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child misbehavingBy BERNIE BELLAN

Recently I had the experience of attending a synagogue service that was disrupted by an unruly toddler.

 


It happened to be the Etz Chayim. The morning I was there Mel Hornstein was doing a fine job delivering a drash on that week’s Torah reading, and would have certainly held the audience’s attention more successfully – if it weren’t for the horribly rude behaviour of two young parents who allowed their toddler to run wild while Mel was trying to speak. I couldn’t believe the absolute ignorance of those parents as they stood smiling by the bimah while their little girl ran back and forth behind Mel, shouting at the top of her voice. I believe most synagogue members were simply so shocked at the parents not wanting to restrain their child that no one knew quite what to do. As I said to some members after the service: Even though I’m not a member of Etz Chayim I was close to getting up and telling those parents to take their kid out of the sanctuary, but honestly, I was afraid that parents who had so little regard for the concerns of others could very likely have reacted angrily if I had said something – and caused a scene in front of the entire congregation telling me I had some nerve asking them to restrain their out-of-control kid. Maybe I’ll ask “Miss Lonelyhearts” what she would have done. I know Maureen Scurfield – and believe me, she doesn’t hesitate to tell anyone off in person!

As a postscript to this piece, which appeared in our August 16 print edition, I received an email from someone else who had been at that service and who took exception to what I had written. Here is part of the email that I received:

"I was very upset by your unkind words about one of our young families. That little girl was on the bima by my invitation. We love our toddlers and preschoolers, and we cherish their presence. Their voices are the most important ones in the sanctuary. If the adults would stop talking, a squealing child would produce a lot less noise.

"If you had actually said anything to them, I would personally have defended her right to be there. They did keep her quiet enough that most people could hear what Mel was saying. He is neither quiet nor shy, and was not the least bit perturbed.

"Fortunately you didn't confront them, preferring to badmouth them in your paper instead. Seriously?

"A shul without young families is a shul with no future, and it is attitudes like yours which are going to keep them away. I sincerely hope that neither they nor their families read what you wrote. You owe them an abject apology for this public shaming."

I responded to that email: "At the kiddush that day at least 6 other people told me how much they were annoyed by that kid. No one with whom I spoke would have agreed with you.
Then last night I was cycling with ...(name witheld) and he told me that he had spoken to those parents beforehand, asking them to control their child. I don't know what kind of shuls you attended when you were young  - and I've seen unruly kids misbehaving, but nothing like that toddler running around the bimah. If I were considering joining a synagogue and that's how they let kids behave there is no way on earth I would join that synagogue."

As a final note, I did happen to run into Maureen Scurfield (at the Friday night performance of Mama Mia) and I told her about what had happened. She agreed 100 percent with me that if a kid is disrupting any kind of a service, it's the parent's responsibility to remove that kid. I don't know whether it's an age thing or not, but the latitude that parents seem to give to their kids to act up - especially in nice restaurants where they often run wild, seems to reflect entirely different norms held by younger parents. It seems to be a case of the rights of the few trumping the rights of the majority.

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#8 Bernie BellanBernie Bellan 2017-09-02 13:41
So everyone would "KNOW" who I was "speaking of", even if you weren't "even there". Now, how could that be, unless people were already quite familiar with this child and her wanting to occupy "center stage" (mother's words).
This is clearly turning into a generational argument.
The priority for young parents, it seems obvious, is wanting to feel "comfortable" - a word used over and over again in comments here.
Again, I ask: Are there any "bounds" to this desire for you and your children to feel "comfortable"?
When your determination to let children do anything that will make them feel "comfortable" rubs up against others' desire to partake in what is nominally a "religious service", whose rights take priority? This argument reflects a much wider issue in society: Parents' insistence that their children's desires to enjoy themselves take priority over other adults' desires to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere - especially in a spiritual setting. Does that not deserve respect?
Is it too much to ask that some congregants be allowed to participate in what used to be considered a religious experience - that used to require some degree of respect for others, or is that an infringement of your and your children's rights above all, to "enjoy" yourselves?
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#7 Ellie's momSara Le.rner 2017-09-01 23:49
Really? The Winnipeg Jewish community is already experiencing a decline of having younger families join.

Publicly parent shaming someone isn't going to help ensure that the Jewish legacy in Winnipeg continues. The Jewish community in Winnipeg needs people like Lyndsey, and like me, to join and become members. This article does a major disservice for attracting those considering conversion or even those who question faith in general.

It does not matter if you left out their details because WE ALL KNOW who you're speaking of and I for one, wasn't even there. The Jewish community is very small and tight-knit so spare me that you didn't have the intention of publicly shaming Lyndsey.

Lyndsey, you have my support. I'd love to connect with you.
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#6 Bernie BellanBernie Bellan 2017-09-01 04:17
Why do people who post on the internet not want to use their real names? I don't hide behind anonymity when I write.
Also, I don't understand the argument that referring to what someone did in a public forum constitutes public shaming. I never used anyone's name - and the only people who would know to whom I was referring in the article would be people who were there - or perhaps people who were told the names of the parents by someone who was there.
As well, there has been so much distortion of what I wrote. First, I never wrote that I "complained to anyone who would listen" about the toddler who was out of control.
Second, the mother of the child in question wrote that "her child was more than happy to be center stage". If I'm attending something and I want a child to be "center stage", I hope it's a school play or something akin to that - not a religious service, unless children occupy an integral role in that service at appointed times.
Third, I have never suggested that kids should not be welcome in a synagogue service. But, let me ask all these critics: Are there any bounds they would impose upon children during a synagogue service? From what some people have been writing here it seems that there certainly are no limits at Etz Chayim. Is it possible that, in an attempt to attract younger families, Etz Chayim has become too tolerant of behaviour that would not have been tolerated years ago?
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#5 ShamefulAnonymous 2017-09-01 02:19
So instead of saying something to the parents fearing they would be angry, you instead complained to anyone that would listen, and then wrote it in the newspaper. Maybe before talking about the attitudes of young parents, you should look at your attitude in not having the fortitude to actually say something in the moment but instead using it as writing material for personal attention. At least the 1-year-old has a reason for acting like a child. Gossipy, judgmental people like you represent a big reason to not join organized religion.
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#4 We agree with the parentAlex 2017-08-31 20:19
The concern about your editorial is two-fold. The first is the perception that a child making noise should be removed from the synagogue. The second is that you single-handedly called out a member of our community for bringing their child to synagogue – making their identity known to anyone who was at the service that day. I am ashamed that it was published in a city-wide paper.
As you admittedly state in your editorial, you don’t regularly attend Etz Chayim. Our kids feel welcome by the congregants many who come regularly and many who say kind words to us because they love the vibrancy, life and yes sounds they add to the service.
As with anything there is a balance. However, parents who shlep their children to synagogue need and I would argue deserve a tremendous amount of praise of encouragement. I would much rather err on the side of permitting kids to be kids and be present in Jewish life of the synagogue given the alternative is much less desirable.
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#3 I'm the parent.Lyndsay 2017-08-26 06:28
Hello, I am the parent of the child in your article. I am writing you to tell you how disappointing it is to see this article, for many reasons. First, I am a newcomer to the Jewish community and I am not Jewish. I am about to marry a Jewish man. The man I was with at synagogue that day. A man that met me as a single mother and fell in love with me and my daughter and has taken on the roll of father in my daughter's life.
I have always had a problem with religion, not the belief in God and the teachings, but in the judgement and gossip from the people within the orginizations. It has lead me to never join a religious community.
I met my soon to be husband and he assured me that the Jewish community was different. As I got to know him and his family, I saw a strong, wonderful faith and values and beautiful traditions. I decided to raise my daughter Jewish in the hopes that she could be as strong and morally good as my soon to be husband.
We went to synagogue many times as a family, and Rabbi Lander and many others expressed that this was an open place and the children were free to play. My partner and his Jewish family all said the same thing.

On the day in the article I again tried to stop her playing, knowing that she is more vocal than most kids, but again was told by several people to let her be. I warned them how vocal she is and again was told let her play. I was never once told to silence her. So your source was incorrect. If one person would have told me to silence her I would have done so immediately. Instead, I let her play and enjoy herself, with the understanding that is the thing to do, as I saw many other children running up and down the ramp and hanging on railings. The difference is my child is under two, very vocal and not shy, and was more than happy to be center stage.
When we saw your article we were shocked and frankly hurt. I was shocked and surprised because I am a welcoming, friendly person that would have gladly heard people's concerns and corrected my daughter's behaviour if I knew it was offensive. I was also shocked to see no mention of the other kids or the fact that I was constantly running up on stage to take her away from things that were dangerous or stairs which she couldnt go down. I was painted as an absent, grinning parent.
My husband to be was the most upset, as he promised me that we would not be met with the same judgment and gossip as in a church. He thinks very highly of the Jewish community and was very excited to bring up our daughter in it. Now, due to your judgements of us as unreasonable people and the gossip that you decided to publicly spread without facts has wavered his faith in a strong and accepting Jewish community.
In an earlier article you wrote about the Jewish community welcoming newcomers. As a newcomer, you have made me and my family feel very unwelcomed. Because I am marrying into a Jewish family, I have been heavily considering converting, and this has put a bad taste in my mouth. You are part of the problem. We followed rules that others and even the Rabbi told us. Our child played next to other children but we're still met with disapproval.
This was a 1 year old child playing and waving at people, and finding her voice and playing with language. We are young new parents trying to do right by her by raising her with faith.
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#2 Children in SynagogueAriel Lee 2017-08-22 20:27
I agree with you totally. I am willing to support kids not having to sit still and quiet. I was not at this service but have been at services where children were running wild and disrupting the service. Similarly in restaurants. I have been out having a meal when a child came up to our table and was grabbing our cutlery, etc. while the parents did nothing. Not only is this disrespectful for the other patrons, congregants, etc., I think it is a safety issue for the child. They could fall or knock things over and hurt themselves. I think children need to be taught how to behave appropriately in public places. As to the email you received, I really don't think we need a future where people run amok in the synagogue.
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#1 my takeanonymous 2017-08-21 17:34
I attended that service and here is my opinion. I was horrified to watch the behavior of that child and more so to watch those ignorant parents smiling as their child totally disrupted my service. To be screaming and shrieking over the voice of the person conducting the sermon shocked me. Furthermore, I don't condone parents taking children to adult restaurants or movie theaters if parents can't control their children and if it's disruptive to others.
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