| Shul with a View |

Eyes on the Prize

It was so brilliantly simple, yet it had me scratching my head in disbelief as to why it took so long to think of


IN many ways, Gavriel Weltsch is your typical third-grader. He can be found playing hockey in the lobby with other boys his age and arguing with his sisters over who received more pekelach on Simchas Torah.

Gavriel arrives at shul every Shabbos morning with his father. He’s present for some of the davening; however, he often drifts out to the lobby and immerses himself in a book. I often notice him sitting quietly in the middle of the lobby.

But after two weeks of not noticing Gavi around the shul, I asked him where he was during the davening. He answered that he was davening in the Sephardic minyan in the downstairs beis medrash. When I asked him why, he told me, “They have a raffle for the kids who daven nicely, and the prizes are really good.”

After getting more details about the “really good” prizes, I confirmed with Gavriel’s father, David Weltsch, that the raffle was quite appealing to Gavi and the other children. It was then that Gavriel’s father suggested, “Why not do a raffle here in the main minyan? I’d be happy to sponsor the program.”

David’s suggestion was comparable to the Shabbos lamp we all use. It was so brilliantly simple, yet it had me scratching my head in disbelief as to why it took so long to think of. David and I decided then and there to initiate the raffle system in the main minyan.

The first week we had the raffle, we decided to limit it to boys ages six to bar mitzvah. The requirements were simple: The boy must arrive in shul before Krias HaTorah, and he must remain for the duration of the davening, including the derashah, with an allowance for two short breaks.

The first week was successful. Many of the boys who usually spent time in the lobby were now sitting and davening in shul.

Yet we soon heard cries from behind the mechitzah: “Why are only boys who daven nicely rewarded? What about the girls?”

We quickly rectified the situation, with one steady woman attendee graciously offering to distribute the raffle tickets in the women’s section.

The program was so successful that I realized, why limit the program to only pre-bar and bas mitzvah children? Couldn’t the bochurim also use a push to daven better?

The next week we instituted a second raffle with another gift certificate to Z. Berman. This second raffle was for post-bar and bas mitzvah young men and women, up to age 20.

Some initially laughed at the idea of a raffle for bochurim and high school students. Yet this raffle also proved successful as more and more latecomers became on-time attendees, and the lobby was empty during davening.

Suddenly, parents were reporting to me that their boys and girls were encouraging them to get to shul on time so they could be in the raffle. Chaim Gluck from the local bagel store heard about the program. A third generic raffle was introduced as he happily donated gift certificates for breakfast at Bagel Munch. Young boys and girls and bochurim and high school girls were suddenly a large presence enhancing the davening. When a girl from the ezras nashim was the winner, I was thrilled that the program reached across both sides of the mechitzah.

At present, we have three raffles going on simultaneously every Shabbos. Many adults have asked me if we can also include a raffle for the over-30 crowd. It was particularly exciting when after three weeks, Gavriel himself won the raffle.

Yet nothing could compare to the comment by Yaakov, an 11-year-old.

At the kiddush, he came over to me and said, “Rabbi, thank you.”

I didn’t recall his ever winning, so I asked him, “For what?”

“You made coming to shul the best part of Shabbos.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 937)

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