Jeremy M Staiman

Family photos: When a family photo becomes scary!

The Staiman Family Portrait
The Staiman Family Portrait

About 17 years ago, we prepared to bid farewell to our eldest son, Avi, as he departed for his post-high school year in Israel. Little did we know that this gap year would turn into a life in the Holy Land. I have to confess that I was warned: “You spent three years in Israel after high school,” he cleverly argued, “so I get at least three years!”

Negotiations were unnecessary. My wife and I were happy to let him stay as long as he liked, and we’re even more elated that he and his family have made their lives here. 

These were the days before phones had decent cameras, so as the date of his departure drew closer, I asked a photographer friend to come to the house and take a family photo shoot. 

With a wry smile on his face, Avi said: “I get it. We’re doing this so you’ll have pictures of me, in case anything happens.” 

I was shocked. I don’t think that morbid idea was even in the back of my mind, let alone anywhere near my frontal lobe.

Off he went to Israel, followed a couple of years later by his baby brother, Arky. Both of them, as I like to put it, forgot to come back to the USA. Both spent a number of years in yeshiva, and then did their service in the IDF. 

Countless family photos have been taken since then, and, thank G-d, the number of people in the photos has increased, as wonderful wives and adorable children have quite literally entered the picture. 

* * *

My father grew up in small town America, where the custom of blessing ones children on Friday night was unknown. Once it became part of his routine during his years as a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, granting brachot to others became a bigger and bigger avocation over time. By the time he was in his 80s, his register of Erev Shabbat calls had blossomed exponentially, to the point where it so monopolized his Fridays, that he had to begin making these verbal visitations on Thursday. 

His weekly connections with people, usually by phone, but also in person for those nearby, were multifaceted. There was the religious component, of course. But there was much more. The calls were bonding social connections. They were counseling sessions. They were shots in the arm. 

And they were not limited to the immediate family. Distant relatives, who were long-detached from religion, would eagerly anticipate their weekly blessing, and the strengthening of sometimes-dormant family ties which spanned most of a century. Troubled friends and relatives lapped up the opportunity to glean strength and direction from my father’s always-understated, always-on-point accumulated wisdom. 

Rabbis and rebbetzins from around the world, who had crossed paths with my parents over the many years, would faithfully call in for their brachot. My father was not a rabbi, nor was he chassidic. But people valued his blessings because he was a man of modesty, honesty, quiet leadership, and insight. 

No one ever hung up the phone disappointed. 

* * *

While I have not successfully continued my father’s tradition in a sustained manner within the family, I do try to bless my children and grandchildren at least every few weeks. During the war, it is certainly with increased meaning and emotion when I invoke the verses of the bracha, as my sons leave for their reserve duty. 

This morning, following a three-month break in his service, Arky was once again clad in his IDF greens, rifle slung behind his back, heading down south for the next phase of his duties. Those duties are sometimes performed in the line of enemy fire. 

He made a detour to our neighborhood so I could say goodbye. I kissed him and, of course, I blessed him. I recited the traditional verses, which conclude with a prayer for peace. And while sometimes those words might be rattled off, this time they were very deeply, consciously, profoundly meant. 

Then we took the obligatory selfies.

As we did so, like an unwelcome visitor, his older brother Avi’s quote from all those years ago insidiously crept into my head. “We’re doing this so you’ll have pictures of me, in case anything happens.” 

In a time of war, those words sit way too close to the fronts of our minds. 

Hashem, please make them go away.

* * *

Here’s praying that this morning’s selfie is just another family photo, among many more to come in the future. 

A future of peace.

Photo: I blessed him
Photo: I kissed him
About the Author
Jeremy Staiman and his wife Chana made Aliya from Baltimore, MD in 2010 to Ramat Beit Shemesh. A graphic designer by trade, Jeremy is a music lover, and produces music on a regular basis -- one album every 40 years. He likes to spend time with his kids and grandkids slightly more often than that.
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