By Karolyn Benger
The high holidays are upon us and we are charged to take this time to reflect on our actions and evaluate the choices we have made. It is a special time for self discovery, introspection, and tshuvah…unless you are the mother of a small child. If, like me, you have a child too young for the children’s activities at synagogues then you may find yourself standing around outside of the schull, loitering in front of the kiddush hall, or even just staying at home.
Unfortunately, too many synagogues do not provide children’s activities that would allow their mothers a chance to daven. All too often women are forced to invent their own solutions: round robin babysitting with another mother or hiring a non-Jew to babysit. But is this right? I cannot help but wonder, if the synagogue has not provided a small amount of childcare, do they not care about the tefillot of women?
I know the answer and excuses I will get for posing this question. The apologetics will say women are doing the most important thing by tending to their children. Well, yes we are, however this assumes that a woman’s only role in relation to the Jewish people and with Hashem is that of a childcare provider. Based on the Torah’s discussion of Sarah, Rivkah, Miriam, Devora and many others I find this doubtful.
The practical ones will cite the obvious budget constraints. Yet no one said childcare needs to be free. I am sure many women would willing pay for coverage on these days– Yom Kippur in particular.
The more Haredi will note that since women cannot make up a minyan they can and should daven elsewhere while caring for their kids. I would first like to ask anyone who raises this point if they have ever tried to daven– or do anything for that matter– while caring for small children. More important, this approach actively excludes women from the community. Simply because women do not make up a minyan does not mean that they must daven on their own. While it seemingly allows for female prayer- given the constraints of each child’s schedule and needs– it is still lacking in providing a solution for women. By not providing childcare women, whether they choose it or not, are forced to daven on their own. Doing this not only puts tremendous difficulty on women to find the time to pray while caring for her children but what’s more, it does not allow her the opportunity for honest reflection and tshuvah. Her prayers and efforts to fulfill the mitzvot become an after thought. And she becomes a lone person rather than a member of a vibrant and rich kehillah.
If we, the Jewish people, are judged as a people then we cannot ignore the prayers of our young mothers. More synagogues should provide childcare for multiple ages and more men and women should demand it.