Sunday, June 01, 2008

Child Friendly in Tel Aviv

In Israel, I’m so used to random strangers dropping everything to pick up my daughter’s pacifier, hat, sippy cup in the street, that I actually got peeved the other day when a guy carrying a metal box did not stop to help me (though I didn’t ask).

I’m starting to think Kid-friendly has far less to do with the people and much more to do with infrastructure. The things that get under my skin about Israel—the slap-dash aspects, feeling that everything runs at 70%—seem somehow to contribute to its amazing kid-friendliness. Maybe it’s that people are used to helping each other out.

In keeping with Ima Shalom’s provocative blog about children in shul (and in the spirit of full disclosure: I take mine out after a vocalization of magnitude or duration), here are the child-friendly synagogues I’ve found.

It’s all about movable furnishing. In general, the more permanent and fancy the structure, the less kid friendly. For example, my favorite, is Yakar. It’s totally worth the 45 minute walk because I CAN DAVEN. My daughter can wander into the men’s section, walk around the Torah scroll, pat the diaphanous material of the mehitzah, and everyone in the room knows where she is at all times. I just have to turn my head, and someone points to her. If she feels the need to vocalize, there’s a TOY ROOM about 3 steps from the women’s section. And there is a family with 3 daughters who never tire of carrying mine around or watching her. They’ve got a children’s half-hour during Haftorah, but my girl just wanders in and out of that.

It’s heaven.

The rabbi once pulled me aside to tell me that I’m welcome to come to any weekly shiur. He said he assumes that to open a class to women is to welcome children as well. I tried hard to suppress an image of women spontaneously mass reproducing in class (He was being welcoming, not sexist…..because I’m a single mother and he knows I don’t have a husband to watch her while I go off to learn…).

Another good one is Ichud Olam which is on Ben Yehuda, and is only 25 minutes from me. But here’s what I mean about infrastructure. It’s really better if your children don’t yet walk, or if they have reached 1. the age of reason or 2. the age at which you can let them play with other kids unsupervised for up to 15 minutes at a time. Because, for some strange reason, the décor consists of wooden boxes FILLED WITH ROCKS.

I spend 3/4 of my time in the courtyard, holding a child convulsed in tantrums because I’m not letting her eat/throw/make pretty music with the rocks, and I won’t let her eat the month-old bamba, bissle, and other delicacies other children have hidden under said rocks.

It’s a pity. The shul is full of young, hip and happening people who have fabulously interesting lives and family backgrounds, lots of energy and enthusiasm, super commitment to the Jewish community, and such wonderful, kind personalities that you don’t hate them. It’s half European, and a quarter American and a quarter Israeli.

A third option in Kfar Saba is the Carlebach Minyan on Bar Ilan Street on Friday nights. Get there early for a seat. Why? Because if you sit on the last row, you’ve got about 20 14-year-old girls who are wearing simple, yet fascinating jewelry, and who’ll take turns holding or playing with your child while you daven. Plus, the beat is nice, and baby can dance dance dance.


lsw said...

We still haven't found the shul for us in Chicago, and you've found three! Way to go! I am so happy for you that you've had such an enriching, wonderful year. We have thought of you often. Hugs and kisses to you both!

Anonymous said...

You are lucky to have such great shuls nearby.

Anonymous said...

rofl! Okay..I so get you on the rocks! The day school my kids attend for preschool have those rock-filled-boxes right in the precisely when I'm trying to wrangle out a check for something or speak with the school secretary about something, they're drawn like magnets to the darned month old snacks under there, but yikes! I have to be sharp as a tack the whole exchange, one second of full concentration on my office task and they go to town with the things.