From Father to Son, a Lifetime of Blessing
By Jeff Feig
My father grew up in a Hasidic family in Romania and my mother grew up Orthodox in Europe and Israel. I grew up in Toronto. We had Shabbat dinner every Friday with Kiddush, Motzi, and occasional z’mirot, but my dad didn’t follow the tradition of blessing us, or using the words he would use, “bentching us on Shabbat”.
However, every Erev Yom Kippur, after the final meal (the Seudah Mafseket), our ritual was as follows: drink nine gulps of water to stave off thirst (not sure where nine came from) and then my brother Paul and I would get called to be bentched. My dad would unfurl his large tallit, hold it over our heads one at a time, and bless us, finishing with a prayer spoken aloud, asking God to provide us with health and blessings and to ensure that we provided naches to our parents.
After I moved to New York in my late 20s, I started attending BJ with my friend David Umansky, and I began to follow my parents’ tradition of having Shabbat dinners every Friday night. We weren’t family, but we were a growing community of friends that included such BJ luminaries as Moshe and Leslie Horn. Our first New York friends to have a child were Shaul and Pam Kelner. Shaul started following the tradition of blessing his son Boaz every Friday night. Even though Boaz, as a baby, would cry as Sol put his hands on Boaz’ head, I realized what a beautiful tradition this was. Maybe the tradition I got from my father of bentching the kids once a year could be improved upon for my future generations. After my first son, Zachary, was born, I began blessing him every Friday night.
If I am with my boys on Friday night, I bless them, and I will do it remotely by video if that is the only option. The kids love it and vie for who will be blessed first on any week. I place my hands on Zachary’s (or Benny’s, or Jacob’s) head; I quietly recite the traditional blessing and then, fully concentrating, think about my hopes and dreams and prayers for my son. They could be specific prayers for that week in particular, or a general blessing.
I find blessing my kids to be a deep, meaningful, and spiritual experience. On those Friday nights when I am away from home (or if the kids are away, perhaps at camp) I ache for not having my boys with me to bless them. Lately, the kids have started to bless me, which may be a new family tradition for the generations.
On August 21st of last year, I had a near death experience—or arguably, a death experience, as my heart stopped beating and I wasn’t breathing. Due to the quick action of a few friends, my life was saved and I’m totally fine today and as fit and healthy as I’ve been in 30 years.
As I came to grips with what happened to me – what I might have lost and what my wife, Michelle, and my kids would have lost – the Friday night blessing became an even deeper and richer experience for me. It may well be my favorite Jewish ritual.
I think this year, I will take on my father’s tradition and bentch my kids before Kol Nidre. What could be a better way to start the year. I will take out my large Viznits tallit, which was worn by my late brother and belonged to my grandfather. I will hold it over each boy’s head. I will take the opportunity to focus and to give thanks for the blessing of another year with my sons. I will pray for their health and happiness and thank God for the opportunity to still be here to have naches from my kids… and I hope that reading this will bring naches to my parents! I wish all in our community Shanah Tovah and a year filled with many blessings!
About Jeff Feig
Jeff Feig is an investor from Toronto who has lived in New York since 1993 and has been attending BJ since 1994, including serving two terms on the Board of Trustees. He is currently on the boards of JTS, The Jewish Week, and is the Treasurer of the JCC of Manhattan. Jeff is currently in his second year of the Wexner Heritage program. He lives on the Upper West Side with his wife Michelle and his three boys, Zachary, Benjamin, and Jacob.