Tag: Grandparents

8 Tips on How to Be a Positive Jewish Role Model

What does it take to be a positive Jewish role model?

  • Talk Jewish: Jewish talk is filled with kindness, caring, and concern for the poor, the widow, and the stranger. It involves more kvelling (praising) than kvetching (complaining). Talking Jewish is thoughtful and hopeful.
  • Show enthusiasm for learning: As Am haSefer (people of the book), we value the contents of our brains. Jewish role models strive to accumulate wisdom, recognizing that when our minds are open, the world opens up with new possibilities.
  • Read Jewish books and see Jewish-themed movies: Fiction or non-fiction, historical or fanciful, the Jewish arts can nurture a deeper Jewish self-awareness.
  • Involve yourself in social justice causes: Ever since Moses, Aaron and Miriam stood up to Pharaoh to speak up for the downtrodden, Jews have been in the forefront of every significant social justice cause. Jewish role models get involved because we remember the experience of being at the mercy of others.
  • Plan a(nother) trip to Israel: Visiting Israel unites the Jewish past and present. Through the mitzvah (religious deed) of Aliyat haNefesh (spiritual journey of the soul), we seek intellectual, spiritual, and personal transformation.
  • Sing along at services: The act of praying is an active experience. Engage your brain, move your lips, open your mind, and you may be inspired. Of course, first you need to go to services!
  • Give tzedakah to Jewish organizations: Jews believe that we have been given sufficient resources so that we may give generously to help others. Your investment in Jewish organizations and synagogues ensures that there will be a Jewish future.
  • Light Shabbat candles: Once weekly, alone, with family, or with friends enrich or celebrate—YOU CHOOSE your life by marking the holy day. Let the candles adorn your dinner table or light them as you get ready to go out, and then blow them out.

At 103 Year Old, Lil is Still Learning (and Teaching)

I’ve known Lil for almost 14 years, a minuscule portion of her quite long life. Still, I have grown quite fond of her as our paths crossed and recrossed through vicissitudes of life: celebrations of B’nai Mitzvah, visits to her during a near death hospital stay, holy day services and the more mundane moments in between.

I remember being touched that she was the inspiration that led three of her great grandchildren (and her adult daughter) to become B’nai Mitzvah, and being inspired by her finesse at helping them craft each d’var Torah (speech). I am prepared each High Holy Day morning to find “Nana”, right after services, to give her a kiss and a few words of blessing.

Who Knew?
So when I was asked if I had time to visit Nana at the Convalescent Home, I just tossed a date out and recorded it in my iPhone. Who knew that the request to visit a congregant’s 103 year old mother would turn out to be one of the most meaningful, spiritual moments of the week?

Sightless but Insightful
Lil was waiting for me in the Sun Room at the end of the hallway. I approached; she offered me a seat. We held hands; I gave her a kiss. 
Lil may not be able to see, but she is very insightful. We talked about her grandkids (who call almost every day) and her family, about the convalescent home and her upcoming 104th birthday (not a big deal to her). Our conversations delved into the joys of family and the sometimes incomprehensible depression that temporarily descends (perhaps the result of being old?). 
Well Before its Time, A Girl Advocates for the Chance to Study Torah
Lil reminisced about her own Jewish upbringing. Hers was a very religious family; two older brothers were taught by a tutor – Mr. Yunefsky? – who came by every day. Although girls generally were not taught Torah and Hebrew back then, Lil very much wanted to learn. With the help of her brother, she convinced her father to let her learn.  “Why don’t you have a teacher for me? Because I’m a girl?” Her dad responded, “Is that what you’d like?” She responded “Yes, because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn.” So she started to absorb everything that the teacher would teach: Hebrew, Torah, and Bible.
Time and again Lil explained about how important it was that the next generations (her grandchildren) love being Jewish and are involved in the synagogue. Hers are! Her youngest is a Madricha (teaching assistant) in our schools and a leader on our LoMPTY youth group board; the two boys regularly stop by to visit me (their rabbi) when they are in town from school. Lil takes great pride in the fact that they are members of Congregation Or Ami and are bonded with Judaism. 
Learning Torah Together

During a lull in the conversation, I asked her if I could read her this week’s parasha (Torah portion).  She lit up. Opening the Tanach for All (Bible) app on my iPhone, I proceeded to read the portion in Hebrew; Lil surprised me by translating the words. Back and forth we went. Hebrew then English; me then she. I was moved in this moment. Separated by three generations, we nevertheless shared Torah, something that transcended the generations.
I needed to drash (interpret) the parasha for that Shabbat. So I asked her how to best interpret these words for our congregation. 103-year-old Nana was full of suggestions. I wondered just what was really happening here. To the casual observer, it might appear that I – the Rabbi – was teaching Torah to this older woman; in truth, Lil was passing the wisdom onto me.
A Moment when Blessings Overflowed 
Today I learned Torah from a 103-year-old woman. Her wisdom filled my soul; her love overflowed into my heart. On reflection, I keep coming back to the blessing one says upon seeing a Torah scholar (found in my iPhone CCAR Daily Blessings app):

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam, shchalak meichochmato lirei’av.Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe: You share Your wisdom with those who revere You. 

Yes, 103-year-old Lil was my Torah teacher.  Thank you God, for this moment of wisdom in the midst of everyday life.

Pointing the Way Forward

From my Grandpa Eddie, I learned the importance of enjoying life with your family.  Instead of hoarding his money and leaving us a bigger inheritance, he and Grandma Esther decided that they would rather see their grandkids having fun and bonding.  They sent us all to Jewish summer camps and spent regular time with us.

My Dad and Mom do the same, taking the family – especially when the kids were younger – on big family trips such that today all the cousins have strong connections one to the other.

My parents have also passed onto us (and continue to do so) the important of mishpacha (family), tikkun olam (social activism), kehilla (being part of a community), ahavat yisrael (love of Israel), and more.

This Shabbat we read from the first parasha (portion) in the book of Devarim (or Deuteronomy), the final of the 5 Books of Moses.  Taken together, the words of Devarim represents Moses’ final teaching to the children of Israel, before he goes off to die and they continue on under Joshua’s leadership and enter the Promised Land.  Sometimes we see Devarim as one long sermon – filled with stories and retellings of the past, hopes and warnings, songs and poems.  It is as if Moses, aware that he is about to die, wants to point the way forward to ensure that his peeps survive long into the future.

Some years ago I wrote an ethical will to my children, articulating those values and ideals that I wanted them to know I held dear.  My parents continually share their wisdom in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.This wisdom, imparted in big ways and small, form a Torat Horim (the teachings of my parents) that continue to influence me today – in big ways and small.  What is the wisdom that your parents or grandparents bequeathed to you?