Shabbat afternoon. I’m at lunch with a group made up primarily of longtime olim, many of whom went through an absorption center together decades ago. They consider one another family, the family they built as part of creating new lives here.
Thanks to my weekend host, the conversation turned to my poetry and prayers. One of the women was particularly intrigued and asked me to describe my work. I told the short, Shabbat-lunch-table version, explaining that after my wife died I could not find a prayer that addressed my fears for my daughters or my desire for their healing, so I wrote it myself, a piece called “For Bereaved Children.” That opened a floodgate of writing. My work, I said, comes from a desire to give a new voice to a wide range of emotions in Jewish prayer. I mentioned a few titles of my prayers to reinforce the message.
For some reason, I mentioned a piece called “For the Patriarch.”
“I know that prayer,” she said.
The odd thing is this: it’s not one that I typically mention when I describe my work as a liturgist. For some reason, I mentioned this particular poem to someone who recently found it online, someone who had a story about my prayer in her life.
A relative of hers had passed away nearly a year earlier. A man. Loved. Respected. The family decided to put an epitaph on his headstone, one that would capture his essence, strong but gentle, a man of wisdom and action. A father. As the date of the stone setting approached, they could not agree on a quotation. The time was running out. The headstone needed to be ordered.
With the deadline looming, she found “For the Patriarch” online. She sent the closing lines to the family. Within hours, they decided to use these words on his stone: “Blessed are You, God of our fathers, who provides just and righteous men in every generation.”
Words from my prayer are now on a headstone, here in Israel, set to honor a beloved father. Amazing. Even more amazing is the apparent—yes, apparent—randomness that brought this story to me. At a Shabbat table, with a group of strangers, after mentioning a three-word title of a prayer, I was given the blessing of hearing this story. The story of a man. The story of a prayer. The story of a headstone.
Here’s my psalm “For the Patriarch.” And, yes, I’ve also written a psalm, using the same format, called “For the Matriarch.” Both prayers will appear in my forthcoming book, Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing.
For the Patriarch
For our patriarch,
A song of dignity and honor.
Guardian of mitzvot,
Keeper of truths,
Hand of protection and peace,
We are blessed with your humor and compassion,
Your zest for life
And your zeal for family.
You remind us to open our lives to God’s majesty and mystery,
God’s justice and mercy.
You remind us to seek radiance and splendor,
Awe for creation and compassion for each other,
And choose joy over grief,
Laughter over tears.
God of fatherly patience and strength,
Bless our family with love
And our patriarch with vision, endurance and hope.
May his devotion inspire us to righteousness and charity,
Guided by Torah.
Bless our lives with abundance
And our days with vigor,
So that we bring majesty and mystery to our lives
And into the world.
Blessed are You, God of our fathers,
Who provides just and righteous men
In every generation.
“For the Patriarch” is © 2010 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.