child misbehavingBy BERNIE BELLAN

Recently I had the experience of attending a synagogue service that was disrupted by an unruly toddler.


It happened to be the Etz Chayim. The morning I was there Mel Hornstein was doing a fine job delivering a drash on that week’s Torah reading, and would have certainly held the audience’s attention more successfully – if it weren’t for the horribly rude behaviour of two young parents who allowed their toddler to run wild while Mel was trying to speak. I couldn’t believe the absolute ignorance of those parents as they stood smiling by the bimah while their little girl ran back and forth behind Mel, shouting at the top of her voice. I believe most synagogue members were simply so shocked at the parents not wanting to restrain their child that no one knew quite what to do. As I said to some members after the service: Even though I’m not a member of Etz Chayim I was close to getting up and telling those parents to take their kid out of the sanctuary, but honestly, I was afraid that parents who had so little regard for the concerns of others could very likely have reacted angrily if I had said something – and caused a scene in front of the entire congregation telling me I had some nerve asking them to restrain their out-of-control kid. Maybe I’ll ask “Miss Lonelyhearts” what she would have done. I know Maureen Scurfield – and believe me, she doesn’t hesitate to tell anyone off in person!

As a postscript to this piece, which appeared in our August 16 print edition, I received an email from someone else who had been at that service and who took exception to what I had written. Here is part of the email that I received:

"I was very upset by your unkind words about one of our young families. That little girl was on the bima by my invitation. We love our toddlers and preschoolers, and we cherish their presence. Their voices are the most important ones in the sanctuary. If the adults would stop talking, a squealing child would produce a lot less noise.

"If you had actually said anything to them, I would personally have defended her right to be there. They did keep her quiet enough that most people could hear what Mel was saying. He is neither quiet nor shy, and was not the least bit perturbed.

"Fortunately you didn't confront them, preferring to badmouth them in your paper instead. Seriously?

"A shul without young families is a shul with no future, and it is attitudes like yours which are going to keep them away. I sincerely hope that neither they nor their families read what you wrote. You owe them an abject apology for this public shaming."

I responded to that email: "At the kiddush that day at least 6 other people told me how much they were annoyed by that kid. No one with whom I spoke would have agreed with you.
Then last night I was cycling with ...(name witheld) and he told me that he had spoken to those parents beforehand, asking them to control their child. I don't know what kind of shuls you attended when you were young  - and I've seen unruly kids misbehaving, but nothing like that toddler running around the bimah. If I were considering joining a synagogue and that's how they let kids behave there is no way on earth I would join that synagogue."

As a final note, I did happen to run into Maureen Scurfield (at the Friday night performance of Mama Mia) and I told her about what had happened. She agreed 100 percent with me that if a kid is disrupting any kind of a service, it's the parent's responsibility to remove that kid. I don't know whether it's an age thing or not, but the latitude that parents seem to give to their kids to act up - especially in nice restaurants where they often run wild, seems to reflect entirely different norms held by younger parents. It seems to be a case of the rights of the few trumping the rights of the majority.