Rabbi Yisrael Besser
Ad shetagi’a l’mekomo. Last night, I got to do that, to sit in the place of another, which means that now I’m entitled to judge.
My daughter graduated high school, which is very meaningful because it’s one car pool less. (Not an end to tuition though, because it turns out that school tuition is child’s play next to the cost of seminary. And that, in turn, is nothing — from what I’m told — compared to what follows. And when it comes to support, you don’t get to negotiate with a committee either. Tuition is just a trial run for real life.)
The graduation ceremony was very nice. I think.
It’s a mainstream chareidi Bais Yaakov, a fine institution with policies that reflect a commitment to halachah and the spirit of Yiddishkeit.
Like a relatively new rule about fathers being kind of invited, kind of uninvited, to the graduation. I distinctly remember my father going to my sisters’ graduations, but maybe there’s some new evidence that that generation didn’t know about. All I know is that on the printed invitation, a start time was announced, and then, in a smaller font, fathers were informed as to when they were expected.
My wife left on time and asked me to get the little children ready and bring them with me, whenever it would be. Her tone indicated that it wouldn’t make that much of a difference.
I arrived at the suggested time, but one of the valedictorians was still speaking, so the fathers stood outside and made awkward conversation and felt demeaned.
There, I said it.
It’s a weird thing to be the outsiders, the second-class citizens.
I tried giving a little pep talk to the other men. I told them that we are the true kings of the Jewish home, that we are the center of the family, and we can’t come specifically because we’re so lofty. I told them that it’s a matter of perspective, that the secular world could never appreciate the true glory and majesty of the Orthodox father standing on the sidewalk outside his daughter’s graduation.
They shuffled away and someone tried to organize a minyan for Minchah.
The door opened and we were waved in. Finally.
I caught a glimpse of my daughter as we entered the hall, but we men were shuttled over to the far left, behind a mechitzah of potted plants. But there were cookies — two paper plates of cookies for us to share.
The principal presented diplomas and the girls walked up to receive them. I know because I heard the footsteps.
The men muttered and one suggested that the air-conditioning wasn’t even working on our side and that we didn’t get enough chairs.
Later, when the graduates walked out in step to the music, I got another glimpse of my daughter through the ferns: It was like those stories of Sean Spicer hiding in the hedges rather than facing the media.
And I had a message for my daughter, the graduate. You’re joining the ranks of the women of our nation, they who uncomplainingly, good-naturedly, graciously endure being relegated to the back of the room. They accept and embrace their destiny — I couldn’t handle it for an hour, yet for them, it’s a way of life. On Simchas Torah, they watch the dancing through the slats, and on Rosh Hashanah, they hear tekios through the curtain, and on Purim, they tap lightly as their husbands, sons, and brothers make a happy ruckus. They come as baalos simchah to hear their bar mitzvah boy lein the haftarah, his sweet childish voice wafting through the mechitzah.
They’re made of special stuff. The she’asani kirtzono is real — there is something of the Divine in that role. Take your place among them with pride.
And please, move away and let me back in front again.
It’s simchah season, so I’ll just put this out there. The secular magazines regularly feature their own Most Influential lists, titans of industry or sports or politics, figures with the ability to make or break careers.
I want to suggest my own Most Influential guy in the frum community.
It’s the ubiquitous chassan’s brother who calls out kibbudim under the chuppah.
Nervous, determined, standing a bit too close to the mike, he holds a crumpled piece of paper in his hands and, for about seven minutes, he’s the mamlich melachim, the power behind any number of thrones.
Inevitably though, he’ll mess up. Either he’ll mispronounce the rosh yeshivah’s name — the most common mistake — or he’ll get lost in the specific title he was given to announce. Maybe he was cautioned to say, “rosh hayeshivah” or just “ram” (and if you think these things aren’t important, you’re out of yeshivah too long) and he got confused. Sometimes he simply blows it on the last name, which can really ruin a man’s night. Not to mention his wife’s.
He gets to decide who’s a “gaon,” who’s a “gaon hagadol” and who’s just a plain old “harav.” Is the rav of the shul just a rav or is he the more impressive sounding “mara d’asra?”
The Yiddish thing is a curveball too.
And all this is left to a teenage boy who spent two hours deciding which tie to wear.
So here’s my proposal, Mr. Chassan’s Brother. I know you’re only 17 and that you’re not used to this kind of attention, but you are very, very powerful.
You have the power to bestow true respect on people and you can just as easily humiliate them with a mispronunciation or slip-up.
Remember how you practiced for your bar mitzvah pshetel? Do it. Practice. Make sure the paper is clear, not scribbled on the back of a place card and not so sweaty that the ink runs. Don’t wing it. Decide if you’re going with the can’t-miss “nexte brachah” or with the “tzveyte brachah, dritte brachah,” etc.
Tonight, for those seven minutes, as your brother shuckels and your new sister-in-law wonders what number circle she’s at (by lamenatzei’ach, before tekias shofar, you can at least use your fingers to keep count. By a chuppah it isn’t as simple), you are the man, more influential than you’ve ever been.
Maybe one day you too will be a big rosh yeshivah or the elter-fetter fuhn di kallah and you’ll want to be properly acknowledged.
So for your own sake, practice now and get it right.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 666
Reminded me of this post.
Reminded me of this post.