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Father's Day in Haiti

06/20/2023 08:55:33 AM

Jun20

Rabbi Steven Lindemann

It’s Father’s Day Sunday, and I am spending it at the Have Faith Haiti Orphanage.  It also happens to be my father’s Yahrzeit.  That coincidence of calendar and location is surely cause for reflection.

How fortunate I was to grow up with a father and a mother, to care for me, support me, guide me through school and into becoming an adult.  My father worked nights in the Dixie Cup factory for 30 years to provide for his family.  Sometimes he worked a second job, as well.  And still, he made time to teach me to catch and throw a ball, he quizzed me on spelling and state capitals, and he took me and my brother and sister to the JCC every Sunday when we were kids. I remember what it felt like when he held my hand as we took walks together and the times he took me to the amusement park.  Perhaps, because I am here at the Orphanage, I find myself particularly thankful.

I don’t know if there is a Father’s Day in Haiti.  And if there were, what could it possibly mean to the kids here at the orphanage? 

Maybe there’s some insight in something one of them said during a visit to TBS, this past March.  Somebody asked JJ if his parents were alive and if he had any contact with them.  He responded that his mother died but his father sometimes visits him at Have Faith Haiti.  Then, he went on to explain, that he is the youngest of five children and for a long time he didn’t understand why his father put him in the Orphanage when he was seven years old. He said, “I felt like my father threw me away.  But then I finally asked my father, and he explained that it was because the living conditions were so bad and there was never enough food and he thought that because I was the youngest, I was suffering the most. So, I realized that he didn’t throw me away. He did it so I would have a better life.”  JJ grew up at Have Faith Haiti, completed high school at the Orphanage, and he just finished his freshman year at Hope College, in Michigan. 

Clearly, it doesn’t take a formal Father’s Day to make you appreciate your father.  But, some of the children don’t even remember or never even knew their fathers.

The day before Father’s Day, Have Faith Haiti celebrated the end of the school year with a high school graduation ceremony.  This is the way Djouna,  one of the graduating seniors, began her graduation speech.

"As I stand here before you today, I can guarantee that I’m not thinking about myself, but that I’m thinking of all of you…Because, you all played a major role in this and I think you know that. But, to be honest with you, I’m also thinking of my father. Yes. I have one. Well, Djouna, where’s your father, Djouna? Well…I don’t know, where is he? Around Haiti somewhere. Alive, I believe. I haven’t seen him in thirteen years. But if you were to ask me what it feels like to have sixty plus people replace this one person called my father, I would have told you, why do you even ask? It feels real good.  It feels like my life has new meaning.  Because, without this new family, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”    

I sat there thinking about how proud my dad was to attend every one of his children’s graduations…and how few fathers there were at this one. There were some mothers and several brothers and sisters. Djouna was the only one with no family. None at all.  But there was still plenty of pride apparent among the graduates, the rest of the students, and all of the adults who care for these kids.  

Mitch and Janine are truly like father and mother to them. They provide for them in every way—shelter, clothing, food, education, and most of all, love. Yonel, who is the Director of Have Faith Haiti, and Halie, who is the Director of Volunteers, also play the role of parents. Then, of course, there are the nannies who helped raise these children and the teachers who taught them. And yes, I have to admit, I did my share of kvelling, as this is the second set of graduates whom I have had in my classes.

The evening after graduation all the students and staff gathered for Devotions (evening prayers), as usual. Devotions can include any number of hymns, songs, Bible passages and sermonettes, but there is one piece that is always recited--The Lord’s Prayer.  One of the students is asked to lead and the others repeat each verse, line by line.  

I have heard this ritual recitation many times.  However, because of the coincidence of calendar on this particular evening, I suddenly realized why this prayer may have special resonance at Have Faith Haiti.  The opening words say it all:  “Our Father…” What could be more important to a group of kids at an orphanage than knowing that even though may not have their fathers there to protect and guide them, they still have their Father in Heaven.  

Translate the opening words of that prayer into Hebrew and its Jewish antecedents become clear:  “Avinu SheBaShamayim.” Traditional Jewish liturgy often refers to God as “Our Father,” and it is frequently interpreted as an expression of God’s care and compassion. A passage from Psalm 27, recited daily from the beginning of the month of Elul throughYom Kippur, also comes to mind in this context:  "Though my father and mother may leave me, God will gather me in.” Any of us who have lost our parents, understand the feeling underlying that prayerful Psalm.  Any of us who have known the blessings of having loving fathers, and mothers, in our lives, have reason to be thankful…every day. 

As I reflect upon all of this, I have to say that marking Father’s Day and Yahrzeit at Have Faith Haiti has been a most moving experience.   
 

 

 

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