I received a call a few years ago from a reporter at the local Jewish newspaper. Seems that a synagogue had just voted to exclude all children under 10 from entering the main sanctuary during prayers. The little kids had been attracting so many complaints for their antisocial behavior that the older members had banded together in protest. After an acrimonious special general meeting, the motion in favor of decorum had been carried by a large majority. The reporter who contacted me was calling other synagogues to see whether we had any intention to enact similar rules.A shul without children is boring

I replied that it was ironic that she’d contacted us, as we’d recently identified a contrary problem, and had solved it in a different way. We wanted more kids around.

A shul without children is boring. Their wide-eyed innocence as they run to kiss the Torah, the sense of excitement at hearing the biblical story for the very first time, the joyful anticipation as they clamber under their father’s tallit during the priestly blessing. What kind of organization would deliberately reject their own future and opt for a sterile, boring, child-free environment?

Our congregation appointed a lolly man to hand out treats to the children at strategic junctures during services. Call it bribery, call it positive reinforcement, call it what you will, but just call the kids into shul.

I take no credit for this attitude towards involving the youth in religious activities; it’s explicit in the Torah. Almost the last mitzvah that Moshe commanded the Jews before his death was Hakhel, the once-in-seven-years gathering of the Jews in Jerusalem, where they would be addressed by the king and re-inspired to the ways of faith. The responsibility to be present at Hakhel was universal; every single Jew living would take his or her place in the throng. Interestingly, even infants and young children were expected to be present in person.

It makes sense; the purpose of this mitzvah was “to hear . . . that they will observe to do all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 31:12). It’s nice if adults do the right thing, but the real target of the whole ceremony was “their children . . . who will hear and learn to fear the L‑rd, your G‑d, all the days that you live” (ibid. 31:13).

If you want a committed crowd of adults, people “observing the words of the Torah,” it’s crucial to attract them while they are young. Adults are hit-and-miss: they might be inspired for a while, but their excitement often dissipates just as quickly. When a child buys into something, however, that When a child buys into something, that commitment can last a lifetime.commitment can last a lifetime.

Imagine the excitement of being in a huge crowd of Jews, all focused on a common goal and listening to the same message. Even if the child doesn’t yet understand what he’s hearing, even if he’s too young to fully appreciate the scene, the emotional imprint will hopefully last “all the days that he lives.”

And I suggest that is why we always read this section right around Rosh Hashanah. Our synagogues are full this week, but will the children be active participants in the experience or shunted off to side rooms of irrelevancy? Synagogue seats are expensive, and adults often worry that the little children will disturb, but we need our children to believe that they are welcome in the room and are an integral part of the service.

Obviously, there is a time and a place for educational, fun, and memorable children’s programs, and it is a parent’s responsibility to sit with his or her own kids and teach them how to act in a holy place when they do come into the sanctuary. But first and foremost, it is up to the community leaders to welcome all Jews, especially children, into our synagogues. Our children are the future of our faith, and as Jews gather together this week, let us commit to welcoming everyone into the fold.