A friend was telling me about one they've been going to a Shabbat program each week. I won't say anything about it other than that she admitted that the "Shabbat component" has been somewhat disappointing.
And yet, that's been my experience with several of them, too.
Great facility, good program, nice teachers. And the Shabbat/Shabbos part is just plain bad... or weird.
I have mentioned before my strange and perhaps irrational conviction that Circle Time is not just Circle Time. Each Circle Time must have a function, serve a purpose, be something a bit MORE than just sitting around singing.
We spend so much of our time alone here just sitting around here singing. We don't need to go out to have an excuse to sing (maybe some families do?). We don't need to be sitting in a circle or even wearing our clothes. Anytime is singing time around here. So if we are going to the trouble of putting on clothes and going out, it had better add something significant.
In the case of a Shabbat Circle, what it adds, hopefully, is anticipation of Shabbos (ha!), plus, perhaps, a rich repertoire of Shabbos experiences: sounds, sights, tastes.
This is no small thing. This is Shabbos; one of the three cornerstones that have sustained the Jewish people through everyday life just about forever.
I have heard the seder referred to as the ultimate teaching tool for Jewish history, thought, belief... but for toddlers, once a year isn't enough. And so, it's Shabbos. That's where they learn, primarily, that they are Jewish, and what we do as Jews.
Of course, you can have Shabbos without a decent Shabbat Party beforehand! Ideally, Shabbos at home/shul is where your child will learn most of what he/she knows about Shabbos.
But kids have short memories.
Kids are dumb.
Kids are selfish.
Kids have temper tantrums.
Kids look the other way at exactly the wrong moment and miss the Sefer Torah going into the aron.
Kids have naps.
In the real world, your child will probably spend most of the actual Shabbos experience sleeping, whining, crying, pooping, fussing, teething, fretting or just whirling his or her head about randomly.
So their real Shabbos experience is all too brief.
A good Shabbat Circle, whether it's on Thursday or Friday (Wednesday is probably too soon!) tells the child: Pay attention! Shabbos is coming! We're getting ready! (ie, it doesn't just happen on its own) Even the grown-ups are excited! And here's what you have to look forward to!
I heard recently (when? I haven't been to any classes lately!) from a rabbi that little kids get very excited about Shabbos. And adults, if not excited, look forward to calm, quiet, special moments at the end of the week. So who doesn't look forward to Shabbos?
Teenagers have a hard time with Shabbos (even if they have friends within walking distance, which my kids don't, really).
Think about it! You're:
~ Stuck with your family (ew!).
~ Sitting through long, boring meals.
~ Forced to talk at the table.
~ Away from the iPod and videogames that (for some) are your sole reason for living.
I'm sure that it's not universal; I'm sure there are teenagers, maybe less worldly ones than mine, who look forward very deeply to Shabbos.
But for me, this acknowledgement was a relief; it's okay for them to be grumpy and not quite as eager in their anticipation of Shabbos as they were when they were little.
And - more heartening - they will come back to Shabbos when they get older; they will appreciate it again as adults.
That appreciation probably comes easily, even while they're still teenagers, if they've had as many positive Shabbos experiences as possible while they're little. Now, that's totally unproven... it could be complete B.S.. I only have four kids, none is fully grown yet, and each one has been raised slightly differently.
But here's what it comes down to for me, as a baalas teshuvah: I have put so SO much of myself, my life, my energy, into Yiddishkeit. Into trying hard to be frum (and never quite getting there, but I can dream!), and trying hard to raise my kids with a love of Hashem, love of Torah. I became a baalas teshuvah not for myself - I'll never be there all the way - but more for my children: I want them to have the best life possible, and I believe Yiddishkeit is the only thing that will get them there.
If Yiddishkeit is my heart and soul, then Shabbos is the heart and soul of Yiddishkeit.
Why wait a whole week between Shabboses, when you can celebrate it twice? Once at Circle Time and once, again, at home.
Repetition creates memories and reinforces concepts.
And when you're building the Shabboses your child will celebrate for a lifetime, why settle for an experience that is anything less than extraordinary?
Coming back down to earth for a minute, I honestly have no idea, even in this town with many resources, where to find adequate, let alone extraordinary.
I would love to be able to find or create that for my kids - and others - somehow.