A new take on Shabbat services for young children

July 30, 2018 by Leanne Shelton
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Sydney’s North Shore Temple Emanuel’s new Bagels & Brachas Family Shabbat is a unique, and innovative program that is helping to build a “community of young families” within the larger Temple family. 

Rather than holding separate children’s services, once a month toddlers and young children are encouraged to attend the main worship service in the sanctuary for the first 35-40 minutes, during which they are actively engaged, participating, and learning the basics of congregational prayer.  After the first aliyah, they head to our courtyard (or classrooms in winter) with their parents, where kids enjoy a fully staffed activity, while parents enjoy a relaxed bagel breakfast and a schmooze.

During the service, the children stand alongside the Rabbi, grasping onto the fringes of her tallit as the congregation chants the Shema.  During the nisim b’chol yom (blessing for daily miracles) or hoda’ah (blessing of gratitude), children are asked to share what they are grateful for, and the congregation affirms their heart-warming—sometimes hilarious—expressions with “Amens” and warm laughter.  At times the children sit on the floor at the feet of the clergy, or join them on the bimah, bowing during the Barchu and Amidah.  They carry the Torah’s silver crowns during the hakafah, and receive a special blessing along with their parents during the 1st aliyah.

Once families depart the sanctuary, the service continues for the congregation, complete with Torah and haftarah readings, d’rash, Aleinu, mourner’s kaddish, and Kiddush.  Meanwhile, children enjoy activities run by one of our fantastic partners: Kids Circle (a popular after school and holiday program held at NSTE); Apples & Honey Pre-School (a long day care held on our campus); or the magnificent PJ Library.  Parents enjoy breakfast fully catered by the Temple and are encouraged to experience Shabbat rest and conversation with one another.

Senior Rabbi Nicole Roberts says of the new initiative: “Bagels & Brachas is built on feedback from parents, who wanted to have a Shabbat experience with their family but found our regular morning shacharit too challenging for their kids to sit through.  Our Friday afternoon (Young Family Shabbat) program was hard for whole families to attend, and because the activities were not fully staffed, parents couldn’t chat with each other and develop that sense of community.  With Bagels & Brachas, we have whole families—including some grandparents—attending, and we are building a ‘community of families.’”

At the most recent Bagels & Brachas service, the children received their blessing whilst holding onto the congregation’s Czech Torah scroll that had survived the Holocaust.  Am Yisrael Chai was sung as the children followed the Torah through the hakafah.  “It was profoundly meaningful for the whole congregation,” says Rabbi Roberts.

Soon, one child will receive her Hebrew name in a Bagels & Brachas service, which she has attended since its inception.  “Bagels & Brachas has added a very special dimension to our congregation,” says Rabbi Roberts.  “It is inspiring to watch how the program evolves to take on new meaning for our families and all who attend.”

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