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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776
Family Services

  1. Our congregation dispensed with Tot Shabbat a few years ago in favor of "Family Service" on the first Friday of the month. The service starts half an hour early. I read a Torah story instead of Torah service, followed by Oneg Shabbat. We use a Kabbalat Shabbat Service from Gates of Prayer for Young People. We're usually done and on our way home by 8:30.

    From time to time during the year, one of our Sunday school classes or the entire school will assist in the leading of the service. We always do Shabbat Shirah together and usually end up with a very full and energized sanctuary. For this service we use Gates of Prayer for Young People along with some supplementary readings, as this service is an interactive service, complete with congregants dressed in biblical costume. It has become so popular that members of the local Conservative shul frequently join us.

    On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we offer children's services simultaneous to the service in the main sanctuary. We use the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur children's machzor published by A.R.E.


  2. I've been lay leading Shabbat morning services once a month at our congregation since last spring. There had been no venue for families to worship together until then. Our sanctuary and chapel are in use, so we have taken over a double classroom. We set up in the round with a Torah scroll on a table at the center, on a rug large enough to leave room for the kids to sit.

    High points:

    MUSIC. The kids and their families love it and it opens everyone up. We have a congregant who is a part time cantorial soloist who comes with his guitar. We sing all of the service; no responsive reading. Earlier on I included some reading and asked individuals as they came in to be prepared to read.

    MOTION. I have the kids come close to the center. I've learned an American Sign Language version of the Sh'ma; they love it. We do a long hakafah, letting everyone hold the Torah (parents and kids) or, if they are too young, at least to touch it without rushing.

    FREEDOM. Be prepared to let kids wander in the room and even make more noise than usually expected; its not disruptive, and tolerating it lets families with young children feel very welcome.

    TORAH. Unroll it, have the parents stand behind it and holding it vertically and the kids hold it from below with flat hands. The Torah reader then reads while we are all holding and seeing the Torah. Keep it out and let them talk about it.

    LOVE. We end with kids cuddling with whomever they came with, songs of peace.

    AUTHENTICITY. Include the core prayers and chant the V'ahavta, if that's what your congregation does. Model whatever the congregation values.

    FOOD!!! We have a light Kiddush lunch (after the blessings) - with kid-friendly food: PBJ triangles, juice, cookies, as well as (we do vegetarian) adult food - tuna, egg salad, etc. This is the part that makes for preparation work and cost. Sisterhood sponsors ours, but a few families could volunteer or be designated for each time.

    850+ Member Households

  3. Our temple holds a family service on the last Erev Shabbat of every month. Our other services begin at 8 p.m. and we have an organist accompany our Cantor. Family services begin at 7:30 p.m., and instead of the organ, we have a guitarist/song leader working with our Cantor. The songs are more of the Debbie Friedman type -- less traditional music than usual. For Family Services we use Gates of Prayer for Young People, which is full of inspirational and colorful illustrations, as well as contemporary gender-neutral text and translations that are simple enough for even very young children to understand, but remain intelligent and thought provoking to the older child.

    Often, during the school year, one of our religious school grades participates in the service in some manner -- helping to lead the service, singing songs, performing a dance interpretation of a particular prayer, etc. We used to hold Shabbat dinners in the Social Hall for families of students in that grade immediately prior to their grade service, but that tended to make the Family Service less of a congregational service and more the property of that individual class, so the dinners have been discontinued.

    The sermon during a Family Service is likely to be a story or a small drama. The Rabbi also provides a blessing for all the children in the congregation with birthdays during that month. This has been done in several different ways over the years, calling children up to the bimah, etc., but I especially enjoyed it last month, when our new Rabbi blessed the birthday children during the Oneg Shabbat and everyone joined in singing "Yom Huledet Sameach" (the Hebrew Happy Birthday song).

    650 families

  4. Since it takes place at 5:45, we call it Kabbalat Shabbat, which distinguishes it from our main 8:15 service. Sometimes it's marketed as a service for families, singles, anyone who wants to be home at a reasonable time for Shabbat dinner, but in reality it pretty much attracts only the Torah School kids from the particular grade, their parents and grandparents.

    We have what we call a Family Service [on] Saturdays at noon, which is really the last half hour of Torah School and which is really the school service. Parents arrive to pick their kids up and the beginning or anytime during, and worship with the kids. This really is a family service, noisy and informal, and doesn't appeal to anyone not directly involved in the school. We also have a small Shabbat morning service called Shabbat Neshama at which anyone is welcome (mornings when there is no bar or bat).

    1200+ Families

  5. For the past two years, we have been conducting Kabbalat services for about eight weeks during June, July and August. They have been well attended, and our members enjoy the opportunity to celebrate Erev Shabbat at home with their families following our abbreviated service. . . . . . [O]ur short services are appreciated, particularly here in Arizona where the summers are really hot (however, it's a dry heat...sort of like being in Gehenna!)

    800+ member units

  6. We used to call it a Family Shabbat. We now call it our Celebration Shabbat where we also celebrate the birthdays and anniversaries for the new month. (Our Celebration Shabbat is always the 1st Friday of the month.)

    600 Households

  7. Jan 2006 Digest 017

                We have a monthly Tot Shabbat at 6:30 where kids under age five can toddle all they want while we sing with the cantor, the rabbi tells a story and we have a hakafah. Then, it's off to the social hall for challah, juice and a craft or other activity.

                Once a month we also have a regular service at 6:30 where elementary school age kids stay in the sanctuary until we get to the sermon/d'rash. The rabbi then invites them to go to Kids Connection where an experienced teacher leads them in an activity/story related to Shabbat or an upcoming holiday or something related to current events. When we finish the Mourner's Kaddish the children return to the sanctuary and join the rabbi and cantor on the bimah to say the Motzi and conclude the service.

                Both of these efforts have worked marvelously for us and don't require a lot of resources (translation--money), but they do require some willing/able volunteers!!

                …We tried offering childcare during Shabbat evening services, but very few people used it even though it was free!  That's how we came to the early service/Kids Connection once a month solution.

                For Shabbat morning, if the b'nei mitzvah families expect little ones among their guests, they can ask for assistance in arranging for childcare to be offered, but it's only come up once or twice in the last three years…most of the behavior issues during b'nei mitzvah services are with the teens, not the little ones…


  8. Jan 2006 Digest 017

                ..As a result of an incident during a Shabbat morning bat mitzvah, we now offer babysitting during our Shabbat morning services (through our Youth Group). We also have our rabbi remind the parents of the availability of child care in a positive way.

    110 units

  9. Jan 2006 Digest 017

                We also have what we call a Family Shabbat once a month. It is a potluck supper first (at 6:30), followed by a short Shabbat service about 7:30. The kids come to the bimah for the Kiddush--each child gets a cup of "wine" (juice). They look forward to it. This also works great for us and for the parents of the younger kids!


    110 units

  10. Jan 2006 Digest 017

                …we have a "quiet room" where families with small children can participate in the service (the room has a large window and the sound is piped in) and not disturb the other worshipers…But we also have early and late services every Shabbat--at 6:30, which has lots of kids, and 8:15, which has very few…


  11. Jan 2006 Digest 017

                At our temple we also have a Tot Shabbat on Saturday mornings periodically, and once a month Friday night service is labeled as a Family Service which starts earlier. Some children come to other services as well.

                No one seems to mind some wandering (as long as it is not on the bimah) for the family and children's services. Most of our parents are respectful if their toddler is making noise and take them into our bride’s room. What concerns me more is the school-age students (particularly the older ones) that aren't respectful. This should not be a temple issue, but a parenting issue. We should lead by example and set reasonable limits. If a parent is talking or checking his e-mail on his PDA, how can we expect their children to behave?


    316 families

  12. Jan 2006 Digest 017

                We also have a tot Shabbat once a month at 6:15 followed by dinner but that doesn't help the rest of the month. As I have read it's about the same all over the country: Some parents know when it's time to take the kids to "child-care" which we offer at every erev Shabbat service, and then there are some who seem to be oblivious to their children's distracting noises.

                As for teen problems we've just instituted a new policy for our b'nei mitzvah families: On a form we ask how many teens they are expecting to the service. We then ask that they put in place a "chaperone" for every ten children.


    950 families

  13. Jan 2006 Digest 017

                Many small children at services is a blessing. It means that the parents are interested in being there and having their children experience their participation in worship. This is the best way to teach the next generation.

                Unfortunately small children have short attention spans, and it is the responsibility of the parents to provide the necessary "breaks" when the children get antsy. If a parent seems unable to do this, it is best to have another parent, a regular, of like aged children offer to help them.

                This may or may not work, but I would rather be distracted by 3 and 5 year olds than by teenagers who have been not been taught any respect for the worship service and the needs of others. Had those teens been brought regularly when younger they would not be problems in their teens.


  14. Jan 2006 Digest 017

                I usually encourage our parents to take aside the large number of 12-13 year olds, who come to our Saturday morning (bar/bat mitzvah) service, and remind them about respectful behavior. It usually helps. We make sure there are enough prayer books available in the back rows, where they tend to sit, and we remind them to follow along as their "friend" leads the service.

                Once we tried asking them to sit up front, and that really helped.


  15. Jan 2006 Digest 018

                We put a stack of age-appropriate children's books in the back of the sanctuary. Parents can bring their kids to the back of the room to pick out a book and read quietly as another means of providing the kids a break when they get antsy.


  16. Jan 2006 Digest 018

                Since we are a small (40ish member) congregation, the numbers of children may be smaller, but possibly the proportions are similar to some of you with larger memberships. We do have a couple of kids that have trouble sitting through services, but what really seems to help is when they can participate in songs and prayers, especially, Shabbat Shalom, HineMaTov, candle lighting, V'Shamru, MiChamocha, and AdonOlam. We sing, clap and often use rhythm instruments. I especially make eye-contact with them, to let them know that I appreciate their attention and participation.

                Kids love to march around during the hakafah with our Torah!

                I often do a family style d'var Torah in which both adults and children answer my leading questions, and am amazed at the wisdom that comes from even the youngest ones.

                We are offering childcare at services for those that just can't sit still, although one or two are just as content to stand or sit with me in front of the congregation for certain parts of the service.

                We have had to ask one parent not to bring her child to services until he could be more respectful, and after one month was much more able to participate.

                I think that our having a twenty-minute service before our Sunday School is also helping the children to become more accustomed to service etiquette.

                Tweeking service times encourages/discourages folks re: bringing kids to services. Children in worship help insure the future of our movement…


  17. Jan 2006 Digest 018

                …We have babies and young children come as guests and family many Shabbat mornings for our b’nei mitzvah, and occasionally on Friday night. My own thought is that they are almost always a welcome part of the scenery, and occasionally a pleasant distraction…

                [Re: kids "toddle" around the bimah]…That, in my opinion, is more than a distraction. It can be dangerous, and would disrupt the service in significant ways.

                Like other places, we have our typical parade of pre-teen friends of the b’nei mitzvah most weeks. When I'm the board member on the bimah (every couple of months) I try to get their attention by using hand signals. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. I have gone and spoken to the kids a few times. And on rare occasions we have had to "post monitors" behind the worst offenders…


  18. Jan 2006 Digest 018

    1. Include children with age-appropriate offerings that enhance communal worship…
    2. Create synagogue systems that improve the possibility for regular attendance by parents of this age group during their child-raising years (babysitting, library book-opportunities, varying service times address this).
    3. Address needs of non-children people who really don't want to seem mean but object when their worship is "ruined." Other than sheer crankiness, I find these complaints happen when 1 and 2 above aren't working well.

                My favorite family service, after "all" these years, happened last Shabbat, at our usual 7:30 Friday night hours, announced as "K-1 grade level/Family Service." If you read on, please imagine where volunteers could substitute for some of these professional roles. There was a true team effort leading up to the date, that included rabbi, cantor [and] religious school teachers all coordinated by the school principal. The planning on this level was brilliant. When the "casual" worshiper strolled in for a regular service, here's what they saw:

                A house full of people, including parents and many grandparents of the focus children (letters had gone out), plus congregants who come regularly no matter what is announced.

                Families were told to hold a seat for their child, who meanwhile was corralled by religious school teachers and cantor outside sanctuary doors. At start of service, children came in behind the cantor and guitar, singing a song learned during religious school. They came right up to the bimah first, were arranged by their teachers, and launched into an opening prayer as taught to them in class by the cantor in prior weeks, but with all kinds of expressive, coordinated hand/foot/body movements that related to the words, kind of like signing but with the whole body. No child looked uncomfortable or was displayed like a choir. No self-consciousness was there, probably because the children were praying not performing. They just happened to be on the bimah at the moment.

                When dismissed from the bimah to sit with their families, everyone present felt delighted and involved, just five minutes into the service. If you've ever "managed" a group of children, you know that getting them involved in the first moments solves 90% of the matter.

                Several times during the service, children were invited back to the bimah, en masse, to sing another prayer that fit into the service, but in that unique kinesthetic style.

                When it was time for hakafot (circling sanctuary with Torah), the children were called up to take one stuffed toy Torah scroll from a basket on the bimah. The rabbi, carrying the real scroll, was followed by a stream of smiling, proud children each carrying a stuffed scroll. Anyone who wanted the "adult experience only" could relate as usual to the scroll circling, but most also interacted with the children as they passed through the congregation. (It had the feeling of Simchat Torah with the marching flags-and-apples). The care and pride with which each child held their Torah expressed volumes.

                The rabbi's sermon was positioned between hakafot and Torah reading, and consisted of the rabbi inviting the line of kids back onto the bimah to sit with him on the carpeted floor. To the congregation it looked like "the rabbi telling a story to the kids" but it was carefully crafted as a dialogue-teaching sermon as witnessed by adults. He began by questioning the kids on simply answered things (my name, my nickname, what people call me under different circumstances) then broadened into the themes of the Portion of the Week and midrashim on God's many names. The children's body language showed them gathering closer and attending better by the minute. Afterwards the congregation's comments at Oneg showed they recognized the adult themes interwoven. All people present were addressed by the sermon; and while simpler than usual, it wasn't "for babies" either. All the lofty theological points came out amidst dialogue, interactive questions and response. No paragraphs by the rabbi, at least not this week!

                Following a shortened Torah reading was a diplomatic announcement of adult Torah study, every Saturday morning with the rabbi (in case anyone felt cheated by the shorter Torah reading).

                Adoration and Kaddish were handled very traditionally and formally, as the rabbi feels strongly that here is where anyone coming in for Kaddish is simply not up to having the service altered for kids' needs. By then, children were so satiated with their needs met that the parents just promised them "ten more minutes" or "cookies soon" or took bathroom breaks.

                Concerning #2 above, I won't go into such lavish detail, but over the years, I've seen a very good babysitting program: Weekly Shabbat drop-in babysitting (free) for newborns-through-age-6/7, staffed by one adult non-Jewish childcare professional managed by a lay committee, in one or two rooms of the religious school. It's a drop-in, drop-out situation that the parents decide all through the service. As kids grow and develop, they can handle more and more of the attention-demands of the adult service, but each child is different on what interests them and whether early or late in the service. It's available for visiting b'nei mitzvah families, who are asked to alert the committee if more workers are needed to cover their numbers.

                This babysitting did not carry over into the Oneg time, saving budget but also letting children socialize at Temple. Parents like to show them off there, especially refreshed after a brief respite from the constancy of care just provided.  Babysitting did not try to program educationally or compete with synagogue preschool programming (requests for same were pushed back). The upper age limit discourages the l0-year-olds from using it to skip out on services, by "helping" with the babies, because often they distract the caregiver from the toddlers/infants. If a professional salary can't be budgeted, then congregations have alternatives, such as youth group, volunteer, or paid rotation among school teachers. When this program ran into budget problems, there was an "angel" parent who funded it with an earmarked cheque for the entire year following, so it could continue. The committee had the caregiver log in the parents so whenever discussions came at Board level, there was data on how many families and how many kids were served all through the year (important to know these as two different statistics).

                The important thing was that the conversation surrounding "babysitting" was all focused on the Spiritual Needs of the Parents, who need to attend services as adults during the 5-10 years they are in active-childrearing mode. The babysitting is really to help the parents come regularly to services, until their kids can handle more and more of the service.

                It's expensive and uncaring for a congregation to tell young parents to buy themselves a weekly babysitter in order to come regularly on Shabbat and activate use of their membership dues. It's also hard to keep the service dazzling for every age group, every week--even with a great monthly Shabbat/Family service. It's upsetting for people pre- or post- childrearing to feel no escape from long interruptions with no recourse for families. I think in-Temple babysitting addresses adult spiritual needs very well, even though there are more interesting community activities for very young children on a Saturday morning. You can't compete with all that, so don't even try.

                In congregations without those things in place, I used to bring my own children Jewish picture books to read…


    476 families

  19. Jan 2006 Digest 018

                …a separate [prayer] book…has been published, Gates of Prayer for Young People. It is a lovely siddur and has a couple of levels of services, as well as bright illustrations.


  20. Jan 2006 Digest 018

                …Another source of...complaints can be when the "non-children" people see services being (from their point of view) "dumbed down" to the point that they're no longer engaging to adults. It's a delicate balance and I don't have an answer, but we have to consider the problem. It's important to engage children and their parents, but it's “also” important to engage everyone else and not drive them away. We have to make services “accessible” to various demographic groups without making them “focused on” those demographics. (Most of the time--having children's services or committee-focused services or new-members' services or the like is good, but not as the main service every week.)


    860 households

  21. Jan 2006 Digest 018

                We are a small congregation of 165 families. What we have done in the last few years is [to have a monthly] family service before a community pot luck Shabbat dinner. This service starts at 6:00pm and we keep it around 45-50 minutes. We also have recently been scheduling a religious school class to "lead" this service. The older children do actually lead the service (up until the Aleinu--where the rabbi/lay leader) takes over. For this service we use the "Gates of Grey." The younger children will do the d’var by telling a story or acting out a Parashah Play according to the Torah portion for the week. For the younger children's service we use Gates of Prayer for Young Children. This book can provide for very young children up to pre-b'nei mitzvah children. This model has been very successful, the parents come with their children, other families often come to "cheer-on" the other kids, and the regulars really seem to like the change that this service brings. We are finding ourselves with 75-plus people for dinner--which is so fantastic!


  22. Feb 2006 Digest 020

                I couldn't agree more with the fact that we must make all members of our congregation feel welcome in our services. I read lots of good ideas for making worship all-family-member-friendly: From a book basket in the back to involving children through music, instruments and the hakafah.

                So much, I think, depends upon the nature of your membership. What works in a congregation with a majority of young families will not necessarily work in an aging, more formal congregation.


                Two thoughts to add:


    1. We always have a small note on the front of our Shabbat folder that speaks to how much we welcome children, how anyone's talking or whispering is distracting, and reminds parents of the child care downstairs if they feel their child needs to leave for a bit.
    2. I spend time whenever I can talking to parents in casual conversation about how to keep their children engaged during the service--quiet toys and the like. I also encourage them to keep coming, even if when their child is a toddler or preschooler they gently take them down to child care for a bit so that they have time to worship more peacefully. For by coming when they are young, they learn by doing and by seeing others "do." Just having the conversations and the short mentions in passing help parents to know that they and their children are not only welcomed but encouraged every week, not just for family service night.


  23. May 2006 Digest 090

                [As a creative idea to encourage adult-child participation at services, at] our monthly family service (which begins at 7:30 pm), we have the parents and children stand as the parents say the blessing over their sons and daughters.


    1050 family units
  24. May 2006 Digest 091

                We have an annual Family Participation Shabbat Service which I have been coordinating for the past several years. We ask for families to volunteer ahead of time, and I send out parts of the service to each family. Each family decides how they will do their part. I have had as many as twenty-five families participating in Service III in the “Gates of Gray,” but usually there are ten to twelve. Everyone seems to enjoy the service.

  25. March 2007 Digest 035

                Our Family Shabbat services are once a month on the second Friday of the month. They are Religious School Services--meaning that each service is led by a particular class. In our case we have mixed grades, so 1st/2nd grade, 3rd/4th grade, etc. We have these services from October through April. The service begins at 6:00 pm, followed by a Shabbat dinner in our social hall. We have someone prepare our main course, and we all bring a dish to pass. Depending on the student's age, the more or less leading they can do, but it is great practice for them to be involved in a service, and it brings their family and friends too. We have also tried an informal Shabbat in the Park, which we will repeat this spring. It was well received. Our local Jewish Federation sponsors a Tot-Shabbat once a month at 5:00pm. They often go out to dinner together after the service.


    160 families
  26. Oct 2007 Digest 202

                We have recently revised our Friday night service schedule to meet the needs of young families as well as those couples and individuals who have no children, or have older children. We now have services every Friday night that start at 6:15 and go to 7:30.  On two of those Friday nights (the 3rd and 4th) we also offer an additional 8 PM service.

                We no longer have a "tot" Shabbat, but here is what's really making a difference for people--


    1. Wine, juice and a wonderful spread of finger foods and nosh served from 5:45 to 6:15. People really enjoy the socializing and it helps get everyone in the mood for services--they tend not to rush in off the street at the last minute.

    2. Free babysitting for 2-7 years olds at the early service. The parents can take the children out of the service or bring them back to service when ever it suits them. We get our teens to volunteer for community service hours, supervised by an adult.

    3. For the early services, a joyful, musical celebration of Shabbat, led by our clergy--often with guitars, piano, drums and whatever else shows up.

    4. A communal meal served after services in the social hall on the first Friday of every month.

    5. A designated local restaurant that those who wish to, can meet at for a communal meal after all the other early services.


                These changes have brought about a huge resurgence of interest in the Friday night services by young and old alike. Our clergy have designated this year as the year of "Shabbat". We are focusing many of our energies on creating a Shabbat experience that that is meaningful and includes everyone. The changes made for the Friday night services are first steps toward that goal.


    1200+ families

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