Don’t Heed the Call

New technologies provide us with fantastic opportunities to connect, communicate, and have instant access to the world around us.

As a synagogue professional, however, I’m sometimes troubled by how a certain generation has embraced their devices. We all share a responsibility to train people in the proper and appropriate use of phones when in temple. It’s one thing to express blanket criticism–but if we repeatedly see the same blatant disregard for basic manners, then it’s clear that we’re simply not doing our jobs.

Kids and teens–I’m talking to you.

Would you please, please teach your grandparents how to use a cell phone?

It’s not terribly unusual for a cell phone to go off during services. We’ve all been there. You experience the one second period of horror as you realize that the familiar ringtone is in fact coming from your own phone. (The call is coming from inside your pocket!With astonishing speed, your hands then bolt for the phone and blindly start pushing any button you can find just so it’ll stop ringing. You then suffer the requisite moment of shame, which is blessedly short lived. In fact, there’s usually a mutual understanding with others, as you share furtive glances with your neighbors: This time it was me, but next time it’ll be you. In any case, the whole incident probably lasted a total of 2 or 3 seconds from start to finish. Furthermore, you’ll be way more careful next time, so everyone gets a pass.

But when that ringing phone belongs to a senior…

The initial “Is that my phone ringing?” period lasts about 5-10 long, endless seconds. Then, the ringing, which at first began muffled inside of a bottomless pocketbook, becomes loud and shrill as the phone is brought out to the full light of day.

Then–and I would never have believed this had I not seen it more than once–the person answers the phone as those around them look on incredulously.

I’ve thought a lot about this and I’m convinced that it’s generational. Those of you who are my age and older grew up in a time when a ringing phone was a matter of some urgency. You didn’t know who was calling and there were no answering machines. Does anyone remember the sheer panic of trying to unlock your front door, fumbling with your keys while the phone was ringing inside the house? And then when you finally dove for the phone, the person had just hung up. That was enough to ruin your entire day.

So it’s deeply ingrained not to ignore a phone call–the polite thing to do is answer and tell the caller that you’re in the middle of something and you can’t talk now. But grandparents need to know not to do that in the middle of services.

Teens, can you please help us out here? Here is some basic knowledge that all kids should pass on up to the Greatest Generation:

  1. How to put the phone on vibrate.
  2. How to take the phone off vibrate.
  3. What button to push to immediately silence the ringing.
  4. It’s perfectly OK to silence the ringing and ignore the call.

Grandparents learn best by watching others model proper behavior, so it’s up to you to set a good example.



Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

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