All through grade school, when I was busy making those useful tie clips, paper weights, ink blotters, and pen holders for my dad for Father’s Day (which this year is on June 21), I always assumed that one day I would be the recipient of a similar bounty. I did get in a few good years of Father’s Days before we made aliyah, but I certainly would be justified in feeling short-changed. Though there is deep respect here for the 5th Commandment, there is no Father’s Day in Israel.
Unlike Father’s Day, which never made it onto the calendar here, Israel did observe a Mother’s Day for about four decades, from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. The date was tied to the Hebrew yahrzeit of Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold (sometime during February), who though childless herself helped thousands of children in Israel. By the time we immigrated in 1997, however, the day had been subsumed into something called Family Day. Theoretically, Family Day could provide even more opportunity for appreciating loved ones, but in practice it passes the country by without much notice.
Why haven’t Israelis taken to celebrating Father’s or Mother’s days? My theory is that the retail industry drives both Mother’s and Father’s Day and that during the formative years of the State there was a lack of “merchandising” in this country. In the United States, Father’s Day was founded in 1910, but it didn’t catch on until 1938, when a Father’s Day Council was formed—funded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers. (By the mid 1980’s the Father’s Day Council could note that Father’s Day “has become a Second Christmas for all the men’s gift-oriented industries.”) Also, Israelis have never taken much to a key American product that serves to mark Mother’s and Father’s Day as well as birthdays, graduations, weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries, etc.: the greeting card. Even before the age of email, Israelis hardly used the greeting card (the exception was for Rosh Hashanah, but this has gone out of fashion thanks to contemporary media substitutes).
I would be okay with forgetting about the whole thing in Israel, but the only fly in the ointment is that Sarah’s and my respective parents (may they live and be well) still appreciate it when their children remember them on Father’s and Mother’s Day. We have done our very best to convince our parents of the obvious: there are no advertisements in Israel reminding us about the approaching Father’s (or Mother’s) Day in America, and so if we should forget to call them on their respective day they should not be insulted. They understand completely. But do you want to be in the position where all your siblings pay homage to your parent on their special day and you don’t? Not if you can help it! But just in case I do forget, Dad: Happy Father’s Day!
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.