During daily, Shabbat and Holiday morning synagogue services in Israel (and on the mornings of Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur in the Diaspora), the Kohanim (the direct patrilineal descendants of Moses’ big brother, Aaron) walk to the front of the synagogue, pull their tallitot (prayer shawls) over their heads and upraised hands, and offer the same priestly blessing to the congregation which Aaron’s descendants have been giving to the Jewish people since Temple times (but in Hebrew, of course):
May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord shine His face upon you
May the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and grant you peace
I know this blessing by heart, mostly because this is the second part of the blessing I give my kids at the Shabbat table before dinner every Friday night. But it is also quite familiar because receiving the blessing in synagogue has always been a bonding time for the kids and me.
You see, since Ariella and Gilad were toddlers they have been coming with me to shul (synagogue). Each time the Kohanim got up to give their blessing, the kids would join me under my tallit (there is a custom to pull one’s tallit over the head and not look directly at the Kohanim during the blessing) and we would all huddle there under the tallit letting the ancient words wash over us.
Early on, the kids didn’t quite get the point of the exercise, but they knew a fun thing when they saw it and treated the event with the same enthusiasm as they would if they were playing ‘fort’ under a blanket draped over a couple of dining-room chairs.
It didn’t matter where they were when the time came for the blessing. They could be playing out in the hall outside the sanctuary, running around on the playground or trying to charm sweets from the shul candy-man. The moment the Kohanim began walking up to give their blessing, Ari and Gilly would suddenly be at my side, ready to ‘hide and giggle’ with me under my tallit.
As the Kohanim would begin their blessing, each of the kids would press their heads against my chest and whisper, “Abba, I can hear your heart!” It’s no wonder as my heart would almost leap from my chest each time we hid ourselves together under the soft white wool.
As the years passed and the big kids became active participants (rather than transients) in morning services, they still joined me under my tallit. But instead of giggling and trying to sneak a peek at the Kohanim, they stood with their heads bowed under my hands, listening quietly to my heart and enjoying the closeness of the moment. Each time the blessing would finish, I removed my tallit… gave each of the kids a kiss and then we would take a few steps apart to continue with the service.
But as Ariella got older, she started spending more time in the women’s section of the synagogue during services.
At first she would still find her way into the men’s section for the blessing. But after a while she stopped coming. The first time this happened I looked around and caught her eye over the mechitza (the dividing curtain). She smiled, blew me a kiss and shrugged.
As we walked home hand-in-hand from services that day, she explained that she was too old to come into the men’s section now and preferred to sit with the women (meaning her friends). As I glanced down and saw her, quite literally, standing in her mother’s shoes, I knew she was right… but I still wasn’t really ready for the separation. What father ever is?
Now that our toddler Yonah has started to come with us to services on Shabbat mornings, he giggles and squirms under my tallit just as his older siblings once did. When this happens, Gilly – with no recollection of his own giggling days – looks up at me and rolls his eyes sagely at Yonah’s childish antics.
And afterwords as I’m giving Gilad and Yonah their kisses, I still manage to catch Ariella’s eye over the mechitza… and she still discretely blows me her own kiss. But it isn’t really the same.
Even with Yonah joining us as we ‘hide’ ourselves from the upraised hands of the Kohanim, this new squirmy participant still has a long ways to go to be able to fill the shoes of the original member of the ‘hiding under the blanket’ club. And the truth is, Yonah could never take Ariella’s place under my tallit… he can only create his own.
I know the reasons why Ariella and I need our own space to pray these days. Neither of us would want it any other way. But I have to admit that for the few moments when I see the Kohanim begin their walk up to bless the assembled crowd, I wish I could still pull Ari’s warm cheek against my chest and watch her furrowed brow as she listens intently to my heartbeat in her ear… and pull the wool over her sparkling hazel eyes just one more time.
David Bogner, formerly of Fairfield, CT, lives in Efrat with his wife Zahava (nee Cheryl Pomeranz), and their children Ariella, Gilad and Yonah. Since moving to Israel in 2003 David has been working in Israel’s defense industry on International Marketing and Business Development. In his free time David keeps a blog (www.treppenwitz.com) and is an amateur beekeeper.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.