Tot Shabbat

Our Friday nights and Saturdays follow a rhythm that varies rarely. Most Friday nights we try to be home before sunset (an almost impossible challenge for us in winter, but achievable in the summer months). We have a nice meal together, in our dining room rather than our kitchen table. The meal is structured with blessings recited over lighting candles, drinking wine or grape juice, and eating our first bite of challah (usually homemade, if all went as planned Thursday night), talking, laughing, and singing. Lately, both boys (although mostly J) like to do a little song and dance for everyone. Saturday morning we walk to the synagogue for services, and then come home, sometimes with play dates for one or both boys in the afternoon. And, when sunset falls, we light the havdalah candles, and mark our transition back to our regular activities. For the boys, the highlight of this transition is Movie Night.

havdalah image

Havdalah candle – separates the holy from the mundane

There’s a monthly rhythm as well. And, this weekend, the marker of that monthly variation was that the second Saturday of every month is Tot Shabbat, a special hour-long service for preschoolers and toddlers. We have attended this service regularly for the past three-plus years, and, since last fall, I’ve been serving as the leader!  I got the gig, I believe, because I was a regular attendee with the boys, and an active participant, not because I was the most knowledgeable.

See one, do one, teach one.  That’s the medical school model of learning, and it’s true in many areas of learning.

So, I spent about two years watching my predecessor teach toddlers the order of the service, explaining certain elements of how we prayer in Judaism, using terms like “the Amidah dance” (explaining the three steps backward, then three steps forward, before bending the knees and bowing with the first three words of the prayer “Blessed are you, Adonai…” and introducing the central prayer, the Shema, with a little discussion of the first letter of Shema, the Hebrew letter Shin ש, which you can make by holding up your index, middle and ring fingers.  And, so many other little tidbits to help young kids get familiar with a service largely conducted in Hebrew.

But, the challenge which I haven’t worked out is how to juggle the demands of my own preschooler, who is clearly jealous of my attention to a “class”, and struggles to derail the proceedings, and recover my undivided attention.

And, yesterday, it was particularly bad.

For whatever reason, not only was J unable to concentrate on the service, but our two other regulars were also feeding off the distracted energy that J brought to the group, and they all just got more and more out of control.  Usually, I just sing through it, but J figured out that if he approached our little “ark”, which holds the miniature Torah scrolls that we take out at the climax of our Tot Shabbat service to parade around the room, that I would have to stop what I was doing and deal with him.  So, he did it again, and again, and again.

But we finally got to the Torah service, and after our parade with our little Torah scrolls, we sit down to read a story or two.  And, this week, with the celebration of Shavuot coming up in just a few days, I had selected a book on the 10 Commandments, and also a book that J likes called “No Rules For Michael”, which is about what happens when a preschool class decides to have a day without rules.  The room was completely quiet as I read these two stories, and all the distraction was gone for the 10-15 minutes that it took to read these two books.

c74ab3e3-7a7c-48fe-860d-5ade354304d5But, as soon as we returned the Torahs to the ark, and went back to the closing songs of our service, the nervous energy returned, and I found myself singing the last two songs with a struggling J wriggling in my arms while I sang the last few songs as heartily and encouragingly as I could.

And, today?  My back is in agony!!

Before next month, I need to figure out how to get J on the same page with me, and able to participate in Tot Shabbat, and allow me to lead.  Any ideas?

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