Cantor’s Voice, Not Cell Phones, Should Ring Out in Shul

By Wendy Belzberg

Published December 05, 2003, issue of December 05, 2003.

What can be done about cell phones ringing during synagogue services? Our shul has a large sign in front of the sanctuary entrance that asks people to turn off their cell phones and pagers, but invariably at least one goes off. I find it grossly rude and disrespectful to be interrupted in this way. I’ve discussed this with the leaders of the shul, but no one seems to have any effective ideas. Do you?

— Overwrought over ringers

If the members of your synagogue cannot monitor themselves, a higher authority will have to step in. I suggest a phone check at the front door — along the same lines as a coat check. All cell phones would be surrendered in exchange for a ticket, with phones returned after services. This is a lesson in group responsibility: If the congregation as a whole must suffer for the sins of the minority, so be it. Either that or offending members should have their phones publicly confiscated when they ring. I think you are likely to agree that the former is the more civilized solution. It may well be that news of these two options is all it takes in a community newsletter to head off the problem.

* * *

Nine years ago I moved my family to Latin America so that my wife could be closer to her parents. My father-in-law promised to set up a business for me, as he had done for my brother-in-law. He did try to help me, but I am an American in a culture that does not look well upon outsiders; no business ever got off the ground. There is another important factor. My 12-year-old son has some learning difficulties and needs a program that is more specialized than the one offered here. He goes for therapy, but I don’t see a tremendous amount of progress. My guess is that he would fare better with professionals in the United States. I would like to return to New York, where I feel my son will have more success and where there are more employment opportunities. My in-laws feel that having family around is important for my wife and son and that this takes precedence over all other factors.

— In a faraway land

I forget: Did you exchange vows with your wife or with her parents? From an objective point of view, I can say without hesitation that you should feel no compunction about moving back to America. Nine years is a long time to try to make a new country and a new job work: You are not a quitter. More importantly, no amount of family support for your son can outweigh the advantages of top-notch therapy. If the professionals are better in the United States, your decision is made for you. Your first responsibility is to your son. Why don’t you sit down with your in-laws and ask them to put his needs first — even before theirs? You have no reason to feel abashed about the fact that your son’s requirements, and your own leanings, happen to coincide. Of course in a perfect world your wife would be inclined in the same direction. You might want to start downloading photos of tempting real estate from the Web.

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



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