Synagogues and sugar
I love how you focus on fitness and overall health as a part of a holistic lifestyle. I have three children and our local synagogue is sadly like many in that there is a culture of loading up children on sugar. Kiddush (an after prayer socializing time) Is full of sugary treats which is but one of the opportunities that children indulge in. Many will then only eat dessert for Shabbat lunch.
On top of that, members of the community will push lollipops on the kids as soon as they arrive in synagogue. How do we teach our children about the dangers of excessive sugar in a culture that is creating a new generation of obesity and diabetes? My children range from ages four through nine.
If we can put your question into the terms of our 5Fs, the fitness section is warring with the faith and friendship ones. Why synagogues and sugar seem to go hand-in-hand is beyond the scope of this Ask the Rabbi, but they do. Decades ago, synagogues had one “candy man,” but now they have multiplied. And, as you say, after services there are often tables laid out with food. While there are vegetables and fruit platters, the candy and cake tables definitely attract the most attention.
It’s time to double down on the Family part of the 5Fs. However, the challenge isn’t to teach your children about the dangers of obesity and diabetes but to teach them that family rules trump external temptations. You don’t relinquish your role as father when you walk into synagogue. Before going, your children should know what you expect of them. What rules have you and your wife set in place? You might tell them that they can have one treat and that’s all. Or perhaps, you don’t want them to have anything until after lunch when you will give them one or two items as a Shabbat afternoon treat. Discuss it with your wife, arrive at a joint decision and have one consistent message week after week.
Are your children offered six lollipops, chocolate bars and gum? Is there an older worshiper basically forcing toffees into their closed fists? Since your four-year-old should be by your side, you can run interference for him, but for the older children, it’s time for them to learn how to decline or how to politely accept and then to bring the candies to you to hold. Before going to lunch, they need to know that dessert isn’t automatic. You can control and model nutritious eating in your home and it’s enough to tell them that because you want their bodies to be healthy, you eat in a certain way, just as you brush teeth and go to bed at a certain time. That is simply how your family functions.
It is especially difficult to set and consistently maintain these standards when your children’s friends’ parents may have different ones. Welcome to parenthood! Your challenge is to make being part of your family so special that it doesn’t matter what other families do, whether we are talking candy or screen-time. Obviously, if you can find partners among the other parents, it will be easier. However, we guarantee that this will not be the last time that your children will confront paths that differ from yours as they grow. Let them see that you and your wife are confident in making decisions for yourselves and matter-of-fact about setting limitations for them. Following the crowd is not for you.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Ask the Rabbi & Susan post.
We Happy Warrior members can both read and write comments HERE.
Not a member yet? Check out our Basic Membership and join the conversation.