The joys of Jewish fatherhood

How Judaism influences parenthood

LOVE Fatherhood June 2024  image
Eran Koren treasures celebrating Shabbat with his sons. (Photo courtesy of Eran Koren)

Every Friday afternoon, while my younger, kid-free colleagues eagerly anticipate the start of the weekend with high fives and cheers, I jokingly tell them: "You're celebrating the weekend's arrival, but for me and my wife, the real celebration is when the weekend is over."

I joke about how long and exhausting the weekends are with young kids, but, in reality, Shabbat is the only time I have to slow down and truly enjoy my 4.5- and 6-year-old sons. It can be easy to lose sight of the joys of parenting during the hectic work and school week. It can feel like a non-stop battle of rushing out the door and trying to get them bathed and fed quickly following after-school activities. Between work, school, the kids' activities, and everything else life entails, modern day parenting is BUSY.

As a family that observes Shabbat, we have approximately 25 hours a week to press pause on that busyness. No phones, no television, no iPads. No swimming lessons or karate for the kids, and no meetings or calls for me. No distractions. It's just me, my wife, my two boys, and our Lakeview community. 

If not for Shabbat, I don't know how I would find time to slow down and truly appreciate the joys of fatherhood like reading to my kids on the couch, looking for bunnies outdoors, and singing songs on our walk to shul without any distractions.

My favorite time of the week is right after my wife lights candles on Friday night and we all sit down at the table to kick off Shabbat with Shalom Aleichem . With both boys singing along, it's always a time that I reflect on my six years of fatherhood. 

It's easy to see the evolution and transformation of our family through our Shabbat traditions. First, it was my wife and I lighting candles and singing with a sleeping newborn nearby (actually, he was probably crying). Then that newborn became a toddler who started to sing along with his mom while lighting the candles while his newborn brother slept (or cried) nearby. At this point they could probably lead a Friday night dinner on their own, from candle lighting to kiddush to hamotzi .

It fills my heart with so much joy and pride to see the young Jewish boys they are becoming. Gathered around the Shabbat table, I'm reminded of the profound joy and privilege of fatherhood, of passing on our traditions to the next generation.

Amidst the laughter and warmth of Shabbat, there's a deeper purpose at play. As our boys take on increasingly grown-up roles in our observance, from reciting blessings to leading the family in song, they're not just participating in rituals. They're forging their own Jewish identities.

In today's world, instilling a sense of pride and confidence in their Jewish heritage is more important than ever. I want my sons to be strong Jews, defined by their embrace of tradition and identity rather than by external opposition. I want them to understand that Judaism comes in many forms, that we are part of a diverse and resilient community bound together by shared values and history.

Ultimately, being a Modern Orthodox parent is about nurturing a strong sense of identity, faith, and community in our children, and preparing them to navigate the complexities of the modern world with courage and integrity that is rooted in our traditions. And amidst the chaos and comedy of parenthood, Shabbat stands as a weekly reminder of what truly matters in life.

Eran Koren was born and raised in Ra'anana, Israel. He has lived in Chicago since 2011.

 


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