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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pulling the wool over her eyes

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 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

     (Numbers 6:23-27)

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 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 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!"  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 they 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 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 Yonah with 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 our '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.

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Posted by David Bogner on June 8, 2006 | Permalink

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Hi David,

Thank you so much for sharing that. It was sooo heartwarming - brought a tear to my eye.

For many years I have wanted to share birkat Kohanim and now, thank God, I have been blessed with a son. He is still too young to appreciate how special a moment it is (he is just 7 months old now), but it is so special when he does join me under my talit for birkat Kohanim.

Posted by: NN | Jun 8, 2006 2:25:44 PM

very touching. My kids are still at that squirming stage where they fool around under the tallit. One of my boys like to copy the kohanim.. sometimes they fool around as if they are trying to get out of the tallit..
my oldest son is just at the point where he is almost ready to stop fooling around. he fools less each week..

Posted by: Rafi G | Jun 8, 2006 2:50:03 PM

Thanks for sahring those beautiful memories. It brought a lump to my throat when your kids said I can hear your heart,

Posted by: seawitch | Jun 8, 2006 2:56:26 PM

Me thinks ye have a soft spot for that thar daughter of yours.
And she is a special one, that's for sure!
Thanks for sharing.
I'll have to see if we do this particular blessing in the Friday night service or not.
This may start a new tradition in my home.

Posted by: val | Jun 8, 2006 3:34:40 PM

That is a sweet post. I have always enjoyed that part of davening. There is something special about it.

And I certainly can appreciate the kids beneath the tallis too as my children do this as well.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 8, 2006 4:39:58 PM

Trepp, your story just warms my heart. Since my dad died when I was 10, I missed so many moments like that with him. But I absolutely love hearing your story...and that your little girl is so loved and adored by you.

Posted by: Cruisin-mom | Jun 8, 2006 4:56:58 PM

:) (A smile), that's what guys do when we read stuff that moves us, we don't want to be seen drifting into emotions with *sniffs* now do we? :)

Posted by: pk | Jun 8, 2006 5:19:30 PM

Did my post on Leonard Cohen/George Cohan bring this to mind? (Not taking any credit at all, I just love how the mind works and words trigger thoughts)

Beautifully written and totally visual. (And kleenex alert.) I vicariously look forward to the day your kids start reading your blog. I believe Ariella will love this one.

Posted by: Tess | Jun 8, 2006 5:24:52 PM

Whoa!! That's so bizarre! Just this morning, literally three hours ago, I was on my morning run - I run past two Jewish cemeteries - and I glanced over and saw something I've never seen before (despite the fact that I pass them all the time). A stone with two hands on it, doing the Spock thing.

I slowed down to make sure that was what I was seeing, told myself to ask you about it, and promptly forgot it. Until I just opened that wikipedia entry you linked. What a bizarre coincidence. And now I don't have to ask...

Posted by: Tess | Jun 8, 2006 5:37:45 PM

You're such a marshmallow, David...

Actually, my first thought was how American kids miss out on sharing regular moments like that. We only receive the Bircas Kohanim a few times a year. I was always sitting on the women's side with my grandmother.

I guess this just provides yet another reason to raise children in Israel. As if I needed one.

Posted by: Cara | Jun 8, 2006 5:56:50 PM

Ummm...where is the Kleenex warning on that one? I am tearing up...so beautiful. Enjoy your kids!

Posted by: Essie | Jun 8, 2006 6:09:55 PM

My memories under the tallit are from the other side. From the time I was about six or seven I would join my father under his tallit as we would go blees everyone. I can't wait for the day my son can join me in doing the same thing.

Posted by: Max Power | Jun 8, 2006 6:32:30 PM

This is the blessing that brought my husband to shul....he 'wasn't religious' but had no problem with my taking our son to Chabad. One Shabbat morning, the little one asked plaintively, "Abba, why don't you come to shul with us?"

The previous week one of the guys at the shul, whose children were all grown, took our son under his tallis for Bircas Kohanim, and the little one noticed that ALL the other kids had their dads there, hence the question.

To my surprise, a miracle happened right in front of me. "I'll be there in a little while," my husband said--and came to shul. And has come ever since.

So your tale brought tears to my eyes because I have my own reasons to love this blessing.

Posted by: aliyah06 | Jun 8, 2006 6:34:09 PM

;') [teary eyes]

That was beautiful.

Posted by: Ezzie | Jun 8, 2006 7:55:19 PM

So beautiful. I've never experienced anything like that, but I can certainly visualize it!

Posted by: Irina | Jun 8, 2006 8:27:35 PM

Waaaaaaaaah!

::wipes tear from eye::

That was so beeeeeooooooteeeeful!

Posted by: sarah | Jun 8, 2006 8:45:55 PM

I enjoyed reading this posting. Keeping my my three year-and-a-half year-old daughter and two year-old son under my tallis is like trying to cage the Tazmanian devil and I am usually sweaty by the time it is over.

Posted by: A Simple Jew | Jun 8, 2006 9:04:28 PM

What can I say; another beautiful, moving piece of writing. You and Ariella are so lucky to have such a close relationship; I hope you can keep building and cherishing that as she grows older.

(Just a short note to A Simple Jew; Tasmanian Devils (ie. from Tasmania!) are actually not that scary... "Tasmanian devils have given themselves an image of being nasty, angry, violent and, I'd even throw the word in, vicious. But in fact, the Tasmanian devil is a shy, timid, sensitive animal that has excellent confrontation-avoidance behaviours." (from http://www.abc.net.au/gnt/future/Transcripts/s1190726.htm)

So maybe you should keep encouraging your children to behave like Tasmanian Devils!

Posted by: zemirah | Jun 9, 2006 1:49:53 AM

Where the hell was the tissue warning before this email???!?!?!?!?!
I am Bas Cohen, and even in the conservative shul I grew up in they did a version of Birkat Cohanim. I always got this overwhelming sense of pride when my Abba went up there. I also got a kiss when he came back to his seat. it is a good memory, Thanks for bringing it to the forfront David. I will have to go call Abba now, and remind him as well!

Posted by: Faye | Jun 9, 2006 5:32:40 AM

Bless you, David, for sharing this intensely personal moment with us. Although we live on opposite sides of the earth, I see our families clearly reflected in each other.

Posted by: christopher | Jun 9, 2006 7:36:49 AM

I'm enjoying these posts, but I think you should get a MIDI file of "Sunrise, Sunset" to play every time we open one of them...

Posted by: Dave | Jun 9, 2006 9:23:28 AM

NN... The nice thing for you is that with sons it doesn't have to end. I see adults under their father's tallit from time to time.

Rafi G... Enjoy each stage... they move on so fast.

Seawitch... Me too. Don't forget, this is my journal... I write for myself too. :-)

Val... It won't be part of Friday Night services, but if you put your hands on Sophie's head before dinner and give her the blessing it will become a nice part of your shabbat routine.

Jack... Somehow I'm not surprised (you softy you). :-)

Cruisin' Mom... I'm crazy about all of the kids (naturally), but as the oldest... and as a girl... Ariella seems to be pulling away the fastest. That's why she seems to be disproportionately represented here. :-) But the way, your post about your scare hit very close to home for me (as I'm sure you can imagine from Zahava's comment). So close, in fact, that I couldn't formulate a rational comment. Suffice it to say I am SOOOOO glad the story had a happy ending.

PK... Yeah, it must be really dusty in here, huh? ;-)

Tess... No, this has actually been on my mind for quite some time. However, it usually occurs to me on Shabbat when I can't write it down or use the computer so I end up forgetting about the concept until the following shabbat. Also, because I find that I'm VERY susceptible to influence (translation: I tend to unconsciously gank other people's ideas if I write an entry immediately after surfing) I try to do my writing first thing after I wake up so my mind is full of only my own craziness. :-) Oh, and I'm glad you followed the link. The whole Vulcan/Kohein connection is kinda neat.

Cara... I was just thinking that. You probably haven't even unpacked your suitcase yet, so I thinking you don't really need too many reasons to come back. :-)

Essie... Like I've said a few times. I don't know how these things are going to effect the reader. For all I know for every person who was moved there are 200 who rolled their eyes and clicked away.

MAx Power... Yeah, I love it when Kohanim bring their kids up with them.

Aliyah06... You just made my day. I love hearing about the little, unfathomable reasons why people change their life direction... if only by a few degrees.

Ezzie... You too? There seems to be a lot of dust in the air lately. ;-)

Irina... It really is a wonderful private moment in a public place.

Sarah... Now, now! :-) Thanks.

A simple Jew... The two big kids were like that when they were young. Eventually they will fight to come in instead of trying to get out. :-)

Zemirah... I'm really dreading her teenage years because of the necessary distance this normal part of her development will require. The stuff I'm writing about here is my noticing the first signs of that stage in her(and my) life. By the way, I think Simple Jew was referring to the Warner Brother's cartoon creation by that name. :-)

Faye... Like I have told others, the tissue warning I had intended to institute really defeats the purpose of the post. If I really thought it would make people cry (which I didn't) it would be like standing up in a movie theater at the beginning of Old Yeller and shouting "Hey, pay attention to the dog in this film because at the end they're gonna shoot it!". See what I mean?

Christopher... I'd like to think that regardless of the religious, political or cultural differences, there are common parenting/relationship touchstones that are common ground for everyone. Thanks for confirming that for me.

Dave... Did someone get up on the snarky side of the bed this morning? :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 9, 2006 11:03:30 AM

Really touching....

Interesting that Ariella herself should have chosen to make the step, which I see as positively embracing womanhood.

For me and for many other women of our generation, being required to stop moving between the men's and women's sections after age 12 was the start of a long alienation from involvement in Jewish practice that took many years to overcome.

Posted by: Judy | Jun 9, 2006 11:16:22 AM

my dad is a kohain and when i was a little girl he had me absolutely convinced the bracha he and the other kohanim said was only for me. it was a bittersweet moment when i realized the truth, but to this day, bircat hakohanim carries an extra special meaning for me!

Posted by: nikki | Jun 9, 2006 4:40:16 PM

Awww! Yesterday our rabbi was speaking about how the Netivos Shalom discusses the requirement for the Kohen to bless the people of Israel "with love".

Posted by: 4jkb4ia | Jun 11, 2006 9:41:32 PM

Funny you should say that, David. My suitcases are, in fact, still 80% packed and in the corner of my parents' living room.

Posted by: Cara | Jun 12, 2006 11:07:36 PM

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