I bless my kids every Friday night before kiddush. It moves me every single time. Sometimes to the point of tears. It’s my reconnection with the boys after busy weeks of to-ing and fro-ing. No matter who is mad at who, who let who down, who’s grounded or had their phone taken away – Friday night bentsching is sacrosanct in our home.
There is a tradition that Erev Yom Kippur we bless our children too. For some, this is the only time of year they bless their children. For me, on this day, thanks to Rabbi Artscroll, I bless them with the long version of the blessing, found in the Yom Kippur machzor.
When I was 16 my father was very sick here in Monsey. He was at the Good Samaritan hospital for treatment and we had been told he was close to death. We flew in from the UK to be with him. It was this time of year. My parents had been divorced for a long time by then and I had little to no relationship with him.
We went to see him Erev Yom Kippur, and he wanted to bentsch us. My father, in my memory, had NEVER bentsched us, never taken the time to reconnect, and until that moment I had never felt that I missed out.
My brothers went forward one by one, and my father placed his hands on their heads and intoned from memory :
Then it was my turn. My father had no idea how to bless a daughter. We scrambled around for a siddur so that he could find the right words. But the damage had been done. I didn’t hear the blessing, I didn’t feel it – truth be told, I didn’t want it. My father, who had not been present for most of my life, just proved to me, in that moment (in my mind) how little he thought of me.
I was 16 and I was hurt. My father died 3 years later, and at the ripe old age of 19 I had just got to the point of wanting to know him and to know who he was. Maybe he felt just as bad at that moment – maybe he just didn’t know how to tell me. I will never know.
I remember my father every time I bensch my kids. At this point, I remember him without the anger and resentment I used to feel, but still with sadness at what might have been.