Sunday, January 16, 2022

Dear Rabbi Sam,

I am a bit embarrassed to even have to present this question, but here goes. My wife and I were both raised in Orthodox homes. We each have many siblings (I have five and she has seven). We both recall our Shabbos tables as festive, enjoyable, respectful, full of excitement, words of Torah and Songs for Shabbos. Flash forward 25 years and my wife and I have 4 children (ages 3-9) and our Shabbos table is filled with complaints, annoying sounds and laughter during Kiddush, etc. I think you get the idea. We don’t know what we did wrong, but is their hope?

Longing for our Shabbos of old

Dear Longing,

First, please don’t be embarrassed. You have opened up the forum to a problem that plagues many homes.

I cannot tell you how many families I have heard complain and agonize over the deterioration of the Shabbos table experience. I have heard complaints from families from Monsey, Passaic, as well as, more locally Teaneck and Bergenfield. It is not your family alone that is struggling with this dilemma, it is a social and cultural problem. There are several factors that have impacted on creating this cultural shift which I will address. I will also provide some suggestions that could be helpful.

One of the issues we need to contend with is the changes the computer has had on our children’s attention spans and their ability to sit for long periods of time. They work in units of “bytes” not hours. Also, there was a change in the balance of power and the sources of information. I remember when my son was 12 and we got our first Gateway computer—that was the beginning of the “shift” in our relationship. I’ll never forget when I asked him the same question a second time and he looked at me with this glint in his eye that said, “I know more than you do now.”  That was when the shift started. If knowledge was power I was in trouble.

Until computers we, the adults (parents, teachers, rabbis) were the sources of knowledge, wisdom, and information. There was a certain reverence that children felt because there was a greater dependence on us.

Flash forward to 2013.  We are no longer the sources and providers we used to be. Children are more independent and freer to get information from Google or their peers than they are to rely on an adult.

Therefore, we may need to be more creative and resourceful in how we conduct our Shabbos meals.

For examples, in one family, rotating d’vrei torah or parsha in the middle of each course rather than having four in a row may be helpful. Having a brief break between courses, allowed another family the down time needed for their children to get settled and regroup for the next song. One family told me they had an open forum with all their children and they came up with several agreed upon modifications that changed the climate for the better.

There is a very big difference between the Shabbos tables of the 1980s and 1990s than those we experience today. But with open dialogue and creative solutions we can regain the atmosphere you desire. Hoping your next Shabbos is better than your last.

Rabbi Sam Frankel, LCSW Dean of Students at Yavneh Academy, Paramus, NJ. Private Practice in Child and Family Therapy, Teaneck, NJ. To submit letters for response send to: RabbiSam_jewishlinkbc.com. Contact Rabbi Sam at: (201) 928-1148; rebsf18_yahoo.com

By Rabbi Sam Frankel

Sign up now!