Rosh Hashana is only days away- less than a week. We prepare for the holidays in many ways- with slichot and shofar blasts, with meal plans and cooking special holiday foods, with travel plans and shul tickets, with songs and stories for our kids.
For those of us with first babies, or in a new shul- also with the question: how will I get my baby through so much shul time? How much will I be able to be in shul this year?
To make things easier, here are some tips and tricks- one set for parents, the other for synagogues.
- Be brave and assertive: Whether you come to synagogue with your baby every week, every day, or this is the very first time, you belong and deserve to feel comfortable. The rest of this list consists of ways to make that easier.
- Prepare your knowledge base: if you haven’t been taking the baby to synagogue, find out where to nurse ahead of time, and think about what is comfortable for you, and for your baby. (Where does your community allow/encourage breastfeeding? Are you comfortable nursing in the sanctuary, if your community allows it? How distracted does your baby get? What makes nursing easiest for You? If you pump and want a partner/babysitter to give a bottle- is there a fridge you can use? Where is it?) It can help to call the synagogue in advance with your questions, so you aren’t worried or anxious about figuring it out during the holidays.
- Come prepared: Besides feeding your baby, what else keeps them calm and happy? How long can you realistically expect your child to handle the crowds/noise/etc. Bring the things they need. If they respond strongly to music, start singing some High Holiday melodies to them.
- Make a plan with your spouse/partner: Are there parts of the service that matter to you in particular? How will you balance your needs, the baby(ies), and your partner’s needs? Be prepared to be flexible, but also consider who feels the strongest pull/obligation for different parts of the service.
- Prepare for the crowds: if possible add another seat(s) to your private nursing location, or set up an additional space. For example, Beth Tfiloh, in Baltimore, Maryland, sets up a conference room as a nursing room, with lots of chairs. They covered the glass door with paper, to give privacy, and put up signs to indicate that it was a nursing room for mothers and babies only.
- Communications: Help families with small children feel welcome by communicating where nursing/feeding/snacks are welcome and where they are not. Make sure ushers/greeters know how to give directions to the nursing room (if relevant), changing tables, play space, etc.
- Communications Again: Talk about sanctuary expectations out loud, more than once. Expect that parents (along with everyone else) will be in-and-out of the service, and may not hear any announcement the first time.
- 4. For Synagogues That Use Technology On Holidays: Consider having the service audible or even streamed to the nursing room or play room, especially if you’re making it available in that way already. Parents who are going to miss a Lot of the service may appreciate it. (Adjustable volume is a plus, for those with distractable babies.)