Tales from the Wood: Why school points are not the only reason we go to shul

Tales from the Wood: Why school points are not the only reason we go to shul

Fiona Green is a features writer


This particular morning was special. It differentiated itself from the other everyday mornings by one small mercy, one momentous moment – the alarm did not go off.

fiona leckerman
Fiona Leckerman

I had fallen asleep the night before in readied excitement for the prospect of this moment, the ‘non alarm day’. A natural awakening.  Instead I am awoken by the face that always wakes me, even before the alarm; his little hopeful, happy face.

And, unlike other mornings where his first greeting is, “I need a wee”, this morning he says: “Can we go to shul now?” I rub my still asleep eyes and, as they protest, the drowsy mist evaporates and I view him. I quickly grasp that he really does mean now. For he is stood there fully dressed, trousers, shirt and tie. The adornment of a velcro tie denotes the accomplishment. He is four years old.

To labour the sincerity of his request, he repeats his plea. “I want to go to shul, now!” My hand fumbles for the time. I pick up an array of non time-related objects. His impatience grows.

I groan at the sight of 7:08am. “Please can we go? I’m all ready. I just can’t find my kippah, I want the pinstripe one, it matches my tie”. I praise how smart he looks and how entirely clever he is to get himself dressed and that, yes, he is right – the pinstripe kippah will match his tie. I promise to take him to shul, but say in the softest way I can possibly find within my soul: “Could you please wait three hours and let mummy, get up, give you breakfast, have a shower, get dressed and then we can go.” He gives me a  harrumph and declares: “I need a wee.”

Just as he leaves a sound emanates from next door. “Shabbat candles, Shabbat candles, burning bright.” Loud, celebratory singing ensues, he from the toilet and she from her cot, joining together in a morning duet – an undressed rehearsal for our trip to shul. It’s like they have woken up and hatched a plan, thick as thieves, the two of them singing shul songs at 7’O’something. My Shabbat alarm.

We prepare for our outing. We find the matching kippah. I’m allowed the luxury of a shower and to get dressed, but all the while am expected to provide a countdown of when we are to leave.

We love to get ready for shul. There is a joyfulness in our dressing up. “Ohh, nice tights,” she says pointing, noticing the difference from the weekday jeans and placing her chubby hosiery-covered leg next to my own and saying, “Snap!”

We put on pretend perfume and aftershave and dust our faces with blush. Until he panics: “Quick, hurry up mummy. We don’t want to miss the points.” It cuts through the air like an arrow hurtling towards its target. Yes, we do have to hurry and, yes, we do have to collect our Certificate of Religious Practice points. This is one of the reasons we go to shul. Not the only reason, but one fat motivating reason nonetheless. And although I manage to divert the arrow, it nips me as it flies past.

I don’t want my kids to think that going to shul is only to amass points that do not even guarantee a place in a Jewish school. Or think of shul as a chore as, admittedly, I am beginning to. I worry as his panicked face reminds me of this. But, they are just words. He doesn’t realise quite what he is saying. He must have heard me say something similar.

Which makes me wonder: am I really going just to insert more points into my CRP piggy-bank? And then I think back to the weeks we attended prior to when the gates of point-recording had opened. It irks me that those lost visits do not count because they are not marked and documented.

But, they do count. They are more significant than a tick on a piece of paper. More than just a tally of visits. More than a means to an end. They are the foundation of my children’s Jewish identities. So I remind myself that this is why we are going.

That’s the point.

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