This Yom Kippur Think About the Orphans

From the inbox: I was 13 years old, my friend and I were schmoozing on the couch after the seudah when her father beckoned to her; it was time to give her Birchas Habonim. As I watched her, I felt the familiar smarting behind my eyes, and could barely swallow thanks to a giant lump in my throat.

By Anonymous

Erev Yom Kippur, 2010.

I was 13 years old. My friend and I were schmoozing on the couch after the seudah when her father beckoned to her; it was time to give her Birchas Habonim. As I watched her I felt the familiar smarting behind my eyes, and could barely swallow thanks to a giant lump in my throat.

Although I had long been resigned to my reality of having no father, or any male relatives for that matter, and this familiar scene replayed itself year after year, somehow it never got any easier; on the contrary, missing out on this bracha was hitting me particularly hard for some reason. 

However, being a teenage girl, I didn’t have any desire to go up to my friend’s father and ask him; it felt weird: not tznius, not appropriate, and not my place. I turned my face away so they wouldn’t see the tears streaming down my cheeks, and bit my lip hard, burying my nose deeply into a book to stem the sobs sure to erupt at any moment.

My friend, however, was a lot more perceptive than I gave her credit for; not only did she see my poor attempt to prevent a scene, she instantly understood why. No words had to be said; she simply brought me over to her father and said “Ta…what about her?”

For the first time, I received Birchas Habonim, and over a decade later I still get emotional thinking about it. My mother got married shortly thereafter, Baruch Hashem, and I finally had someone to bentch me, but I’ll never forget the simple kindness of my friend or her father. 

In fact, I soon learned that I was not the only child who felt this loss of normalcy keenly. My mother’s friend spoke of a fatherless boy, a ben bayis in their house, who, for two years, would become visibly angry when Birchas Habonim was given to the children. He didn’t have the words to express himself, and additionally, it felt tantamount to begging.

Children lacking a parent already feel the loss and difference between them and their friends keenly. Often, it’s a question of preserving whatever dignity we feel we still have. When it started happening a third year, some well-meaning friends turned to the friend’s husband and asked the same thing my friend asked her father: “What about _____?” He received Birkas HaBonim forthwith, and it was never a problem again.

How many children like this do you know? Boys and girls who have no father, or even a grandfather, uncle, or brother, to give them this special bracha, or to stand under the tallis at Birkas Kohanim. This is a reminder that you shouldn’t forget about them this Tishrei. Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh. If you have the zechus to bentch your children, maybe extend the offer to a child who doesn’t have that figure in his or her life. Don’t make it a big deal; presumably, this child is already a part of your child or family’s life, so consider this child like you would your own. I can assure you that even if they don’t have words to express it at that time, he or she will never forget it. 

Name withheld upon request.

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  1. As someone who also lost a parent at a young age, this post strikes a raw nerve. I, fortunately, have other siblings who can give be Birchas Habonim, but the amount of sensitivity that yesomim/os require can not be described.

    Just as an additional point, the orphan you reach out should not be made to feel like a Nebach. I had someone (not an orphan) in Shul once offer me his Tallis (before I got married), so I wouldn’t stick out by Yizkor.

    While he was surely well meaning, it only made the pain more palpable than it already was – making me realize that I really – as a younf teenager – didn’t belong in Shul for Yizkor.

    I can go on forever with these examples. I point is, that if it’s done – and it should be – it should be done with some tact and Seichel, not to make it a “Mitzvah ha’bo Baveirah” (so too speak).

  2. People have no clue what orphans and widows or widowers go through.
    The under the Tallis situation or buying a lulav or who to dance with on Simchas Torah are some of the questions coming soon. The av u’bonim learning or mother/daughter events can be extremely painful!
    Thank you for writing this and hopefully bringing some awareness to an already painful situation. And it goes for divorced families as well. A parent can live far away. Thinking o of others in these and other challenging situations will go a long way towards bringing Moshiach!

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