Ouch! A message about decorum can’t be good can it?
Well, probably not, but don’t fret. I’ll be gentle.
One of the great blessings of the growth of our membership and our building is the exponential increase of wonderful people with whom to interact, and almost enough space in which to do it. But the down side of these increased encounters is a similar increase in the potential to distract others from the purpose of gathering, particularly on the High Holy Days. So, I ask you for some consideration and offer what I hope are some constructive approaches to the matter.
No matter how quietly you talk, the noise of your conversation adds to the ambient noise in the room. This situation is especially true in the sanctuary and the lobby, where acoustics were designed to allow sound to carry. To people with good hearing, the noise is as best a distraction and at worst an annoyance, but to people with hearing impairments, the additional noise may prevent them entirely from comprehending the service. Please keep your conversations in the lobby and sanctuary to a minimum, and your comings and goings as well.
This year, the sukkah courtyard will be set up for people who would like to socialize. By taking extended conversations outside the range of those in the sanctuary, everyone can be satisfied. Of course, if the weather is uncooperative, choice "b" is to be quiet.
We have also instructed our ushers about appropriate times to enter or leave the sanctuary, as well as asking them to maintain a certain low level of noise in the lobby. They are congregants, just like you. Please treat them with courtesy and respect – they have not been asked to persecute or offend you, but to preserve the integrity of the service. Both halakhically and according to etiquette, there are times when the service may be mildly disturbed and other times not.
And what about children?
I love kids and their kid-noises never bother me. My own children visit me on the bimah whenever they like (as do some of yours). Not everyone in the congregation agrees on the level of activity on the part of children which is acceptable, but most everyone knows the general limits of when cute becomes distracting. Parents, please bring your children to shul. Please bring them to the sanctuary when they can handle being there and you can handle them. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities for family worship and children’s services, and I encourage you with equal passion to worship together as a family. But please be fair first and foremost to your child. If he or she is overwhelmed, take them somewhere to de-whelm for a while.
In one area, I do not have my customary patience with our kids. Last year, our building was subjected to vandalism and the volunteer adult chaperones were subjected to the rudest imaginable abuse by kids who were left unsupervised in our building. School-age children who need supervision are the responsibility of their parents unless they are under the care of programs provided by the synagogue. Children may not be told by their parents, "Go play in the lobby." Teenagers should be in services – they are adults since their b’nai mitzvah, and as obligated to prayer as any one of us – unless they are in activities planned to enhance the days for them or in the designated gathering areas.
Finally is the matter of clothing. Allow me to commend this congregation on its restraint and appropriateness in selecting clothes for shul. Though the debates continue over both ritual and non-ritual garb, virtually everybody dresses themselves (and their children) in a manner which reflects their respect for Shabbat and Yom Tov, for the synagogue and for the endeavor of reaching toward God in which we are engaged. Keep it up!
There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Dulce et decorum est!