A personal reflection for Father’s Day

My father is at the epicenter of my heart, along with my mother, and all those early formative loves that became part of the fabric that is me. 

And, as one of my great teachers on how to live, how to love and how to be- my father is at the heart of my heart. He inspires me and teaches me. I think of him when I want to be courageous or funny or strong or creative or resilient or happy or generous or compassionate. 

My father sometimes jokingly calls himself antisocial or a “misanthrope” – his self-depracating jokes and sense of humor a tool that immediately puts others at ease- creating safe space and sacred space for others. As a rabbi, this has been a strategy I have learned from and found myself using on the pulpit: when people make a mistake- using humor to heal the wounds of perfectionism- that idol that imprisons the soul. 

Watching him professionally, I learned a strong work ethic, creativity and the ability to turn every negative into a positive. This, along with my mother’s unending desire to see the good in everyone and everything are absolutely at the heart of my own capacity for joy. My father’s resilience and creativity has led my spouse and I to turn my last name, “Siritsky” into a verb… “To Siritsky something” is to find a way to make the impossible, possible. Whether it is duct tape or rubber bands, whenever I see an obstacle, I hear his wise words in my head: “Don’t complain of the noise when opportunity knocks at the door”.

When I was 5 years old, my father wanted to teach me the Jewish value of tzedakah. We were driving downtown when we passed a homeless man living under a bridge, with a shopping cart full of books. He gave me a dollar and told me to give it to this person. I approached and explained that my father wanted me to give him a dollar bill. This man looked me in the eyes, looked at my father, and looked back at me and said: you need that dollar more than I do.

Many years later, I learned that my father then (quietly and reverently) befriended this man, bringing him books and buying him coffee. Over the course of decades, they became friends, learning from one another, and embodying Martin Buber’s teaching of “I and Thou”. As this friend approached the end of his life, my father became his primary medical emergency contact, and even helped bring him back in touch with his family. My father inspired my inner social worker as an expression of my sense of calling and purpose.

I believe that when we recognize the “Thou” in one another, we experience G!d’s Revelation.  When we act in Divine Ways, we make G!d’s Presence visible. Sometimes, we experience things that seem negative, but that is only because we don’t yet understand. I have learn how to understand the world and other people, not just with my brain, but with my heart. Where others might see the absence of G!d, I hear an invitation to act in a G!dly way, and do what I can to make the impossible possible. I learned how to say “hineni” (=here I am) to G!d’s Call, from my father.

I became a rabbi in large part because of my father. While he does not identify as a person of faith, and has every reason to question mainstream religion’s simplistic beliefs, because of what he should never have witnessed as a child… nevertheless, my own faith is rooted in all that I have learned from him. He was a hidden child during the Holocaust- a story that, in itself, demonstrates (in my theology) the Presence of G!d, incarnate in the courageous kindness of those who risked their lives and the lives of their families to help Jews they did not know. To me, the decision to hide Jews during the war defies understanding. The only way I can understand anyone making that otherwise irrational decision is to recognize such courageous Actions as the incarnation of G!d in this broken world.

I would not exist, were it not for the faith of those “righteous gentiles” who risked everything to rescue him and his mother. I owe, to each of them, a debt of gratitude… and today, I honour also all those who made my father into who he has become, for they are now also a part of me, as I remember them. 

My father has “paid it forward” helping others in countless ways, many of which I barely know… speaking to schools about his childhood, helping to develop the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Montreal, volunteering with my mom to drive people who are alone to their chemotherapy appointments… When I think about what kind of faith I want to impart to others in my rabbinate, I think of my parents.

I may not always put all this into words, but these are the truths that are deep in my heart, and on this day, dedicated to celebrating fathers, I celebrate the Torah that I have learned from knowing and loving my father. 

Joyeuses Fetes des Peres