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Kol Nidre Confrontation

If you look at the title of this post, you will see three words that should never, ever appear together. Kol Nidre is the name of the prayer that is recited at the very beginning of the evening Yom Kippur service. As Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, the very last thing one should be doing is picking a fight. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell that to a woman sitting behind me, and as a result a whispered confrontation took place between solemn prayers.

I still don’t completely understand what happened. My mom and I were standing with Simon just before the Kol Nidre prayer was to be recited when an older woman leaned forward and barked at Simon:

“Don’t do that again!”

Or something like that. She had a nasty tone to her voice and a Cruella de Vil mean look on her face. My first thought was “Did that just happen?” A quick look at Simon’s trembling chin and moist eyes informed me that yes, that really did happen. But what? And why? At the time of the remonstration, Simon was standing silently with prayerbook in hand. What could he have possibly done?

Alas, it was going to be a while before I found out, because the eponymous Kol Nidre prayer was beginning. It’s the heart of the entire service, the most solemn part of a solemn holiday, a vocal show-piece for the cantor, and is recited slowly in English and in Hebrew. Thrice. Meanwhile, my nervous system was in overdrive as corticosteroids pumped through my body preparing for a fight.

After what felt like ages, the prayer ended and I had my chance. I turned around and whisper-shouted at Cruella:

“Why did you just discipline my son?”

There were no “excuse me”s or “pardon”s here. I was angry and wanted to make my displeasure clear.

“He was kicking the seat,” she sneered.

The look on her face as she addressed me was pretty nasty. But unlike my son, I was prepared to defend myself. Perhaps more to the point, she was wrong. My mom spent decades sitting next to restless kids in shul and reprimanding them when their restlessness got too noisy. I spend two days a week wrangling preschoolers who tend to flail and kick. If there is one thing both of us are well qualified to do, it’s to detect inappropriate seat kicking, especially when the suspect is sitting next to us. I assure you our kicking-child radar never pinged.

But just for a moment, let’s assume Cruella was right. Let’s assume that before Simon stood up he was swinging his legs and kicking the seat underneath him. Now let’s ask some questions:

  1. Was he kicking her seat?
  2. Was he kicking loudly?
  3. Was he kicking a part of the seat that could be harmed?
  4. Was he kicking the seat when she yelled at him?

The answer to all these questions is “no”. Further, if she had a problem, she should have taken it up with me or my mother. So our conversation continued, and it didn’t get any nicer on either side.

“I don’t think he was,” I rebutted.

“He wa—”

With eyes blazing with as much anger as I could muster, I held up my hand in front of her face and cut her off. “No, stop. You listen to me. My son is a very well behaved boy, and he is also very sensitive. You’ve upset him, and he didn’t do anything to deserve that. The next time you think you see something that needs to be corrected, you take it up with me, not him. Got it?”

The look on her face was indignant anger. How dare I talk to her that way! “Certainly” she seethed.

“Then we have an understanding.”

This last bit was uttered with as patronizing and angry a tone as I could possibly muster, and I turned my back on her before she could say anything in return. Meanwhile, Simon was sitting like a statue, trying not to cry any more, and looking very anxious. The night was ruined for him.

On the way home we could talk about what happened. I explained that even though I teach him to respect all adults, sometimes grown-up are wrong and/or mean.

“You mean you were mad at her?” he asked.

“Simon! I wanted to rip her tongue out of her mouth, and I’m sure Bubbie did, too!”

“But why did she yell at me when I didn’t do anything?”

“I don’t know that either, Simon. She was either confused or just plain mean. But I told her she wasn’t allowed to speak to you ever again, so you don’t need to worry about her.”

The next morning he was still worried about “the mean lady”, so I let him stay home while I went to services. Cruella and I came face-to-face only once, at which point we both attempted the look-straight-through-a-person maneuver. I asked around to find out who she was, but no one seemed to know.

Finally, I had a short conversation with the synagogue’s executive director. He was appalled that someone would yell at a child in front of his or her parents,¬† disbelieving that Simon could have done anything worthy of admonishment, and visibly upset that Simon was now scared to come to the synagogue. He’s finding us new seats for next year.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the entire situation go away. There will be repercussions. Simon is the child who struggles to fully participate at school because he is constantly worried that he will do something wrong. His teacher knows this about him and is working hard to increase his comfort level and free him up a little. She wants him to understand that learning entails making all kinds of mistakes–even behavioral ones–and that no one can be perfect all the time. Now one of his worst fears had just taken place: He was reprimanded in public (painful for an introvert) for doing something wrong when he didn’t know what that could possibly be.It’s absolutely not in the spirit of the season, but I can tell¬† you that I hate that woman and would still like to rip her tongue out of her mouth.

Coda: Several days out, Simon was able to laugh the incident off. He was happy to see me defend him, and he’s almost proud to have had his own “Mrs. Naomani moment”, which is what we call it when an adult who should so know better is unaccountably mean to a sensitive child.



One Response to “Kol Nidre Confrontation”

  1. Amanda says:

    Witch. Now I have something to ask forgiveness for next year.

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