Blessing for Aunt on Auntie’s Day

This Sunday is Auntie’s Day. I only know this because I’ve become “Cyberspace Friends” with Melanie Notkin, the founder of SavvyAuntie.com. Melanie let me know that Auntie’s Day was approaching and asked if I’d contribute my third article for her blog. I decided that a blessing for aunts was in order…

I have wonderful memories of my bar mitzvah. I was a “day school kid,” so I had that going for me when it came to grasping the Hebrew verses I’d have to chant from the Torah. But on the negative side, I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it; and to make matters worse, I had that awkward “going through puberty” voice thing going on.

My bar mitzvah party was fun and everyone seemed to have a great time, but the memory that sticks with me almost 23 years later is the Shabbat dinner the night before for close family and friends that my aunt put together. My aunt and uncle had just moved into a beautiful new home, and the Friday night dinner for close friends and family would be their first opportunity (of hundreds) to play gracious hosts.

To this day, I remember that my aunt went above-and-beyond (and then even further beyond) to prepare a delicious dinner. Her house looked immaculate. Everyone enjoyed themselves.

For me, more important than the food or the centerpieces that made her newly decorated dining room look so fancy was that I felt so relaxed in her home. I won’t go on record on the Web by admitting that my uncle likely snuck me a drink, but I do remember feeling peaceful and unstressed that night. While many 13-year-old boys experience butterflies in the stomach on the night before their bar mitzvah, I have a vivid recollection of having felt ready for the next day and able to just enjoy the evening at my aunt and uncle’s home.

Many people had important roles to play with the success of my bar mitzvah. My parents planned a wonderful celebration that Saturday night. My grandparents hosted everyone for lunch back at their home following the synagogue services. The rabbis and cantor all were integral to my entry into Jewish adulthood. But to this day, I feel like my aunt was the unsung hero of that memorable weekend. Six years later my aunt reprised the role of Friday night dinner hostess before my brother’s bar mitzvah. Like me, he too felt relaxed the night before his big day.

At a bar or bat mitzvah there’s a special blessing said by the parents as they mark the transition of their child into a more responsible individual. Additionally, the parents and grandparents offer a blessing of gratitude for reaching such a milestone. I’d like to suggest a special blessing for the Savvy Auntie of the bar or bat mitzvah. The aunt who makes sure the bar mitzvah boy’s tie is straight before he stands before hundreds to read from the Torah. The aunt who makes sure her niece’s hair is just right before her party. A blessing for the aunt who is ready with a needle and thread to fix a rip in the suit pants. For the aunt who has a wet cloth to remove a stain. For the aunt who lovingly opens her home for a relaxing evening before the big event.

May God who blessed our ancestors bless my beloved aunt who is often the unsung hero. She is there to nurture and to love. Thank you, God, for the gift of aunts who, together with parents, grandparents, teachers and friends, play a significant role in my life and in my upbringing.
And let us say, Amen.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Uncle As Father Figure

The past three Father’s Days have been difficult days for me. I’ve spent each of them with my dad, but I missed my beloved uncle in a real and painful way. My Uncle Jerry died after a very brief battle with Pancreatic cancer in February 2009.

As this year’s Father’s Day approached I thought about the father figure role that many uncles play in their nephew’s life. I have a wonderful relationship with my own dad, but my relationship with my uncle was different. He served as a different type of role model for me than my father. My uncle was the one to take me to hockey games and for a ride on the back of a motorcycle. We went on day-long excursions by snowmobile or by boat. It was my uncle who taught me to appreciate an ice cold beer on a hot summer day and a fine glass of wine with good friends as the sun was setting.

While my father taught me to drive, it was my uncle who taught me to drive aggressively and strategically and how to appreciate a luxury automobile. Uncle Jerry showed me by example that hard work pays off. He also demonstrated the value of a good vacation away from the office and the importance of enjoying time with the family.

My uncle had his own children, but he still made time for me and his other nephews and nieces. Just as there is a significant role for a Savvy Auntie to play in one’s life, there is a significant role for a devoted uncle too. The uncle is an unsung hero in society.

As the fond memories of my Uncle Jerry were floating in my head and I was considering the ways he served as a complementary (not surrogate) father figure in my life I was called upon to officiate at a funeral. On the phone, the local funeral director explained that the family was not affiliated with any congregation. He also told me that the contact person would be the deceased’s niece, but that she and her siblings should be treated as the grieving children.

When I arrived at the house to meet with the family in preparation for the funeral the following day, I learned that the man I was to eulogize played a substantial role in the lives of his nieces and nephew. While his own father died when he was just a young boy and he grew up without a father figure in his life, he filled that role outstandingly for his own two children as well as for his three nieces and nephew.

I listened to the stories flying at me from all directions about a man who shed the “Uncle” title and became “Dad” to four children when their own parents were no longer available. I considered how many uncles fill this role for their nieces and nephews. Some uncles, like the man who just departed this earth, step up and take on a father figure role when the need arises, and do so with love and affection. Others, like my own uncle, serve as a father figure in ways that complement the role of a biological father.

Father’s Day was one of my uncle’s favorite days of the year. He loved to open his house to the family and barbeque for us. As everyone was finishing dessert he’d motion to me to go outside and we’d play catch until it was too dark to see the ball. Sometimes I would just watch him hit tennis balls with a golf driver to his eager Golden Retriever. Growing up, I now realize that Father’s Day for me was also a day to honor my uncle and the impact he had on my development.

Just as Melanie Notkin has reframed our understanding of aunthood, I encourage everyone to take into account the special role that uncle’s play in the lives of their nieces and nephews. On this Father’s Day, I will once again pay tribute to the memory of my uncle. Through his actions he was influential in the way I now serve as a father to my own children. While I am not yet an uncle, I know that when the time comes I will look to Uncle Jerry as a role model. His legacy will inspire me to take a father figure approach to being an uncle. In a big way.

Cross-posted to SavvyAuntie.com

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Savvy Auntie Blessings

There is something very special about an aunt and uncle’s relationship with their nieces and nephews. No one has demonstrated the importance of the relationship between an aunt and her nieces and nephews better than Melanie Notkin, who launched SavvyAuntie.com. Here is the second column I have published on the SavvyAuntie.com blog and it is in honor of my children’s Aunt Stephanie:

Blessing my children is something I do every Friday night before we begin our family Sabbath dinner. Last week, I had the opportunity – actually the honor – to bless my children’s Savvy Auntie. Officiating at the wedding of my sister-in-law Stephanie made me realize just how meaningful she is in the lives of my children. More important than being my wife’s sister or my sister-in-law is her role as “Auntie Steffi.”

The focus of any wedding is on the bride and groom (or on the two brides or the two grooms for that matter). But my children were made to feel so important and special during their aunt’s entire wedding weekend. She was constantly giving them little tasks to perform, having them believe that the success of the wedding depended on their help.

Photo: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

For months leading up to the wedding, all my children talked about was Auntie Steffi’s wedding. They anticipated her big day as much as she did. Part of the excitement for them was venturing to a beautiful, tropical destination where they would play with their favorite aunt on the beach and in the pool before watching her get married and celebrating well past their bedtimes. They haven’t stopped talking about Auntie Steffi’s wedding weekend since returning home.

My children’s aunt is always showering them with gifts. As a librarian, she makes it a point to send books every few months that are carefully selected based on the interests of each child. The first thing she did when we arrived at the hotel at the beginning of her wedding weekend was present her nephews with embroidered groomsmen shirts and an adorable pink flower girl shirt for her niece.

When my daughter was a toddler, Auntie Steffi had her convinced that she was a princess. At school, she would tell her friends about her aunt who was a “real live princess.” Seeing Stephanie walk down the aisle in her beautiful wedding dress, perfectly applied makeup and fashionable hairstyle even had me convinced she was royalty on this special day.

As the rabbi standing under the chuppah (wedding canopy) with my children’s aunt and her groom, I had the pleasure of helping them sanctify their marriage. I offered my blessings that their now intertwined lives would be full of love and security, romance and peace. I have the good fortune to bless many happy couples during their wedding ceremony. The difference was that at this wedding I also blessed my children’s Savvy Auntie and gave thanks for everything she does for my children.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller