For the first time in decades, I went to synagogue two Friday nights in a row. The first time was because my oldest son's class was leading the service. Afterwards, there was a delicious oneg (dessert), and good conversation. My son enjoyed himself (surprisingly), and I felt transported to warmer times in my younger life.
I am not a particularly observant Jew. But there are certain elements of my Jewish experience that I value more as I get older. I love the IDEA of the Sabbath, that there is a day different from every other, in which focus is away from the mundane aspects of the everyday. There is no Facebook or Instagram or news alert in a Shabbat service.
This past Friday, we went as a family. I was nervous, because I worried that my boys would misbehave. They did get fidgety, and I brought them books to read. And then they saw the oneg--fruits and cake and apple pie--and they actually asked if they could come week after week. Maybe we will.
But don't think I won't leverage the power of the oneg. I heard an interview recently in which a man explained how he takes his kids to the museums in New York City EVERY week for two hours. They spend almost an hour and a half in the cafeteria, eating and joking around to their hearts' content. Then they spend maybe a half hour looking at exhibits.
Of course, people express surprise at this. "Don't you want your kids to feel the depth of the experience?" He responded so wisely, in my opinion. He argued that it is the regularity of going to a sacred place such as a museum, and creating a joyful habit of attending museums that is important. He's building memories with his kids that take place at museums. Most people drag their kids once every few years and force them to experience every exhibit for hours. And then they wonder why their kids don't want to go back.
So, if this becomes a regular family activity, I'm cool with them going for the food. The depth of the experience may be realized when they go back for more servings.