I always knew this time would come. I just didn’t think it would come so soon.
It was during a recent trip to Israel to visit my son, Max, who has been serving in the Israeli Defense Forces for the past seven months. We were sitting together in the synagogue during Shacharit, the morning prayers, as the kohanim were preparing for the priestly benediction — a ceremony that occurs daily in Israel and only on holidays in the diaspora. Customarily, the congregation does not watch as the kohanim perform this ritual. While some just look away, I have always followed the custom of placing my tallit over my head to block my view.
In the past, whenever Max was beside me, he would come under my tallit as I placed my arm around him, holding him close to receive the blessing together. It was as if I were protecting him from whatever evils might occur should one gaze upon the priests at this holy moment.
On this day it was different. I raised my tallit and extended it to him as I drew him closer and draped it over both of us. I could feel that he was awkward, complying though somewhat reluctant. His body language seemed to say, “What are you doing?” At that moment, I realized that our relationship was changing. He is serving in a combat unit, carries a gun, stands proudly as a defender of Israel, is seriously involved with a young lady, and I am offering him the protection of my tallit as if he were still my little boy. We did not speak about this, but the very next morning I raised my tallit over my own head and let him be.
Max is tall, around 6-feet-1, as am I. In recent years we would occasionally stand back-to-back and let others decide who is taller. It was always too close to call. But this time, as we went through the routine, my wife and daughter agreed that Max had won. Could it be that he is still growing at 19 years old, or perhaps I am shrinking at 54? More likely, it is one of those examples of how perceptions influence reality.
His Hebrew is excellent, much better than mine. It used to be that I was the Hebrew speaker during our family trips to Israel. While that’s no longer so, there were still a couple of occasions in which I knew a word that he didn’t know. In hindsight, I reveled a bit too much at this.
Max is, as they say, his own man now. He believes his calling is to remain in Israel and build his life there. My wife, Debbie, feels otherwise, that he is still too young to be making such decisions. She wants him close, and her worst-case scenario would be a future with each of her children and their families living in different countries. One night in Jerusalem during dinner with another couple, close friends who moved to Israel many years ago, Debbie and I were discussing our situation. “I understand how you feel,” the wife said to Debbie, “I made aliyah almost three decades ago and my mother still hasn’t forgiven me.”
There is also the matter of Max’s military service. While his original commitment was 14 months, staying would entail his having to serve another 16 months. I must admit that this is daunting, especially with the challenges facing Israel in the near future. In discussing this with him, he responded, “What else is new? They’ve been trying to wipe us off the map for 65 years!” He sounds, dare I say, like an Israeli. And he has a point.
As I write this, Max is agonizing over his decision. He loves his family, and Israel. He wishes he could satisfy everyone, but is learning that life’s hardest choices don’t allow for that. I pray that God will give him guidance.
Parenting is tough, at times impossibly so. And the most difficult part is learning when to let go. I once had a little boy who was eager to come beneath my tallit, who looked up to me to protect him, to teach him, to guide him. Now he is grown, and although I still have a few things to offer, he is the protector, and has much to teach me.
Andrew Kane is a clinical psychologist and author, most recently, of the novel “Joshua: A Brooklyn Tale.” He has chronicled his son’s IDF experience in this space.