Yom Tov, by all accounts is a festive time; an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy quality moments with children and family. I was privileged this Rosh Hashanah to be with my children. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, my little girl woke up early, and seemed anxious. After speaking to her for a few minutes, she explained to me that she was nervous about going to Shul alone, and having no one to sit next to in the Women’s section. “I know I’m not supposed to be jealous,” she said, “but my little brother gets to stand next to you when you Daven, and at least you can talk to him. I feel all alone.”
My heart hurt for my little girl. The challenges that children experience in divorced families are numerous. They are layered, as they are complex. I assured my daughter that I arranged a seat for her in the first row of the Women’s section, and that I would “keep an eye” on her throughout the Davening. But I had difficulty concentrating, as my heart wandered to the pain and feelings that she was experiencing.
My daughter arrived a while later and sat in the front row, just as we had planned. She took out her Machazor, and prayed fervently. I must have looked over to her seat at least 50 times. And every time I wished I could just go over there and hug her, and whisper to her how much I loved her.
Then it came to one of my favorite parts of the Davening: wherein the Prophet speaks about the love that Hashem has for his children. As I sang those beautiful and haunting words of Habein Yakir Li Efrayim, I thought of how powerful and poignant those words were for me today. The exquisite phrase, ending with “as I think of him, my child, my heart longs for him” I looked over once again to my little girl…..
In a flash, I didn’t see a child, but a young lady – composed, beautiful, and so sincere. And at that exact moment, our eyes locked, and she gave me the most precious smile. That smile that speaks a million words. The smile that said to me “daddy, even if you can’t sit next to me, I know you love me.”
I looked up to G-d, and thanked him for the blessing of such a special child. A child that has learned the value of prayer. A child, who despite complexity and adversity, holds her own. A child who knows in her heart that her parents love her, despite whatever distance may come between them.
It made me think for a moment about other parents in my situation – about single mothers who have sons, and how complicated the Synagogue experience might be for them. I thought of single fathers who have daughters, just like in my situation, and have to navigate the separation while in Synagogue. Life is truly complex, but it’s also what you make of it. You can wallow in your pain, or you can celebrate the gifts that you have.
As Davening was drawing to a close, it was time to say Birkat Kohanim. As I put the Tallis over my head, my little boy was standing by my side, and just then I felt a tug on my other side. I looked down and saw that my 11-year old daughter came over to stand under my Tallis for those few precious moments. I put my arms around both my children and held them tight. At that moment, my heart was filled with gratitude. I thanked Hashem for the gift that he had given me. But most of all, I thanked him for giving me the blessing and opportunity, if only for a fleeting moment, to have my little girl right under my Tallis, and for her to feel and know how special she is to me.
So a morning that started with some slight emotional turbulence, ended in tranquility and bliss. Tradition teaches us that G-d is especially close to his people during these days. I can honestly say that on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I felt his grace, smile, and blessing.
Gmar Chasima Tova.