The First Time My Father Heard Me Pray

My father died of cancer when I was six months old. My mother was 24 and my sister Leslie was only four. In many ways it was harder for her then for me. She remembers him. I gained tremendous compassion for my mother once I became a mother myself. Her spirit is strong. She remarried when I was four and built a life for us.

I had no personal connection to my father until I was 18. I had put myself in therapy for my eating disorder and one day around Thanksgiving, out of nowhere, the flood gates opened. I came home from college that winter break and went right down to the basement to find my mother’s first wedding album. I took drove myself to the cemetary, found his grave and cried and cried. I never knew I had these feelings inside me.  I wrote poems, went to grief couseling, talked to anyone who would listen. At least I had some connection to my father now, event though it was a connection to the pain and loss of the father I never knew and would never know.

Several years later I learned a Jewish truth that profoundly changed my life. I began to forge a POWERFUL connection to my father. I learned that every mitzvah* that I performed was a merit to his soul. How cool is that?  Once a person dies, they can no longer perform mitzvot*. However, the people they left behind can do mitzvot in their merit! That is why we often give tzedakah (charity) in honor of someone, in the merit of a complete recovery for someone who is G-d forbid sick, or G-d forbid, in memory of someone who had passed away.  This meant that everything I did or didn’t do, would have a real connection to my father’s place in heaven.  Lighting Shabbat candles was no longer about me, but about us (and the world – see blog post “I Lit These Candles With You In Mind”).  Refraining from gossip, dressing more modestly, keeping kosher.  Life took on a new meaning for me. The amount of mitzvot I observe has grown over the years due to the understanding of how powerful an effect they have not only on my life here and now, but on the eternal life of my family members (may they live and be well) and those who have passed away.

One of the greatest blessings was when my son was born. He came after five daughters!  At the moment of his birth, when my husband said “It’s a boy!”  I cried a loud yet silent cry of gratitude. Gratitude that I would have the opportinity to name a son after my father. Then, and today, 8 years later, the knowledge that raising my son to be a true mensch with Torah as his guide and with God in his heart, would be a source of elevation for my father’s soul, give me tremendous joy.

So on this Father’s Day, I am grateful that my connection to my father Harvey Michael Werstein (Tzvi Moshe ben Elya Leb) is eternal. This song “The Deaf Man In the Shteeble” makes me cry every time I hear it, although my father is no longer in this world, he is On High smiling down on me and my family.

* mitzvah/mitzvot: Lit. commandment. Any of the 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to observe. It can also refer to any Jewish religious obligation, or more generally to any good deed.

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