To My Son
Delivered on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach.
To my dear Lior:
I once heard Senator Cory Booker teach that “Every individual is born as a result of a grand conspiracy of love.” Those words have stayed with me, and feel true tonight as we welcome you into our family and community.
We are the products of love that our parents give to us, that our grandparents show us, that our ancestors bequest to us. Our parents lay foundations of love for each of us, providing for us, and in doing so they too gain and grow out of it. Each parent provides for his or her child in the spirit of legacy building. We are all the products of—you are the product of—a grand conspiracy of love.
Tonight, I want to reflect on the particular conspiracy out of which you were born.
You are born into a tightly knit family. Your great-grandmother, my Bubby, Fannie Phillips Leon, said that it is a mother’s job to make memories. It is a mother’s job, and a father’s job, and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. That is our responsibility together, that is the family business into which you have been born: we make memories together. I will certainly tell you stories about goofing off at the kids table during Passover seder, or time spent on the golf course with your grandad, uncle, cousins, and great-grandparents. Mom will certainly tell you about summers on the Cape, with meals at Arnold’s and the Sands of Time, or about Chanukah theme nights, especially Jewish Continuity night. The conspiracy of love into which you are born is built out of so many strong memories.
And so you need to be warned now: This grand conspiracy of love runs wide, it runs deep, and it is ongoing.
The breadth of the conspiracy can be seen in those who have come to celebrate with you tonight. You have friends and family who have traveled tremendous distances to be with us. That is the strength of our family. Your mom and I are grateful for the love that flows so freely in this family. We have witnessed in you a new repository for that love, which reminds us just how critical these strong memory-making connections are to us.
You also need to know about this community into which you have been born. They are in on the conspiracy too. Since your birth, members of our Hevreh community have been cooking your mom and dad meals, they have been stopping by to visit and meet you, they have sent cards and gifts. The likes on Facebook have been stacking up; you are quite the internet sensation. You are a very special little person, as are all of our young people here at Hevreh. We are grateful for this loving embrace that your Hevreh community has given you and given our family. We are grateful that your grand conspiracy of love spills out of our family and into our community. I pray that you already know that you—just like every other young person in our community—are made safe, cared for, and wholly embraced by your Jewish community. That’s Hevreh’s contribution to the conspiracy.
If that’s the breadth, you can see the depth of the conspiracy in the legacy of those for whom you’ve been named. You are named after my grandfather, Louis Leon, and mom’s grandmother, Debbie Goldberg. That’s the L and D in Lior Dekel.
Your great-grandfather, Louis, put and provided for family above all else. He had a 64 year long love affair with his wife Fannie, and together they produced a family and created memories that trace directly to you.
You were born on February 23, and are now a proud member of Club 223. I am also a member of that birthday club. So is your Aunt Sarah. And so was your great-grandfather. He was actually born in October, but he considered February 23 a second birthday. He was a veteran of WWII, having been an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers. Louis would later describe February 23 as the scariest day of his life, one which he never expected to survive, and a day in which he exhibited tremendous bravery. One day, I’ll show you the medal the Army awarded him for it. Out of the trials of that day, he always marked it quietly as his own celebration of life and survival. Your great-grandfather died last year on February 19. We marked his first yartzeit just over a month ago, the same week you were born. I remain convinced that he let go before February 23 rolled around because he did not want to mar the meaning of the date. So instead we took that conspiracy of dates and deepened its meaning by welcoming you into the world then. In this family, February 23 will always be about birth and life. I cannot think of cooler people to share a birthday with than your great-grandfather, your Aunt, and you.
Your great-grandmother Debbie was the life of the party. Her personality filled up the room. She was warm like the sunshine and palm trees that she loved. She loved her family deeply. Family gatherings in Brooklyn or in Florida were always special. Your middle name—Dekel—not only holds the D in honor of Debbie, but it is also the Hebrew word for a palm tree. In the Psalms, we read “Tzadik katamar yifrach, that the righteous shall bloom like the palm tree.” As you now carry this name, your mother and I pray that you grow to be the strongest version of you, and we are committed to teaching you righteous living.
Here’s the thing, Lior: the conspiracy is ongoing. Mom and I may tell you about those fun times we had growing up. But we are even more excited to take the conspiracy to the next level, to make new memories with you. We will have fun memories traveling together, holidays with family, and celebrations like this one with our community. But we now realize, as the newly-minted guardians of your grand conspiracy, that we have an obligation to make Jewish imprints on you.
We have brought you into the Covenant, we have given you a Hebrew name, and tonight you have been blessed by your community. The Sages of our Talmud taught that a parent is obligated to these tasks, as well as teaching you Torah, a trade, and guiding you to a loving relationship of your own. My dear little boy, may you come to love and embrace the words of Torah as your mother and I have, and may they guide you to act out of love, patience, compassion, and with a conscience and conviction that drives for justice. May God bless us with discernment to help you recognize your talents and to always encourage their development. May we always teach you and model for you to first, foremost, and above all else, always be kind to yourself and to others. May you approach others as we pray they approach you—with love.
Some say that we are also obligated to teach you how to swim. It’s a good thing your mom is a camp director; we are going to work on that this summer. What our Sages meant by that statement is that inevitably, there will come a day where you will swim out on your own, away from where we can keep you safely in our arms. That day isn’t coming soon, but I expect it will be here quicker than we realize.
We love you, welcome to the conspiracy.