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By JOANNE SEIFF When I was nearly seven months pregnant with twins, we went to hear the Megillah reading on Purim. It was a difficult experience. We sat at the end of a row so I could get out quickly to use the washroom or move around.

Then, I found the closest washrooms were locked. In order for me to use the facilities, I had to walk through the entire sanctuary each time.
I had to go to the washroom just as things began. When I returned, a woman we didn’t know had taken my space near my husband. Despite a polite attempt to ask her to move, she remained. Since the Megillah reading had started, I didn’t make a scene. I sat with some friends at the back of the sanctuary. They came and went. Soon I sat alone. My husband couldn’t see me as he was stuck in that pew, several rows ahead.
As the evening continued, two different kids raced around and careened directly into me and my belly. I was slow moving and in the way, but their wild behavior was very dangerous to me and those fetuses. As soon as I got my husband’s attention, we gave up and went home.
At another Winnipeg synagogue, I attended services alone while I was pregnant as my husband was away for work. I thought a Jewish function would be safe; I could get help if necessary. When the service ended and Kiddush began, a line up formed for the food. Even though I really did need to eat and drink, I had to sit down and wait until everyone else got their lunch. I couldn’t stand up for that long. The only person who offered me a glass of water was an older gentleman who used a walker. I saw how hard it would be for him to fetch that water (Someone should have been helping him!) and declined.
When I finally ate, someone engaged me in conversation. The shul emptied. When I waddled out to my car, it was covered in snow. There I was, enormously pregnant with twins, in an icy cold parking lot, cleaning my car alone. No one was around to help.
As a newcomer to Winnipeg, I didn’t know many people in the Jewish community. Maybe this doesn’t happen to those who are lovingly surrounded by friends and family. Yet, the Jewish community should be a Jew’s extended family in a new place. Every year at the Pesach Seder we’re reminded that we have an obligation to others…because we were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
I hadn’t thought about this until recently. I volunteered to hold a baby while the mom got something to eat after services. I didn’t know their names, but it was safe – I was surrounded by my twins, my husband, and another family who knew me. This new mom came to services by herself. To eat alone, she would have to hold the infant while filling her plate with food and finding a place to sit. I tried to make it easier and eventually learned their names.
Then, as I shoveled one of my boys into his snow suit, we were distracted. Some big kids screamed and threw things, running nearby. I remembered those other times when I’d witnessed this behavior. As my three-year-old lunged towards the action, I admonished him loudly with a “NO!”
He responded, “But the other kids…”
 I said, “I don’t care how the other kids behave. We don’t behave this way in shul. This is G-d’s house. It isn’t ok.” The uproar subsided. Maybe someone else heard what I said to my kid?
We have a lot of obligations as Jews. We’re not only obligated towards the stranger in our midst. We’re obligated, according to Derech Eretz, ‘the way of the land,’ to behave in a certain way and to treat every person properly. A central part of Jewish ethics is our manners – how we treat each other, how we treat our families and those around us, as well as how we treat the land. Manners are a hard lesson. We need to consistently model upright behavior for our children. Except, doing the right thing, being a mensch, is not just about how we teach children. It’s how we treat each other.
This stance is not popular. It doesn’t feel good – parents don’t want to be reminded that their kid shouldn’t run around like a “vilde chaye” (That’s Yiddish for wild animal.) at shul. It’s embarrassing to know that even one pregnant woman was nearly knocked over. It’s upsetting that the elderly or pregnant have to wait until all the adult, able-bodied people get their food before they are able to eat. Yet, I bring this up so we can look in the mirror. From these experiences, I remember to look up and see how I could do better at helping others…and I was reminded of how my children should not behave in shul. Maybe it’s helpful for all of us.

Joanne Seiff is the author of two books and the mom of twin preschoolers. See more of her work on her blog: www.joanneseiff.blogspot.com or at http://www.ravelry.com/designers/joanne-seiff.

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