A Parent's Prayer

Found In: Friday Evening

Tags: priestly blessing

My father brought a tradition to our Friday night dinners. It was an opportunity to convey his love and hopes for his children—in particular, the hope that Jewish values would be important to us. 

 Y'simeich Elohim
k'Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, v'Leah.
Y'varechichah Adonai V'yish'm'reych.
Ya'er Adonai panav eilayech vichunaych.
Yisa Adonai panav eilayich v'yasem lach shalom.*

My father has recited these words to me every week for as long as I can remember. Every Friday night my family would come together for Shabbat dinner. We would stand by our seats and sing the blessings over the candles, wine and challah. Then we would sit down and my father would come around the table to bless my two older brothers and me. He would put his hands on our heads, recite the blessing, say “Shabaaaat Shaaaa-lom” and kiss the tops of our heads. I always took this blessing seriously; it was a moment when I would sit still and embrace these few seconds that belonged to me. When I was younger, I had no idea what the words meant, but that didn’t matter. It was a tradition, and a moment that I got to share with my father each week.

In 1992, my father went on a trip to Israel with my oldest brother in honor of his upcoming bar mitzvah. They had Shabbat dinner at the home of the rabbi who had married my parents. Rabbi Waldman blessed each of his children and asked my father if he wanted to bless my brother, too. My father brought that tradition back to our Friday night dinners. To him, it was an opportunity to convey his love and hopes for his children—in particular, the hope that Jewish values would be important to his children. The physical element of placing his hands on our heads has always been special, reinforcing his physical connection with my brothers and me.    

This tradition has continued, whether we are near or far. When I went to overnight camp, my father would make a photocopy of his hands, write the blessing on the paper and FedEx it to me. For many years I did not attend a Jewish camp so there was more laughter than understanding whenever I received a picture of my father’s hands. It did not matter to me; I still have those copies of my father’s hands.  The summer before my senior year of high school I attended Camp JRF for the first time. On my first Shabbat at camp, my father faxed a photocopy of his hands to me. I was expecting this delivery, but I didn’t think it would have meaning to other people; Rabbi Isaac and Rabbi Jeff told me how touched they were by this simple act. They immediately knew what it meant and they, too, started to expect that fax from my father every summer.

This tradition has survived college, semesters abroad, world travels and moves to different states.  But every Friday night we get blessed. My father no longer sends photocopies of his hands.  To represent his hands on our heads, we now place our cell phones on our heads while my father recites the blessing and kisses into the phone.   I have received this call in the middle of huge crowds, at concerts, in the middle of meals, while leaving work, etc. Context doesn’t matter—I always put the phone on my head. It is my reminder that it is Shabbat, and I always enjoy those few minutes with my father each week. I hope one day, when I have a family of my own, I will continue this tradition. It is important to me–not just because it is a Jewish tradition, but because it is a tangible connection that I hope to recreate with my own children. I hope that they will look forward to hearing from me every week, waiting for me to pass on my love, my hopes and my values–as my father still does for me.

Amanda Feder is a teacher in Chicago.  She was raised at Reconstructionist congregation Adat Shalom in Bethesda, MD.

* This blessing is traditionally used every Friday evening by parents when blessing their children.

May God make you like SarahRebeccaRachel and Leah.
OR
May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.

May the Holy One bless you and keep you. 
May the Holy One shine light upon you and be gracious to you. 
May the Holy One turn towards you and give you peace.