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My Son’s First Siddur

My Son’s First Siddur

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Elishama all dressed up for his siddur party
Elishama all dressed up for his siddur party

For years, I prayed for you to be born. You came into a house filled with three little girls who delighted in your tiny blue shirts and your huge gray eyes. The day you were born was a stunning Friday in October, with a midday sky the color of dawn and a breeze that sang of beginnings. There were so many beginnings yet to come. The day of your brit milah, when your name echoed toward me as you lay encircled by thousands of years of blessings. The first time you smiled. The first time you sat up. The day that you learned to crawl and then rapidly figured out how to climb into and onto everything you saw. The moment that you got your first kippah and your tzizit with the aleph-beit train on them. You looked so grown up at that moment, like a toddler whispering his way into boyhood.

We tried valiantly to keep up with you as you jumped from your little red tricycle to the black dirt bike. From your quiet footsteps behind your sisters to your giant leaps across the hallway floors. From your place of baby brother to big brother. From listening to storybooks to reading them on your own. You are growing up so fast, I can barely blink sometimes before you launch out the front door. Lately, you have been learning how to count. You ask me questions about adding and subtracting. You have learned to tell the time and notice the minutes of the day.

You looked so grown up, like a toddler whispering his way into boyhood.

When you were still a toddler, I taught you how to count your fingers and your toes. Your eyes. Your mouth. Your nose. On the playground while you jumped up the slide, in the jogging stroller while we ran past the sunrise—we counted. All the gifts that G‑d gave us that day. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Two eyes. One mouth. One nose. All these ways we are given to see the world and transform the world. Right there on the green slide, you taught me as I taught you. To notice my hands again. My feet again. The way the trees glowed in the morning sun. The way the swings could almost reach the sky if we pushed hard enough. We counted.

This week you will receive your first siddur, and we are again counting together. We count the days until the big party. We count the words of your solo that fall throughout our home like handfuls of pearls. I try to hold them, but they fade so fast. Like the summer light, time doesn’t wait for us to say goodbye. But soon you will learn so many new ways to count the gifts in your life. Soon you will know words that can express the hugeness of your soul. Soon you will know songs that can carry the cadence of your heart.

When I was your age, I remember holding my first siddur in my arms. It had a blue leather cover and silver letters etched across it. I remember carrying it to the synagogue and struggling to find my place. I remember leaving it there one day and not noticing its absence until the following week, when the gap on my bookshelf accused me with its emptiness. But as I grew, I started to need my siddur to find my place outside my prayers. I searched for the words when life revealed its own gaps and its own unexplained emptiness. My siddur helped me find my way through the days and the years. The successes and the failures. The lost chances and the vast potential. My big blue siddur was eventually traded in for a tiny brown one, but the pages were still the same. The paragraphs that taught me how to say, “Thank you.” The letters that helped me discover my own

Elishama, his father and his new siddur
Elishama, his father and his new siddur
sentences. The melodies that grasped my yearnings and set them free.

But what I really want to tell you is what happened the morning that I dropped my siddur in the mud. I was hiking at sunrise to the beach. I wanted to pray by the water’s edge. I didn’t know that it was supposed to rain, or how soaked the fields would become from the sudden downpour. I found myself sinking into the ground. But I could just see the water from where I stood, and I knew if I only tried a little harder I could free myself. As I pulled my sneaker out of the wet grass, my siddur went flying out of my hands. It landed in front of me, its gold letters glistening in the morning dew. I pulled it up towards me quickly, but it was already covered with a layer of mud. Somehow, I made it to the beach just as the sun was cascading over the water like a blanket of fire. I shook the mud off of my feet and off of my siddur. I turned the familiar, beloved pages, and I took three steps backward. Three steps forward. I bowed my head into the wind. I could hear all of my dreams and all of my prayers echoing across the infinite space between the water and the sky.

Later, I cleaned off the mud from my siddur, but the traces still remained on every page’s edge. And each morning, as I touch the splattered pages, I remember. He helps us through the mud. He shows us a way to run through sudden downpours. He brings us to the edge of the water and cradlesAs I touch the splattered pages, I remember . . . us with the light of the morning sun. He helps us count, but He is patient when we lose count, too. He knows that sometimes precious things can fall out of our hands when we’re struggling to pull ourselves out of the sinking ground. But He also knows that we can pick them up. And brush them off. And begin again.

For so many years, I prayed for you to be born. I cannot begin to count all the blessings that you bring into my life. I give you my siddur, still encrusted with mud, so that when you lose your footing, you will know that you can pull yourself out, too. Hold your first siddur. Cherish it. Count your fingers. Count your toes. Count your eyes. Count your nose. These are just the beginnings of all the gifts that are waiting for you. Open the siddur that I give you today. Touch the splattered pages. Find your place.

I love you.

Sara Debbie Gutfreund lives with her husband and children in Waterbury, Connecticut. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Masters in Family Therapy from the University of North Texas.
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Anonymous Waterbury, CT August 20, 2016

Awesome! I'd like to just say this is great to read and as a non-Jews (Catholic considering conversion for some time), it's very nice to have your Orthodox community in Waterbury. I just miss the Kosher deli lol. Shalom. Reply

Anonymous August 20, 2013

I love your writings. Thank you so much for sharing them. Sima-Leah Reply

Anonymous Plainfield , CT via chabadect.com August 20, 2013

That was so beautifully written it brought back memories of my own childhood years as as I learned my jewish life and heritage. I also got my fist siddur from my father and learned to read early. The words meant a lot to me.the I found that daily prayer was what I needed in my life. Today I am a woman ad proud of my upbringing and what I was taught. Baruch Ashem, my life is going well. My siddur goes every where I go. It even went with me to Eretz Israel so I could pray at the kotel. I prayed for everyone and peace. I also prayed for my departed parents and my family, alive and departed. Especially my sister and brothers who die during the war. I was glad to have this experience. Reply

leah shaina london, UK August 20, 2013

beautiful Reply

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