Back to Shul: How to Embrace the Carpool

By Joy Fields

August 19, 2014


Kids being carpooled

Parents often look forward to September, when most kids have returned to their regular school year routines and religious schools typically start back as well. If your interfaith family has decided there is no conflict of interest for your CJMW (Christian Jewish Muslim Wiccan) child to become a bar or bat mitzvah, this will probably mean they will be attending additional midweek Hebrew School classes. Depending on work and care routines, this could involve imposing on a family member who agreed to the bar mitzvah as an overall concept without understanding their chaperone duties. For…years. How to smooth this out?

Embrace the carpool as a blessing—the more the merrier. If you own a good set of earplugs and a roomy vehicle, you could conceivably reduce your driving duties to once a week by getting in on a rotation. Although you want to remain alert while driving, you may want a set of blinders handy to avoid meetings with fellow chauffeurs. Maybe that woman around the corner always asks embarrassing questions, or her Suburban-driving father-in-law, who is off every Tuesday, is known to the children as Angry Fred, or you’ve been informed Aunt Fanny’s car smells like gym socks. Let that go. You and your spouse do not have to be in a confined space with them for thirty minutes. Your children do. This is an excellent opportunity for them to understand what a mitzvah it is to embrace their fellow human being regardless of difference. The embrace can be metaphorical. Especially in Angry Fred’s case.

There is nothing morally wrong with allowing a person who is distasteful to oneself and/or one’s spouse help transport one’s progeny. Especially if you’re on time for your turn. At a recent Interfaith Marriage Seminar, the most frequent response to the rabbi’s question: “What is one thing that really helps a successful marriage?” was “Don’t jack with my carpool.”

Help ease a beloved but less enthusiastic driver by making sure they know exact times and locations of drops and pickups. If possible, introduce them to other carpooling parents (especially the ones you actually like) so they’ll feel comfortable and welcome waiting for the children. Make sure they have phone numbers for backup, should the Holy One, Blessed be He, exhibit his fine sense of humor when they try to start their minivan.

Most synagogues also have some type of mandatory Sabbath service attendance requirements for their mitzvah-ettes. Find out what is expected in advance and share this information with all involved from the get-go. Life will be more peaceful in the long run if you explain up front that little Rex’s desire to become a bar mitzvah will require him to attend services every Friday night, at least three times a month, for the next two years. Don’t wait until your sweetheart bursts excitedly in the door holding the boss’ box seats to tonight’s game to tell him, “We can’t—we’re going to services. Yes, again this week.”

As for the grand culminating event—the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony—there should be some kind of advanced agreement on everyone’s expectations. Will this be a service and oneg (dessert social usually held at the temple), a service and seudat mitzvah (celebratory dinner with family and friends) or service and seudat-stravaganza (celebratory dinner that will show up on a Google satellite and includes, but is not limited to, a live performance of whoever replaces One Direction in a couple years). If your family’s financial stability depends on enjoying the Sisterhood-sponsored oneg, followed by home-cooked dinner for out-of-town guests and family, but your in-laws have seen Keeping up With the Steins and can’t wait to meet Neil Diamond, there may be some future conflict.  

Be sure to involve your little mensch (good guy/gal) in the discussion. Any child who will be putting this much time and effort into a pursuit must understand and agree upon its value. If Susie wants to gain a better understanding of Judaism and grow to accept adult responsibility for following its laws, she deserves family assistance in doing so. But if she’s really in it for the ponies, it’s best to know that now and save yourself and your family a lot of wear and tear. And time with Angry Fred.


About Joy Fields

Joy Fields is a CPA in Kingwood, Texas, who enjoys writing. Her humorous essays and poems have appeared in publications such as The Houston Chronicle, Writers' Digest, and The Wall Street Journal. This year, she will be celebrating her 20th anniversary in an interfaith marriage.