Now I'm calm… in fact, I'm wondering if I'm too calm to talk about how upset I was yesterday. WE GOT KICKED OUT OF SHUL!
Believe me, I was shaking when it happened; I couldn't see, I couldn't speak. I was nice and gentle to the baby, at least.
I kept thinking, "She had NO IDEA!" Over and over and over.
No idea what it took for me to be in shul with the baby… how hard it had been to find clean clothes in the chaos, get out the door despite my lethargy, apathy, neverending fatigue, whatever you want to call it. Ordinary struggles.
Finding an outfit for the baby – feeling happy and proud that he HAD a brand-new outfit, courtesy of our neighbour-friend Judy. Finding socks, shoes for him. In our crazy upside-down house, yes, these are challenges.
I chose to come after Kiddush, timed our arrival carefully so I'd arrive late, hear the sermon, hear the shofar and get in a good chunk of Mussaf. And it worked well the first day! The baby behaved super-nicely; everybody said so…
She had NO IDEA what it took to pack up a bag of books and toys for him: old favourites I knew he'd love along with some new and interesting things to keep him distracted and busy so I could focus a bit on my own shul experience.
I have no idea what she thought.
I was sitting in a chair, the baby was sitting on the floor. He was getting up, walking around, reading his "Who, who?" book and talking to it because he talks non-stop. Even when he's happy, especially when he's happy, this baby makes NOISE. Not loud noise, but unceasing noise.
The rabbi started his talk with a joke. I was sure it wouldn't be a good joke; they never are. But the minute he started, a woman near the front raised her hand and shouted "Rabbi!" After a few times, she got his attention and he stopped. "You told that joke yesterday," she said.
"I know," he said. He'd been speaking in the downstairs Social Hall service yesterday; I guess she'd heard him there. "I'd rather give one powerful talk twice than two watered-down talks." A couple of people did leave at that point. I guess they didn't want to hear the powerful talk twice. The rude lady stayed, however.
It seems to me that if he's the rabbi, you don't interrupt; you just leave quietly if you don't want to hear the jokes again. As the rav of the shul, in my opinion, he has the right to say the same joke however many times he wants.
In any event, there my baby was, on the floor, in the midst of this. Quieter than some of the grown-up ladies, is my point. He was on the floor; we don't have carpets at home, and all the kids at one point or another, have enjoyed stretching out on the carpeted floor of the shul. There was lots of floorspace and he wasn't even kicking or bumping anyone. Just lying quietly on the floor, then rolling over, getting up, looking around, and playing.
He is like a bat, echolocating himself in the world every few seconds. He must hear himself. When the midwives first placed him in my arms in bed, he was making a noise, just a buzzy hummy sighing newborn noise. His noises have evolved, and most of them sound a bit like words now. But they are not very loud noises, and I thought I could keep him happy through a little while in shul, at least.
Especially because the first day, when a baby started crying, the person speaking on the bimah (not the regular rabbi), told his mother, "don't take him out – that's music in here; that's what you want to hear in a shul." Kal v'chomer, I figured my happy but slightly noisy baby could be welcome, too.
Happy he was, and I was actually listening to about eight in every ten words the rabbi was saying, in between shushing him and, I thought, very subtly entertaining him with activities, book suggestions, etc.
Until I looked up, and there she was. She's somebody we actually know pretty well. Not saying whether she's been over here before. Not saying if we've eaten at her place before. Because I know Ted and maybe others will be curious.
She was looking at me, trying to catch my eye. Suddenly saying, "Jennifer, you need to leave." Actually, I missed the exact words, but that was the intention.
I grabbed our stuff. Grabbed the baby. Couldn't see; I was instantly in tears. But we left the shul and went out into the hallway.
Where the baby continued playing, happily, oblivious to the change in scene.
There were a couple of little kids, maybe 2 and 3 (one very cute boy obviously almost ready for his upsherin), playing in the hallway outside the shul, running and screaming, literally screaming. Now THAT is not music in the shul because the way the place is set up, screams in the hallway not only penetrate the main shul, they echo around in the hallway first before piercing every single exit door. It is very audible in the shul.
I told the mothers they couldn't let their kids scream, but that there was a great kids' program right upstairs. They said they were waiting for shofar and continued letting their kids scream.
While my baby still played happily, quietly. And I schemed all the different horrible ways that I could murder the woman who had kicked us out.
I will say – she has kids! She knows kids! It was unfathomable to me that she would kick me out for such a small amount of noise. In some shuls, maybe. From a stranger, maybe. This was somebody I thought I liked. So then I thought, maybe she has a point. But NO. No, it was just pointless and stupid and I was shaking with anger and trying not to be all messy, obvious, crying all over the place.
I almost didn't make it to shul! We came this close! I even yelled at the baby the first day, potched his little bottom because I couldn't stand the mess in our house, couldn't stand my life, couldn't stand my family… just for a minute. He was trying to watch me get dressed and I couldn't find clothes and couldn't imagine walking out the door in one piece in time for anything.
What right did this woman have, when I finally do make it, all kind of organized, to judge me and my baby and decide we shouldn't be there?
Okay, so maybe I'm still a bit emotional.
Eventually, the rabbi finished his talk. Eventually, people came out, all in a rush.
And I started to go towards the door to go back in to hear the shofar. Yes, what chutzpah! Me, in shul, wanting a chance to do a once-a-year mitzvah! Baby and all!
And the woman who'd kicked us out came out just at that moment. In my imagination, she'd sprouted devil horns, fangs, a tail, raggy old shredded black dress, but no, she looked lovely, looked completely normal.
She took my hands, looked at me warmly, and she explained. Or tried to.
She said, "people were tittering; people were starting to make comments about you and your baby. There was so much negativity, and I just thought it would be better if you left right away."
Apparently, it hadn't even bothered her. It was bothering someone else.
So she elected herself as the representative of the congregation, my friend, to save me from some theoretical, ephemeral negativity of some catty, tittering miniskirted women I wouldn't see again 'till next Rosh Hashanah?!?
I can take negativity. Screw them if they think it's silly that I don't just plunk a baby on a bench with nothing to do. Screw them if I don't hand my baby over to a nanny the second he makes a noise, happy or sad. Screw them if I want him to grow up in shul, catching sight of the aron, catching fragments of melodies and dreaming of the sounds, the tastes, the gleaming Torah garments late into the night afterwards.
It's my shul. It's Gavriel Zev's shul. Yes, it's their shul, too, but nobody has any right to kick out my happy baby, especially if they think they're doing it to save me from – ahem – negativity. That, sorry, is just NUTS. Because call me clueless, but the only negative vibe I picked up yesterday was HER and her quieter-than-though decision to kick ME out.
So where was I?
Oh, yes, at the door. Where the kicker-outer was leaving with a child of her own, and I was coming in to hear the shofar.
Through the shofar, the baby was wonderful. He silently blew his own little thumb and grubby fist, right along with the notes. While the other kids who'd been screaming outside grabbed candy from their mothers' bags and started hitting and pulling and shoving; making way more noise than mine, thank God.
And afterwards, they left, most of the people left, and we stayed for shmonah esrei.
While the rabbi gave over some preliminaries, I grabbed a seat, then grabbed a better seat, then gave up the better seat when the lady with the walker came back to claim it (whoops!). And ended up with one of my least-favourite seats, near the stairs to the bimah. Fine. It's not a good place to sit with a baby; I prefer the "bulkhead" seats where there's lots of floorspace for him to spread out.
And I am grateful that our shul doesn't have reserved seating, because, in general, you can get a good seat at any time as people come and go.
So we got seats, and during kaddish before shmonah esrei, I pulled out the pack of pretzels and raisins, the sippy cup, to keep him busy.
He mostly ate and puttered, I mostly davened, everyone around us was happy and amazed at his good, quiet behaviour. (the only time he is completely silent is when he's eating, hence the pretzels and raisins)
We stayed for kedushah, we stayed for v'chol maaminim, and then, I decided he'd had enough. He was lying on the floor a bit more now, not crying by any stretch, but the pretzels were gone, the raisins were gone, and he just seemed tired. Fair enough; it was probably after 1:00 p.m. by then.
So we went upstairs, found Naomi, and played for a bit until around 2:00, when Ted came and got us for birkas kohanim. Ted took Gavriel Zev, I took Naomi, it was beautiful, and we left soon afterwards for a lovely lunch at my parents' house.
And I'm still FURIOUS.
I still wish she would DIE. Just drop off the face of the earth.
Cease to exist.
I cannot coexist in the same universe, cannot imagine how she thought she was doing me a favour, and in some way, it feels so much worse than if she herself just hadn't been able to hear the rabbi talking. No, she was defending others who thought my baby was a bit too active and outgoing. Who thought I was a little silly, naïve, even inconsiderate bringing him to shul.
I would never bring a child, let alone a baby, on Tisha b'Av to hear Eichah. I would never bring a child, let alone a baby, on Yom Kippur to hear Kol Nidrei. I know when not to bring children. During megillah on Purim, I have been known to bring a baby if I have a baby, but I am the first to leave if the baby makes any hint of noise: I can always have Ted take the kids home and catch the later reading by myself.
I am NOT inconsiderate. I do NOT inflict rude children on the shul like so many other parents do. My kids learn early what's expected of them in shul.
And what about that woman interrupting the rabbi? I thought that was just about the stupidest thing ever! Who's going to kick her out on behalf of everybody who now thinks she's a moron?
Finally, why do I take this so personally that I could barely fall asleep last night, that I'm still ranting, more than 24 hours and 2000 words later???
Because all I have is my religion and my children. It's like I took a vow, 20 years ago, to become religious, to be fruitful, to have children and raise them frum. It's all I have done with my life, it's all I have to show for myself.
If I can't have that, there's simply no point. What right does SHE have to take that away from me???