Dear Rabbi Ross. My son desperately wants to join a choir. He loves to sing, and wants to perform with either the YBC or NYBC. My husband and I both feel that it’s both time consuming and a distraction and no good can come from it. He’s not a strong student and needs the extra time to stay on track. What do you think? G.L. Brooklyn
This is a tough question to answer as there are so many variables involved. You mentioned that he’s not a strong student, and the Rebbe inside of me is agreeing with your argument. He needs to stay focused in order to keep up, and yes, singing in a choir is a pretty big distraction. There are practices, performances, and studio sessions, not to mention the travel time.
However, something happened a few years back, which is making me rethink this attitude. “Es Chatoai Ani Mazkir Hayom.” A very weak student of mine who was in 5th grade wanted to join a choir. I shared my concerns with his parents, and we agreed the distraction might really hold him back. He didn’t join the choir, although he had a beautiful voice and loved singing. To be fair, the parents weren’t keen on the driving part either, and were relieved when I agreed with them.
Fast forward a few years, and this boy is in 11th grade - in public school. He has tremendous issues with Yiddishkeit and is going through a very difficult time. Had he been in the choir, would these issues have arisen? I can’t answer that, actually no one can. Thinking back, I do wish I would have pushed the choir, though. So, he might have missed out on some work. At least he would have been excited about something, and he could have had a chance to shine.
In order to properly answer the question you raised, you need to be honest with yourself. What’s holding you back from saying yes? Is it the travel time to and from the practices? Are you worried about his grades? Is it the expense?
The travel time isn’t as much of an issue as you would think. I’m quite friendly with a few choir directors, and it seems that unless there’s a concert or performance coming up, they usually practice once a week. All you need is one other boy going from your neighborhood, and you have a carpool. You can drive one way, and so can they. I might be oversimplifying, but if this is something that will give your son an excitement for something positive and fulfilling, it’s certainly worth it. Put it this way. You would have no problem driving to a speech therapist, dentist or psychologist. If this is what your son needs, let him pursue it.
If the problem is his grades, I would have probably agreed with you years ago. Nowadays, not so much. While it’s true his grades might drop a little, you can also use the choir as leverage. “If you want to stay in the choir, you need to maintain an 85% average.” I would be reasonable here, if your son’s not a strong student, don’t require him to maintain a super high average.
If it’s a financial issue, I’m pretty sure that these choirs aren’t terribly expensive. Actually, they’re quite competitive with other programs going on for kids these days. If you really can’t afford the full price, I would think that the choir director would work with you.
One popular misconception is that you need an amazing voice to sing in a choir. That’s not quite true. While singing on key and having a sense of rhythm are pretty important, having an amazing voice isn’t necessary. Most of these kid’s choirs have only a few main soloists, and they’ll have a tryout first to make sure your son can sing on key. In any case, if your son really wants to sing, I would let him. Of course, do some research into the choir by contacting current choir parents, but assuming everything checks out, go for it.
I did get a few emails inquiring about sending kids to choirs when they have no interest. Some parents feel that it’s a good outlet, and that’s usually true. However, I certainly wouldn’t put your son in a choir if he’s not self-motivated. Singing and dancing can be classified as outlets that require some sort of desire.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Ross. A few months ago, I read an article that you wrote about a Bar Mitzvah boy Laining. Well, I have a different problem. My son very much wants to Lain, but he’s scared he’s going to make a mistake and everyone in the Shul will scream out corrections. I understand where he’s coming from, but at the same time I feel that we can’t live out lives worrying about “What if scenarios”. Since this is the only thing holding him back, should I pressure him or let it go? Shaya – Boro Park
The article you’re referencing can be found here. In that instance, the boy didn’t want to Lain his Parsha because it was too long. However, it seems that your son does want to Lain, but is worried that he’ll be embarrassed if he makes a mistake. We find in the Gemara in Brachos a prayer that includes the phrase “I shouldn’t make a mistake and my friends will laugh at me.”
His fear is a valid one. Unfortunately, it’s a real problem in many shuls. The moment the Baal Koreh makes a mistake, everyone becomes an expert. I’ve seen men that can barely read Hebrew (as evidenced by their hemming and hawing when they Daven), jump out of their seats in shock if the Baal Koreh pronounces a word incorrectly.
I’m not sure where this Minhag started, but it’s a horrible one. Each Shul has a Gabbai, a Gabbai Sheni and a Rav. I’m pretty sure all three of them are qualified to catch and correct mistakes made in an appropriate fashion. I’m talking about a regular Shabbos when there is an adult Laining. Certainly if there is a Bar Mitzvah boy laining, no one else should be correcting him.
I went to a Bar Mitzvah in Passaic a few years ago, and before the Laining the Rav stood up and made the following announcement. (Not verbatim) “Whereas I’m sure all of you are experts in the Hebrew language, our Shul has a special Minhag. The only people that can correct the Bar Mitzvah boy, are his teacher and the Gabbai. If anyone feels that he made a mistake and it wasn’t caught, you can come and discuss it with me after Davening.”
I went over to this Rav after Davening and thanked him. This is definitely a battle worth fighting, and I was thrilled with the way he said it. However, a lot of Rabbonim seem to think it’s not a big issue, and they half-heartedly tell everyone “Please don’t correct the Bar Mitzvah boy”. One Rav told me, I am already telling them not to talk during Davening, to come on time, and to give Tzedaka. I don’t want to overdue it.
I understand that. I really do. The flip side is, many more boys are not laining. Sure, they Lain once at their Bar Mitzvah, however, most of them stop afterwards. The next few years they Lain a part of their Parsha, and after a few years they’re done. As one Baal Koreh told me, in fifteen years, we are going to be in serious trouble. If we want to solve this problem we need to take action.
In your situation, I would take your son and speak with the Rav. The Rav needs to agree that before your son Lains he will get up and make a serious announcement. Not a request. I know of a Rav who told the congregation “If you correct the boy, I will ask you to take over!” You’re not asking him to go so far, rather, he should make it clear to everyone that they need to follow inside and stop correcting.
Validate your son. Tell him that you completely understand his concerns, and you are taking it seriously. If the Rav refuses to make the announcement, ask if your son’s teacher or the gabbai can. If he say’s no, find a different Shul for your son to Lain in. Alternatively, you can rent a place for Davening and do it yourself. If that’s not possible, you have two choices. Either you can try to convince your son that he’ll do well, and if anyone else corrects you will shush them. Or you can forgo the Laining part. I would tell the Rav (respectfully), “My son won’t be Laining for his Bar Mitzva because we’re not willing to stop the shouting”
There are those that might think that having corrections shouted at a Bar Mitzva is some sort of “rite of passage”. It toughens the boy up. Well, I’m all for toughening kids up, especially these day, but this doesn’t do that. It embarrasses and confuses them. This isn’t a good Minhag, and it never was. Can you tell your son to ignore the screaming? Sure. Some kids will be able to, some not. Nonetheless, I think it’s just wrong.
Mazal Tov on the upcoming Bar Mitzvah. I hope the Rav helps you out.
Have a great Shabbos,
Rabbi Ross. My daughter is in 8th grade and I finally acquiesced and got her a cell phone. She came to me last night in tears that her entire class has a WhatsApp chat, and she is the only one not in the group since she doesn’t have a smart phone. I was shocked. I called the school and they told me that they can’t police what the girls do at home, that’s more of a parenting issue. I am so confused. Should I get her a smartphone, so she isn’t left out? Should I start calling other parents? Is it the school’s responsibility? Private – Brooklyn
You bring up an issue that is really affecting many families. Let’s take a step back and look at WhatsApp. This is an app that allows people to chat in a group, share pictures and videos, make phone calls, and more. As a Rebbe, I can understand how dangerous this app can be, even in the hands of adults. I am going to share a conversation that happened last year on a third+ grade chat. (I received this from a concerned parent.) The Yeshiva was in Brooklyn, and to keep this appropriate, we’ll call the Rebbe, Rabbi Farfel.
There were 28 people on the chat. Here’s the transcript.
Mother 1: Does anyone know the Hebrew Homework?
Mother 2: I need it also. My son forgot it again.
Mother 3: I can’t stand this homework. Too much and the boys don’t even know it.
Mother 2: You’re telling me? Let Rabbi Farfel teach this in class. Why for homework?
Mother 3: It’s because he has no control in class. My son tells me it’s always crazy in the room.
Mother 1: I heard that also. I’m very unhappy this year.
Mother 4: Does anyone have a good dietetic chicken recipe? I have a lot of guests this Shabbos.
Mother 5: I agree with all of you. We should all complain to the Yeshiva. It’s time for a new Rebbe.
Mother 2: I’m on board with that. This is ridiculous. We pay enough for tuition. Let him teach.
Mother 6: I’m in. My son spent 30 minutes on a writing assignment. Not fair to us.
Mother 7: I have a great recipe but it’s handwritten. I’ll message it to you.
Mother 8: Me too.
Mother 1: Me too for the recipe or the Rebbe?
Mother 8: Both!! 😊
Just like that, they are destroying the Rebbe. This Rebbe happens to be a very good Rebbe, and has been teaching for quite a few years. Chicken recipe notwithstanding, this conversation was Lashon Hara, and should never have happened. What really got me was the smiley face. Ha Ha! What could possibly be humorous about destroying a Rebbe’s career?
This could have been dealt with simply. One of the parents could have sent a picture of the homework. Anyone that has an issue with the work level could simply contact the Rebbe. He gave all parents an email address and a phone number at the beginning of the year. How difficult is it to send an email or make a quick call? This particular Rebbe would have responded very well, from what I’ve heard.
As a result, some Yeshivos began banning WhatsApp groups. Not only is this difficult to enforce, it’s also kind of silly. These are adults, after all. My solution as a Rebbe, was to join the group, together with the English teacher. We are the admins of the group, and respond to any pertinent questions. One Rebbe I spoke with acknowledged that it’s a great idea, but he refuses to get a smart phone. It’s a tough call.
Returning to your question, we are now at the point where having a kids’ group chat is not only acceptable, it’s the norm. Many Yeshivos ban smartphones on school grounds, but these kids have phones at home and have access to WhatsApp in the evening. Unless the Yeshivos take a stand and tell parents that kids are not allowed to use any social media at home (and then enforce this), they will continue to have these chats.
What should you do? First of all, verify that your daughter is telling the truth. Many times, kids exaggerate, and there might only be seven kids on this chat. Call up some other mothers and ask if their daughters are on this chat. If there are indeed only a few girls on the chat, you can tell your daughter that she is mistaken. “There are only a few girls on this chat, and many of the mothers told me that they won’t let their daughters join.”
If however, most, or all, of the class is on the chat, I would give in. I understand many people will disagree with this, but if you send your daughter to a school where everyone is doing something, it’s unfair to expect her to be the odd one out. There are many ways to secure a smartphone. You can use restrictions, use a parental control app (I like Qustodio), or bring it to a place where they pretty much give your smartphone a lobotomy.
You need to explain to your children that having a smartphone requires responsibility and maturity. Teach them about online bullying, dangerous links, pop ups, and phishing. If you don’t understand these terms, you should have someone teach all of you together. Make sure your children know to tell you if there is something questionable on the chat, or even if they feel that someone else is being insulted.
Another smart idea which pertains to any kind of phone, is to have your children charge their phones in a central location in the house, and not in their bedrooms. Depending on the age, it would even be a good idea to tell them what time you want their phones away. You can click here to read the complete article regarding electronics.
Lastly, check the chat yourself every couple of days. Let your children know that it’s not because you don’t trust them, but rather to make sure that it’s appropriate. Don’t just read a few lines. Scroll all the way up and check out the conversations. If there are one or two kids that are consistently being inappropriate, you should be a good friend and notify that mother.
I want to reiterate that the decision to get your child a smartphone should not be taken lightly. It’s a huge responsibility for your child and for you. You and your husband should discuss all options and make an informed decision. You should certainly involve the principal of the school, and explain that you have no choice since all the other kids are on a chat.
Wishing you a warm Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.