The bear had the voice of my grandfather, who had passed away earlier that week.
My dad’s side of the family is Jewish. For as long as I can remember, meals at my grandparents’ house began with Grandpa Jerry blessing the food in Hebrew. He’d chant the prayers with his deep, gravelly, slightly-out-of-tune baritone voice. “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam…” The sound of him singing like this is one of the most vivid memories I have of him.
After he died, on the night before the funeral, our whole family was gathered in my grandparents’ dining room. It was time for dinner, but Grandpa Jerry’s chair at the head of the table was empty. The room was quiet. Then Grandma Sue reached into a drawer and pulled out something quite unexpected: a Build-A-Bear. Several years ago, my grandfather had given this to her as a present. If you pressed the bear’s paw, a recording of Grandpa Jerry singing the Shehecheyanu (a prayer of thanksgiving during special occasions) began to play. As we sat around the table, his familiar voice crackled into life: “Barukh atah Adonai…” In my mind, I could hear him giving us the translation of the prayer, as he always did, in a sing-song rhythm: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has given us life, Who has sustained us, and Who has brought us to this happy day.”
During his lifetime, my grandfather was always concerned about caring for his family. In all aspects of life, he wanted to provide for us: helping with college finances, orchestrating family reunions, teaching us his dearly-held moral values, sharing his own love for travel by taking us on trips around the world. But in some ways his greatest gift to us was his prayer. Many of the things he loved most deeply were present in these moments of family prayer: beautiful elements of the Jewish tradition, sincere respect for religion, celebrating being together as a family. In blessing God, he blessed his family by sharing his life with us and giving us a beautiful way to remember him. And how can we measure the spiritual blessings that were a result of his prayers? Which moments of grace in the life of our family were given from God in response to Grandpa Jerry’s blessings?
All parents have a sacred privilege to pray for and to bless their children. What a tender and lasting impression this can leave!
Image by Alex Blajan