Tuesday, July 03, 2012

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Confessions of a Shul Candy Man

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

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For those who don’t know, it’s customary for most orthodox Jewish synagogues to have a “candy man”.  A candy man is usually an older gentleman who gives out a candy treat to young children who come to synagogue on Shabbos.

We present – confessions of a shul candy man…

Q: How did you become a shul candy man?  Is it an elected position?  Do you get a candy budget from the synagogue?

A: I was davening (praying) in a shul when I noticed my youngest child running out of shul with most of the children every week during services.  When I inquired why, she told me that another nearby synagogue had a candy man and ours did not.  Seeing the opening and not wanting to worry about where my child was running off to, I decided to start giving out a candy on Shabbos.

You don’t get elected to candy man, you step into the vacancy.  Once you’re established, everyone respects that the particular synagogue is your candy territory.

While being a candy man is an informal but respected part of the synagogue, it’s a private effort of the individual.  The synagogue does not provide a candy budget.

Q: Why do you do it?

A: There’s nothing as wonderful as a child’s smiling face when they receive a candy in shul on Shabbos.  It’s pure simple happiness for the simplest of reasons. 

One of the father’s came over once and told me a story… he was talking to an elderly non-religiously-observant Jew who told him “I don’t remember much about synagogue or Jewish observance, but I do remember that whenever I would go to synagogue, I always got a candy” and while saying so had a wistful smile.  Every Jewish child should have an opportunity to develop such a warm sweet feeling for synagogue.  And what a merit to be able to offer that member for merely the price of a candy treat.

Q: Is there any truth to the rumors that you have a deal with the local dentist?  Or more seriously, what’s your opinion on sugar versus fructose versus artificial sweetener candies?

A: Most children getting a candy run from ages 2 to 6, though the occasional 8-10 year old will join in.  Because of safety concerns for the younger children, I give out lollipops (a hard candy on a stick) that are sugar based.  In my first year as a candy man I had some discussions with parents about lollipop size and natural versus artificial sweeteners.  Some parents are concerned about artificial sweeteners and don’t want their young children to have any, others are concerned about sugaring up their children.  I compromised by selecting a small sugar based lollipop.  That seems to meet most parents concerns and is still a fully enjoyable treat for the children.

Q: What’s your treat giving approach?  I understand different candy men place different requirements on the children to receive their treat.

A: Some candy men may require the children to say a bracha when receiving the treat, or say good Shabbos, or even say the parsha of the week (for those on the older side).  For me a simple Good Shabbos and/or Thank You is fine.

Q: What’s the cutest thing that’s ever happened.

A: When young children come up after getting a lollipop and asking “can I aso have won fur my brother (or sister)?”  Often a 4 or 5 year old will have a little brother or sister in a carriage or with their mother, and are asking to make sure their sibling gets also.

However, I do have a few tricky customers who, when they see someone getting two and hear the reason come and ask for their brother or sister … but they don’t have a brother or sister!  They’re not trying to lie, they just saw someone get two by saying something and want to see if it will work for them. 

Q: What’s the best part of the job?

A: Sometimes a parent will end up with a cranky toddler or a 3-5 year old throwing a fit or upset from falling down or a fight with another child.  You can see their struggle as they try to quiet the child down, knowing if they can’t in a minute they’ll have to leave synagogue and miss services.  Showing up at that moment with a lollipop almost always defuses the situation, quieting down the child.

The look of relief on the parent’s face is priceless.  Thank G-d, having children of my own, I’ve been there and know how it feels as well.  I’m honored to be able to save the day for the price of a lollipop.

Q: Any additional special moments?

A: During the chagim (Jewish holidays), naturally there are larger numbers of parents in synagogue with their children.  As services run longer, it’s normal for the parents to bring snacks for the little ones.  A natural side effect of this is wrappers and empty bags of chips and so forth all over the synagogue grounds.

Seeing this disaster one year, I decided I’d get the slightly older age children to clean up by bribing them with lollipops.  I decided to give 1 lollipop for every 5 pieces of garbage delivered.

The kids ran off like madmen, collecting garbage everywhere by the handful and bagful.  Before I knew it, I was giving these kids 10, 20, 30 lollipops EACH!  I went through my full supply in 10 minutes, and then the kids continued to clean (without any additional rewards) until the synagogue grounds were spotless.

I learned a little positive motivation goes a long way!  (And I apologized to the parents the next week for providing their kids with a massive supply of lollipops.  Being it was for a good cause, they weren’t upset.)

Q: Any final words?

A: Torah and mitzvot should always be sweet!

3 comments:

josh said...

Did you make this up? Either way, it sounds so real. I love it.

Akiva said...

It's real, though not from a formal interview - more from informal conversations over time.

Anonymous said...

Painful to read. Pumping our cherished kids with sugar, a known pathogen, is a perfect example of "acting vile with the Torah's permission". Desecrating our holy sanctuaries with "Candy Men" who lure kids into shul to make noise and assault the Shechina with their loud behaviour, only to fill them not with words of Torah but with garbage junk in their body, is such as shame and the punishment for such conduct should make any Gcd fearing Jew tremble. I plead with all sensible readers, stop this shameful desecration. Teach kids healthy eating. teach them the sanctity of prayer and limud Torah lishhmah, not for the sake of junk garbage sugar lolly pops.

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