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Fatherhood, Israeli Style

September 5, 2017

by: Annelize Williams, BFP Staff Writer

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Ever since I set foot in the beautiful city of Jerusalem, I have been absolutely fascinated by the variance of fatherhood in Israeli culture versus the western norm. From the very beginning I watched fathers in their daily routine and their diverse roles intrigued me greatly. Israeli fathers seemed somehow different to me than any other fathers I have ever encountered, even perhaps different than my own father. Now having lived in Israel for some time, I can identify the striking facets of Israeli fatherhood that are so special to observe.

Present and Attentive

(R. Yanushevsky/shutterstock.com)

 The few times I have seen dads back in my home country all by themselves with a fragile little baby, they looked utterly distressed, as if they wanted to ask: “Has anyone perhaps seen my wife?!” Never before have I seen a dad strolling around by himself with a colorful baby-carrier strapped to his body or wheeling a double stroller with two newborn babies, looking completely comfortable and confident as I have in Israel. This warmed my heart, since coming from a Western culture where divorce rates are quite high, I am used to absent fathers and tired-looking, struggling mothers. Mothers wheeling enormous strollers around by themselves; mothers and their close friends getting together to play with their kids in parks by themselves. In Israel the involvement of a father in a child’s life is so prevalent from a young age. Dads actively and lovingly participate in the rearing of their children. You can tell just by watching them that their role within the family is very important, not only to the father himself but to the rest of the family. From this a respect is born for his leadership and authority over his household.

Affirmation of Life

(Kathy DeGagne/bridgesforpeace.com)

 One of the distinct customs in Israeli culture, which sets men apart from most other fathers in the world, is the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony. According to Jewish custom this ceremony is performed when a boy or a girl is old enough to be accountable for their actions. Boys reach this stage at age 13 and the girls at age 12. During this ceremony the father of the child often takes the lead in presenting a tallit (prayer shawl) to the child and proclaiming words of blessing and affirmation over the child in their new role as an adult—although customs may vary in different streams of Judaism and for boys and girls. If the family has an heirloom such as a Torah (Gen.–Deut.) scroll it is passed from one generation to another during this service too, symbolizing the ongoing Jewish tradition within the family. After this rite of passage the child is now considered a mature member of the family unit, whose opinion and thoughts are valued and counted. As a Jewish father you now create a space in your home where this young adult can learn and grow into full maturity, while you lead, guide and affirm them in their new role.

Empty Nest

(Cpl. Eden Briand/IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/flickr)

 A great challenge that all Israeli fathers face, is sending their beloved children off to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) at the age of 18. While this might be something fathers in other countries are familiar with, an Israeli dad will not only part with his sons for a prescribed military training but also his daughters. All young adults both Israeli and Druze have to serve their country in this way. Perhaps some fathers can identify with sending a son off to the army, but for a father to send his beloved daughter away, especially if she is the youngest child, is perhaps one of the hardest and most challenging things to do. Unfortunately Israel is renowned for having almost ongoing unrest with her neighboring countries as well as within her own borders and this does not put a father’s heart at rest. Many fathers remember their own time in the military and although Israel is not in an all out  war, the ever-present danger to military personnel is in the back of their minds. As an Israeli dad remarked, “Being an Israeli,” he said, “this is what we are used to, this is what I went through, what my father has gone through and so the history goes.” Just knowing that he has to see his youngest, a daughter, go off to the IDF shortly seems now like a routine thing to him.

To delve into the heart of a true Israeli dad is like discovering an exceptionally rare treasure chest. Driven by generations of rich tradition, Israeli dads have rare and unequaled approaches to the challenges they face. It is truly inspiring and deeply heartwarming to talk to, get to know or even just observe an Israeli father. Unique, in an inspiring way, so much so that all other fathers across the globe, can surely learn from and imitate them.

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