I asked the question of men from around the country: “What does Jewish Fatherhood mean to you?” It could be your relationship with your kids. It could be your relationship with your father. What have you done that makes it important to be a Jewish father? Does it mean something to you or does it even make a difference?
Some of the answers I received were very interesting.
One man answered: “Jewish Fatherhood is setting a good example for your children. That they should see you treat others well. That you show them the importance of living a life that is informed by Jewish values. That you show by example the value of learning, living a life guided by a loving heart and the importance of tzedakah.”
Another man answered: “Jewish fatherhood means to me the transference & upholding of our Jewish roots and customs to our children and what it means.”
One man coined a phrase from the Jewish War Veterans:”Being a citizen is more than a birthright. It means to me, the love & defense of my country & the right & dignity of my spiritual & personal beliefs”.
A man from the east coast: “I am not a father. And my father was not very Jewish. I can tell you what it is like to be Jewish over the objections of your father and what I really missed.”
This is from a Jew by Choice:
“Forty-six years ago I converted to Judaism: it was a conscious choice, not an obligation before marriage. Once our two boys were of the age to attend Hebrew School there was mutual agreement between Linda and me that each would attend, no questions asked. Our insistence that each would become a Bar Mitzvah, continue with Confirmation, and Youth Group was accepted as “normal,” rather than punitive. Our boys have had the advantage of enjoying their progress as young Jewish men, while I have delighted in their being comfortable in their Jewishness. The fact that now, at the age of 28 and 32, they have not yet reconnected with the “religious” aspects of their upbringing does not worry me: the foundation is there and, when they choose to, they will select what they need.
This is all by way of saying that, for me, my connections with what I have gotten from my identity as a Jew has been easily transferred to what I believe should be a given for any father whose life finds delight both in his heritage and in his sons.”
Another Jew by Choice:
“This is a very interesting question for me as I raised two children as a non-Jewish father and one child as a Jewish father. What were the differences? It is really hard to put my finger on major differences beyond taking my child to temple instead of church, celebrating Hanukkah instead of Christmas and talking about Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation instead of Baptism and Confirmation. I would say that the difference wasn’t in what I did or taught my children, rather it was in me. As a Jew, I truly felt like the difference I made was in doing, rather than believing. My emphasis was on today, not eternal life.”
A man from the midwest:
“The importance of our Jewish identity was always related to our children. Both our boys went through confirmation and then Hebrew High School. Both boys after the 10th grade went on the NFTY trips to Israel. We attended services most Friday nights. For thirty years we belonged to a Chavurah to augment family Jewish holidays.
When our younger son went off to College, every Wednesday for three years we UPSed him a chalah; except for those Sunday mornings when Steven made Challah French Toast for his fraternity. On those occasions we would ship him 12 challahs.
Now both boys are married with families of their own and are establishing their own Jewish traditions.
To me, being a good Jewish father, as opposed to just being a good Jew is about being a role model for your children in a way which sets an example for them as eventual Jewish adults and practicing traditionally male rituals. Some things are obviously Jewish – blessing the children on Shabbat, building a sukkah, ushering at services. Others are not specifically male or Jewish, but are valuable to be seen by children – giving tzedakah, visiting the sick, and other mitzvot. Even everyday activities are important examples for children to see from their father – loving your spouse, working hard at your job every day, and being industrious. Actions speak louder than words, particularly with children; if you “act” Jewish, hopefully so will your children.”
And finally from me: “Hopefully as a Jewish father, I have instilled a life of values, customs and traditions based in the Jewish tradition by example and that my kids as adults embrace their heritage.”