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Diary of a Rabbi’s Kid’s Father

Jewishly parenting Jonah while being a congregational rabbi had its tricky moments. When Aiden was born, we brought the entire family to synagogue (back then, Fairmount Temple in Cleveland) for Aiden’s naming during a Shabbat Evening service. Ellen and I envisioned having the five of us strike an Ozzie and Harriet pose on the bimah (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Ozzie_and_Harriet for some good examples) but Jonah, all of four years old, would have none of that. Instead, he ran up and down the center aisle of the chapel making sure everyone understood that “normal” in the Dreskin family would have a definition all its own.

Fast forward twelve years. Jonah is in the tenth grade Confirmation class. My tenth grade Confirmation class. Or so I thought. Now don’t get me wrong. Jonah turned out to be a great student. While he never (ever!) set aside his sense of humor, he was never disruptive of my class either. In fact, he clearly enjoyed discussing with me and with his classmates all of the topics I threw their way. In retrospect, he must have been saving up for the Confirmation service itself. Read on.

Each student, under the guidance of our Confirmation faculty, composes a statement about the meaning of Judaism in his/her life. “Under our guidance” means that we knew what each student would present, thus preventing an embarrassing moment either for the student or for (uh) a student’s father who happened to also be the rabbi. We knew Jonah was questioning everything, and that was quite acceptable. What we weren’t prepared for was this.

Jonah with Mom and Dad Confirmation, June 2006

Jonah with Mom and Dad
Confirmation, June 2006

Jonah is called to the bimah. His statement is waiting for him on the lectern. He glances at it, then looks up and (ignoring everything on that page) says the following: “Picture this. You’re driving into the temple on a Friday night and you get out of your car, ready for a very soothing Friday night service. You look up and realize that there, on the roof of the temple, are Rabbi William Dreskin and Adolf Hitler having a light saber fight.” Then, without missing a beat, he turns back to the page in front of him and continues with his prepared statement. Did I want to throttle him? Nope. I think I decided early on that, so long as Jonah wasn’t hurting anyone, I was going to give him lots and lots of room to express himself and to work out the concerns he may have had about being the son of a rabbi and a cantor.

By the way, his Confirmation statement was indeed filled with many questioning comments on Jewish life. But at the very end, he said the following: “I confirm that I am Jewish, and that I am having a lot of fun being such. From WoodSY, to blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, from Pesach at home to the Kutz Camp dining hall, I like being Jewish because it is fun. I am Jewish and having a great time doing it.” And then he said the words that made me love him all over again: “I also take pride in the fact that my parents taught me to be a good person.”

When Jonah finished presenting his Confirmation statement, he walked over to the open Ark, in front of which was standing his “Rabbi Dad” (as he called me). I placed a Torah in his arms, whispered some (hopefully profound, but certainly heartfelt) words to him, then placed my hands on his head and gave him the Priestly Blessing. As I finished the blessing, I reached out to kiss my son’s forehead, and he reached right back. With his left arm (the right, still holding the Torah) he hugged me in that way that we who have received a Jonah-hug know and love and never (ever!) forget. Heaven.

Which, every now and then, was what it meant to be Jonah Dreskin’s dad.


3 Responses to “Diary of a Rabbi’s Kid’s Father”

  • Sara:

    billy, i had a laugh-so-hard-the-diet-sprite-ejects-from-the-nostrils moment reading this. i’m afraid to say that i did imagine you and mr. hitler engaged in saber-battle. brilliant. this is touching and wonderful. love to you all.

  • I’m just impressed that someone who was born when Jonah was even knows what a light saber is! If you and Ellen take pride in one thing as Jonah’s parents, it should be that you taught him to appreciate Star Wars (says the man with the daughter named Leia!)

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