   The Bet Knesset (synagogue’s sanctuary) is a makom kodesh (holy place). It is better to davan with a minyan in a Bet Knesset than to pray alone. Every person who attends the Bet Knesset has the right to pray with the congregation. Everyone deserves to hear the hazzan, rabbi, or Torah reader and follow the services.

2.   Everyone has a right to recite prayers to the best of their ability or to listen to others recite prayers.

3.   No one has the right to intentionally or unintentionally disturb others who are trying to concentrate on the service or their individual prayers.

4.   Children should be encouraged to attend services and participate to the best of their ability. While children are the primary responsibility of their parents, the synagogue should make provisions for babysitting or children’s services. Children should be taught about the sanctity of the Bet Knesset and respect for others. Children need an environment to learn how to davan. Some children do best sitting next to one of their parents. For others, babysitting or children’s services are the best places. All adults should set good examples for the children in the sanctuary. 

        5.   A fine line exists between child participation, play, and disturbances. A child who is yelling, screaming, or crying does not belong in the sanctuary. A child should not be using furniture or fixtures in the sanctuary as climbing toys. A child with a dirty diaper that can be smelled should immediately be removed from the sanctuary. Running from place to place in the sanctuary should be limited. If the children are playing in such a manner that they are disturbing people, they should be removed. Remember that parents come to daven, too. They may need some extra support or compassion to help them cope with a difficult child.

        6.   Children who are trying to daven should be encouraged. Opening a siddur and saying words is their form of prayer. Greeting people at shul is one way children learn to be members of the kahal (congregation).

           V.  How children learn

John Holt has been a big influence on my theory of education. Here are some examples from Holt’s book.

There is an old story of two men passing some naked looking sheep in a field. The first one said, “The sheep have just been sheared.” The second one said, “They seem to be on this side.”

We have to be cautious how we judge the events in front of us. We have to be careful before we judge the inner workings of the mind. Holt describes games and experiments that children use for learning. Little children love games and can make anything into a game. Holt asks, “How can you tell what the children are learning, or even that they are learning anything? The answer is simple. We can’t tell. We can’t be sure. What I [Holt] am trying to say about education rests in a belief .. I cannot prove .. call it faith.” [2]

Children learn by observing the world around them. They try experiments. We teach children the words of brakhot and when to say amen. Sometimes they learn how to go beyond the words and pray from the heart. Often the words are said and ideas are not internalized. When the words and ideas are internalized we have kavanah (or intention). Without kavanah words are merely mechanically reproduced. Orekh Hayyim 98:2 tells us that we should not pray in a place where there is interference with kavanah.

Music and chants are aids to achieving kavanah. Since music has a power to stir the soul we have certain laws and customs for chanting prayers. The nusah (ritual chant) varies on weekdays, Shabbat and holidays. The hazzan has a certain amount of latitude to vary the tunes. This helps to keep the interest of the congregation. The wrong nusah will upset the kavanah and mood of many members of the congregation.

           VI. Conclusion

Dr. Heschel tells us that services need life. No one will attain new perspectives into the life he lives without life. Children are our future and our life. While we prepare for the upcoming holidays, make a place for children.

            VII.       Bibliography

Dembitz, Lewis N. Jewish services in the synagogue and home. Philadelphia, 1898.

Donin, Hayim Halevy. To pray as a Jew. New York, 1980.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. “The spirit of Jewish prayer,” in Proceedings of the
Rabbinical Assembly of America. v. 17 (1953) p. 151-177.

Holt, John. How children learn. New York, 1969.

Kohn, Eugene. “Prayer and the modern Jew,” in Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly
of America. v. 17 (1953) p. 179-191.

Milgram, Abraham. Jewish worship. Philadelphia, 1971.

Petuchoski, Jakob J. Understanding Jewish prayer. New York, 1972.

 [2] Holt, J. How Children learn. p. 189.   

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Using Social Media

Using Social Media
January 1, 2017

Facebook, [1] Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TeacherTube and other forms of social media are how people keep in touch these days.  They enable anyone to become an instant publisher at a low cost and with a minimal time commitment.  With the power of reaching a great number of users comes great responsibility.[2] They are also tools that libraries and other organizations can interact with users and lurkers on a daily basis.  Since posts by individuals are usually not vetted, sometimes the remarks have mistakes, unintelligible sentence fragments, poor grammar, unknown abbreviations, or jargon.  Posts can be a powerful force for your message or a source for embarrassing mistakes.  When using social media as business or organizational tools, warn your people not to post something that is compromising or in any way shows a side of the organization that would cause embarrassment.  As public relations tools all posts should promote the honesty and integrity of the organization.    As professionals remember to carefully edit what is posted or e-mailed even when posting as individuals on personal accounts.[3] I hope that all of you know this.

This article focuses on Facebook and I let the readers generalize to other platforms.

Facebook started as a tool for college students to get to know their classmates.[4]  It has developed into a communication tool for friends, family, groups, businesses, and non-profit organizations. I can find and communicate with individuals and organizations that are not findable with Google or other general search engines.  Some companies are using Facebook as part of their customer relations.  For example, last week I communicated with my Internet provider when regular e-mail refused to work.  I received a quick answer and soon was back using e-mail.

Facebook groups and pages may be set up of all kinds purposes including family, business and library groups.  For one of my library professional organizations, I maintained the page as part of my publicity responsibilities.  The Facebook page was a way to reach members about events, share comments, ask for help, and to share pictures of events. It was public relations and had no need to attract customers, users or new member.  The pictures and stories were a way to publicize what we did as librarians and spread good will. 

One of the core reasons for publicity is to inform our users, potential users, and those with the power and money what we do.  It is a way of making people feel good about our brand and comfortable interacting with us.  Too many people think collections and events happen by magic i.e. creation without professional expertise, time, and creative energy.

In 2007 Chainigo and Barnett-Ellis[5] observed that Facebook was an emerging phenomenon that was starting to blur the line between recreational and informational use of computers. They advised librarians to use Facebook to “learn new ways to reach out and communicate better with a larger segment of our users.” Facebook can be a powerful tool for the library to spread its message.  Terra Jacobson in her 2011 article[6] recommended making sure the page is updated often.  Jacobson also states what I had observed about librarian expectations. 

Facebook has developed a lot since 2007. Not only has the number of users increased, but the philosophy of a post has evolved from a status report to a story.  Posts are not limited to 256 characters as they once were. I don’t know the current limit but I have seen posts longer than 500 words.  Facebook now reminds administrators of groups when they have not posted in in a while. Facebook is also more secure than it was 6 years ago because some people misused their accounts.  Six years ago, Facebook was more recreational.  Today Facebook is a marketing tool, an information tool, and a communications tool to enable sharing and support with friends, relatives, customers, and colleagues. 

To review what I said in a previous article -- marketing is about getting people into the library, informing people about digital services (such as access to the catalog, databases and electronic books), and informing the public about events and programs.  Public relations is the spreading of good news about and concerning the library.  Use of social media is an important venue for these messages.

One has to hit the patrons with multiple forms of the same message because not everyone will understand or receive all the messages.  Some people have a preference for one form of message and some messages will be best when hitting multiple senses. To earn the respect of the patrons we have to give the message that the library is a producer of content.  The PR message tells the reader that there is library content worth their time.

Some Suggestions

Step back and examine what the people really need or want.  Try to determine the differences between "needs" and "wants?" Are you creating messages to address what your users and potential users need and want?  There is no "best way" to deliver your message.  One needs to hit the public with the message using several methods such as e-mail, signs, flyers, newsletters, personal contact, etc. Think about the types of messages to send with social media. Different folks respond to different kinds of messages.

Since the beginning of libraries, librarians have been producing bibliographies, subject guides, how to do research documents, catalogs, and indexes.  These types of works in book format were standard reference works that librarians and readers used to locate materials.  The ordinary library users often considered them dull and/or unnecessary.  This is until the patron desperately needed the information and then they couldn’t stop thanking us enough.

Create content for your Facebook posts.  Use some of the ideas from Library of Congress. [7]   Connect your posts to the library collections, resources and exhibits.  Make the posts timely such as “today in history,” remembering the birthday, passing, or anniversary of the death of someone who is connected to a book in the library.  famous and has written a book in the collection, or remembering.  Commemorate a special day, month or week with content connected to the library collection.

When library exhibits are prepared, post pictures of the physical displays, and post some of the exhibit documents on Facebook. Sometimes prepare an electronic exhibit.[8] Sometimes it is hard to measure the impact of Facebook posts.  Make the posting content oriented rather than dry news reporting. Spend the time to post frequent content.

There are no magic answers.  You could follow all the best advice and still not have messages that sink into the right brains.  Some retailers send me daily e-mail.  While I am not going to buy from them on any given day, I will buy from them some day. Don’t give up.  Keep posting in Facebook and keep the messages coming.

Getting the word out that you offer superior service is not easy. First you really have to offer superior service and believe in yourselves. Then you have to tell people via personal, electronic and print media what you do. We have to weed out the negative thoughts. If social media is used as a tool, not a toy it can only help spread our message.

[1] Picture is “Facebook” by Sarah Marshal (2013).    From  Creative Commons license.

[2] Sorry Marvel Comics and Spiderman there is no other good way to make my point.  The quote was made by the narrator in the first Spiderman issue 1962 August, Amazing Fantasy #15, Comic Book Story Title: “Spider-Man!”, Writer: Stan Lee, Illustrator: Steve Ditko, (Quotation appeared in caption above a panel showing the back of character Peter Parker walking away down an urban street), Published by Marvel Comics, New York.   The quote has sources that go back more than 200 years to Voltaire and perhaps older.

[3] For more information on how to bet careful about your online persona see:  “What You Need to Know About Trade Libel” .  INC magazine Published on: Aug 12, 2016; retrieved Dec. 4, 2016.  An unsubstantiated claim about a business or other organization can leave you open to an accusation of libel.  Litigation based on a posting can be difficult and expensive to defend.  Even if you are proved to have done nothing wrong, or the case is dismissed for lack of proof, the accusation can harm your personal and/or organizational reputation.

[4] There is a Wikipedia article ( “History of Facebook” and an article from Business Insider Mar. 5, 2010 ( , “At Last -- The Full Story Of How Facebook Was Founded” by Nicholas Carlson.   I joined Facebook in 2008, which is before it was open to everyone because I was a faculty member at one of the early schools that the founders allowed to join.  At first I checked in about once every two weeks.  Later when I saw students in the Library checking Facebook every few minutes, I started to learn about the features and power of reading and posting.

[5] Charnigo, Laurie, and Paula Barnett-Ellis. "Checking Out Facebook.Com: The Impact Of A Digital Trend On Academic Libraries." Information Technology & Libraries 26.1 (2007): 23-34.

[6] Jacobson, Terra B.  “Facebook as a Library Tool: Perceived vs. Actual Use.” College and Research Libraries (January 2011 vol. 2:1) p. 79-90.

[7] The Library of Congress does a great job of preparing electronic exhibits in conjunction with physical exhibits.  Here is the link to the current exhibit on Rosa Parks (1913-2005):  Library of Congress  posted a notice of this exhibit on December 1, 2016 on its Facebook page (  This photo is from Library of Congress is called, “Rosa on a Carousel.” Frequent posts highlight items from the library connected with “today in history.”  I use this idea in my library Facebook posts.

Contrast Loyola with Loyola University of Chicago’s Facebook page (  Loyola has pictures and promotions of events and some links to blog articles.  It has very little content connecting to library resources.  The Loyola Library web site ( does not have any electronic exhibits. The site is mainly for searching the catalog and databases.

The University of Chicago’s Facebook page ( has lots of content connecting to the collection including links to staff profiles and information about learning more about library databases. The Library web site ( has a link to information about library exhibits, but no real virtual exhibits.

[8] The Library of Congress does a great job of preparing electronic exhibits in conjunction with physical exhibits.  Here is the link to the current exhibit on Rosa Parks (1913-2005):  LOC  posted a notice of this exhibit on December 1, 2016 on its Facebook page (  Frequent posts highlight items from the library connected with “today in history.”  I use this idea in my library Facebook posts.

Contrast LOC with Loyola University of Chicago’s Facebook page (  Loyola has pictures and promotions of events and some links to blog articles.  It has very little content connecting to library resources.  The Loyola Library web site ( does not have any electronic exhibits. The site is mainly for searching the catalog and databases.

The University of Chicago’s Facebook page ( has lots of content connecting to the collection including links to staff profiles and information about learning more about library databases. The Library web site ( has a link to information about library exhibits, but no real virtual exhibits.