Yiddishe Papas (and Father’s Day)
By Mark Mietkiewicz
A few weeks ago, there was a run on flower stores across the country as mothers (including Yiddishe Mamas) got their day in the sun. This month, fathers everywhere will unwrap boxes with ties and open up new bottles of cologne. That means it’s time to give Yiddishe Papas their due.
Long before Father’s Day was first observed, Jewish children were commanded to honor and fear their parents. Rabbi Michael Gold explains the importance of the well-known mitzvah of honoring your father and the lesser-known commandment prohibiting children from sitting in their father’s chair. (As to whether Judaism requires them to obey their parents, you’ll have to read the essay.) [http://bit.ly/jdad01]
On the other hand, here are some responsibilities the rabbis have placed on the broad shoulders of Jewish fathers:
• A father should be careful to keep his son from lies, and he should always keep his word to his children. (Talmud Sukkah 46b)
• A father must provide his daughter with appropriate clothing and a dowry. (Code of Jewish Law, Even haEzer 71)
• A father once came to the Baal Shem Tov with a problem concerning his son. He complained that the son was forsaking Judaism and morality and asked the rabbi what he could do. The Baal Shem Tov answered: “Love him more.” (Hassidic Tale) [http://bit.ly/jdad03]
Rabbi Bruce Dollin of Denver’s Hebrew Educational Alliance quotes the famous statement that a Jewish father is “bound regarding his son to circumcise him, redeem him, teach him Torah, take a wife for him, and teach him a craft. Some say, to teach him to swim as well.” Nowadays, Jewish fathers have delegated most of those responsibilities to others (the mohel, the teachers, the swimming instructor, etc.) But Rabbi Dollin says the statement points to deeper truths. “Maybe teaching our children to swim is really a metaphor. Fathers are obligated to show their children how to swim, perhaps, in the sea of life. Fathers serve as a model how to enjoy life’s blessings when the seas are calm, and how to work through the hard times when life’s inevitable storms arrive.” [http://bit.ly/jdad04]
I have come across several moving essays in which Jewish children remember their fathers. I recommend:
• “A Story of Jewish Fathers, Angels and Poinsettias” by Sara Levinsky Rigler [http://bit.ly/jdad05];
• “Father’s Day and Raw Eggs” by Jenna Tasky [http://bit.ly/jdad06];
• “A Face in the Window” in which Rabbi Yaakov Salomon remembers his teary father peering through the window of his summer camp bus just so that he could savor one more glimpse of his son. [http://bit.ly/jdad10];
• and a look at two very different Jewish fathers of famous writers, Philip Roth and Calvin Trillin. [http://bit.ly/jdad02] (Free registration is required to read entire essay.)
And then there’s Judaism’s most famous fictional father, Tevye. You can listen to Walter Matthau read Sholem Aleichem’s “Chava” in which the father tries “to make sense of his beloved daughter Chava’s break with the only way of life he understands.” [http://bit.ly/jdad07]
In “Honoring Our Fathers,” Rabbi Daniel Brenner of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership has these thoughts for observing Father’s Day Jewishly.
• Honor your father’s history. What events shaped his life?
• Honor your father’s outlook. What have you learned from him?
• Honor your father’s dreams. What of his hopes for you, whether realized yet or not?
Rabbi Brenner says “On Father’s Day, we honor our fathers not by comparing them to some ideal but by acknowledging them for who they really are. We pause to reflect on their history, remember the challenges they faced, and meditate on what they taught us along the way. In that, we truly live by the words ‘Honor thy Father’… This Father’s Day, reflect on the contribution fathers have made in sharing their love and guidance from one generation to the next. And if you have the opportunity, get him a bow tie – I hear they’re coming back.” [http://bit.ly/jdad08]
Every family has its own challenges and sometimes work is needed to repair longstanding rifts. In a classic Simpsons episode, Krusty the town’s (Jewish) clown tells how he became estranged from his father the rabbi when the son didn’t go into the family business. (Think the Jazz Singer but with clowns.) By the end of the episode, Bart and Lisa successfully nudge father and son together when Krusty sings a classic song to his father. [http://bit.ly/jdad09]
Krusty: Oh Mein Papa, to me he was so wonderful, Oh Mein Papa, to me he was so good, no one could be, so gentle and so loveable, Oh Mein Papa he always understood!
Rabbi Krustofsky: Oh, I love you son.
Krusty: I love you too, daddy.
(Whereupon, Bart hands Rabbi Krustofsky a cream pie which he throws in Krusty’s face. They embrace and laughter ensues.)
Happy Father’s Day.
Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet.