Fathers come in different packages. Some are famous, some little known. Some practice their religion daily, some observe religious laws selectively and some not atoll. They are straight and gay, artistically talented and non-aesthetically inclined, old and young. And all of these varieties are displayed in this beautifully presented, inspiring book, Jewish Fathers: A Legacy of Love, edited by Paula Wolfson, with photographs by Lloyd Wolf.
Calling this a “coffee table book” is not intended to diminish its depth. One need not savor it at a single sitting for it can be read and absorbed one page at a time, at odd moments when but a few minutes of reflection are available. This slim volume is filled with brief open-ended observations in which these men tell how they see themselves in their role as fathers to their children. The recurring theme is perhaps best expressed bone of the interviewees, Richard Joel, President of Yeshiva University: “The eternity that I build is how I raise my children.” Or as AL Wong, a Jew-by-choice, put it, “When you die, your legacy is what you leave behind. “
What is inspiring is the goodness of these men. They are introspective about how they fit into the continuity of the Jewish people, they accept their duties to their children and communities, and they show strength by being sensitive and by displaying their love. And they honor their own fathers by acknowledging the lessons they have learned and by applying these lessons to serve as a visible presence in their own children’s lives.
The black and white photographs are both beautiful and profound in the way they capture the individuality and depth of these men, who are pictured facing the camera and unselfconsciously embracing their children. From former Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat to basketball Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes, from author Simms Taback to kosher organic farmer Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz, from award-winning actor Theodore Bikel to Nazi resister and Holocaust survivor Sam Bloch, these men show through the camera’s critical lens what love of children looks like.
With my eldest grandchild fast approaching his bar mitzvah, this reviewer’s emotions are raw as he humbly occupies that slim space between the future and the past. One’s responsibility as a descendant of Avraham Avinu becomes quite genuine, and those pictured in this book appear to share this appreciation. By connecting the reader to those whom they have depicted, Wolfson and Wolf have created a book that will continue to be absorbed and revisited. Read it and share it with good men whom you love.