My Husband’s Debut:When Yoel got Lost

My Husband’s Debut:When Yoel got Lost

I so loved this article my husband, Joshua, wrote about the time Yoel got lost at synagogue. Enjoy!

The routine is familiar: it is half an hour before candle lighting and I am in the kitchen, white shirt untucked, drinking a quick coffee, and moving a pot of chicken soup from the stove to the hot plate. Hallel and Maayan are upstairs arguing over whose turn it is to get in the shower. Hadas is reading on the sofa, oblivious to the world, her wet hair combed into a tight bun. And my 5-year-old, Moriah, is helping one of my students set the table, so serious and proud that she’s the one instructing the guest on how to order the room.

As the Shabbat siren goes off, I pull on my grandfather’s old rain coat, and call out “Shabbat Shalom” to Jenny, and anyone else listening, and step out the door.

These are good times for our 3-year-old Yoel. Jenny is upstairs getting a few more minutes of rest before she lights candles, and Moriah is folding napkins just right, in that “self-righteous older sister” mode that drives Yoel crazy. And so the opportunities for mischief are endless. As a bonus, the extra tables in the living room provide plenty of places for a little boy to hide from the consequences of, say, pulling the table cloth off a fully set table.

So Jenny has decided that Yoel is old enough to join me in shul.

Yoel is still too young to read, and only knows a few lines of prayers, but I like it when he comes with me.

When Yoel and I arrive at Hassidic shul I attend on Friday nights, I give him a big bag of ketchup Cheetos, and as I get myself ready for the prayers to start, he joins some other boys his age at the front of the room. The boys sit in a little row, legs crossed, their backs against the towering 15 foot Torah ark, eating treats and watching the men pray (to them).

With his blond side locks, black felt kippa, and vest over a white shirt Yoel fits in well. He looks so comfortable and at home in such an unusual place. I wonder when he will notice that his father is the only person among the hundreds of robed Hassidim wearing a navy blue sweater.

After kabbalat Shabbat services, his chips finished (bag licked clean), and bored with games, Yoel makes his way back to my bench and spends the last half hour beside me, identifying letters in his siddur, announcing in a stage whisper his repeated trips to get a glass of water or go to the bathroom.

On Friday nights the shul is full, but on holidays hundreds of additional families who live outside Jerusalem come to pray with their Rebbe. Impossible numbers of hassidim fill every corner of the synagogue.

It is a bad time to bring a child to shul, but this past Hannuka, in my rush to light candles on time I forgot how crowded it gets on holidays and brought Yoel anyway. I realized my mistake when we arrived, but it was too late and too far to return him home. So I gave Yoel his chips, explained that I would not be in my regular spot, and pointed out a landmark by which he could find me.

By the time prayers began, the room was filled beyond capacity. Forty or fifty tight rows of Hasidim, rolling waves of black and white, long side-locks swaying in counter rhythm to the men’s bodies.
If I get over my initial claustrophobia, it is a sublime experience. Slonimer Hassidim sing powerful tunes to their prayers, especially on holidays, at once mournful and exhilarating. Verse by verse of Lekha Dodi it feels as though something is emerging, unfolding from the souls of the men, something that sweeps me along with it.

As we finished Kabbalat Shabbat, four or five rows ahead of me, I saw a flash of blond. Standing on a chair, Yoel had pushed aside the two men on either side of him with a force I didn’t know he was capable of and was looking for me.

There were tears on his cheeks and desperation flashed in his eyes. I don’t know how long he had been lost.

At the moment I saw his tears as he looked for me in the suddenly frightening crowd, I was overwhelmed as a father, at the power of experiencing his need for me.

I caught the eye of a Hassid near him and he passed him back to someone in the row behind him, and then from hand to hand, row to row, over the crowd, he came back to me. He grabbed me tight, and then for the remaining minutes of the service stuck close, holding my hand. On the way home Yoel fell asleep on my shoulders.

The house was busy, warm and full when we got home. The candles were lit, the table was set, Hallel was coaxing a giggle out of little Tsofia, Hadas, back from shul, was back to reading, and Maayan and Moriah and were tickling each other on the sofa.


  1. What a wonderful loving father your son has!

  2. Sharon Saunders

    I can’t read this blog anymore – too much crying from joy.

  3. This story can’t help but bring up those powerful parental emotions.. And brought me to tears. Beautifully written.

  4. I was imagining sitting in your classroom as you told over this story. Thank you. What a treat.

  5. Mina Esther Gordon

    What a wonderful treasure you have ! If only it was possible for every one to access their thoughts and feelings from long forgotten beautiful moments! We would have a totally different approach to our relationships.
    The view from above is breathtaking.

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