Since When Do Bouncers Guard Synagogues’ Silences?

By Wendy Belzberg

Published November 28, 2003, issue of November 28, 2003.
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I recently attended a bar mitzvah. As we were entering the sanctuary we were warned that there was a no-talking policy and that anyone who disrupted the service would be asked to leave. I watched as several people were indeed removed from the service. Since when are there bouncers at a synagogue?

— Synagogue cum night club?

Since bar and bat mitzvahs became an occasion for 40 to 60 adolescents to mix, mingle and show off the latest fashions. Perhaps I am being too harsh, but having recently attended a rowdy bar mitzvah, I am all too aware of why a smart shul might welcome a little chaos control. It is impossible to hear the bar-mitzvah boy over the din, much less concentrate on meaningful prayer. I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling a herd of kids to take their conversations outside. And while I would like to think that adults might display better behavior, many of them can bear a casual reminder, too. Especially since they might otherwise be gasping over how little Rachel has grown into a stunning teenager instead of focusing on an expert reading of a difficult Haftorah. Services are a time for prayer, reflection and study. If people want to socialize, they should do so outside. If a person can’t police him or herself, then this thankless task must fall to someone else.

* * *

Twenty-one years after I married her father, my stepdaughter still refuses to accept me as a part of her family. She has a new baby and refuses to let her call me Nana. I’m to be called by my first name, which makes me feel hurt and excluded. What do I do?

— Call me bubbe

There is nothing wrong with telling your stepdaughter that this is hurtful and leaves you feeling excluded. That said, if you have not raised the subject with either your stepdaughter or your husband in the past 21 years, it may well be too late to do so now. The bond stepchildren feel for stepparents has to do as much with the age at which the new parent enters their lives and the circumstances of the parents’ parting, as it does with the play of personalities. I don’t know enough about your situation to say which applies in your case. But whatever the explanation, 21 years of entrenched behavior is not likely to be undone. As soon as you stop hoping for a relationship with your stepdaughter that will never meet your expectations, you will stop being disappointed by your stepdaughter’s failure to deliver. And that, too, might inspire a little more generosity at her end.

* * *

My wife and I were invited to attend the wedding of a dear colleague that was being held in a church. I did not want to attend, but my wife convinced me otherwise. The ceremony turned out to be a traditional Roman Catholic affair, and everyone in the church received communion. There were long periods during the ceremony when the entire audience was kneeling — except for my wife and me. How does one finesse such a situation in the future?

— Not kneeling

A simple “no-church” policy is my choice. (Orthodox Jews would say it is the only choice.) Picking and choosing between churches and ceremonies is sure to leave some bride and groom offended and to make you look like a bigot.

A more open-minded individual might say there is no way to finesse the ceremony other than the way you did, which was beautifully. We live in a pluralistic world. You were there for your friend, and you participated in the event to the extent that you were comfortable. One can’t ask for more than that.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at wendy@forward.com.






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