By Jo Strausz Rosen
Gather your loved ones around and consider exchanging answers to questions that define who you are and how you have lived your life. The essence of these answers will live on in the stories you share, so that future generations will have a chance to know you. Sit quietly at times to recall challenging moments and reveal how you got through the tough times. What did you tell yourself? What do you remember your parents telling you about succeeding or failing?
Take the time to write the answers down or type them out and add photos with captions and dates and the personal relationships to accompany the text… and put them with your end-of-life documents and let your loved ones know you are saving these. The pages on our calendars continue to turn. Fill up calendar squares with a few memories or sentences about surviving each day. Save these calendars.
Names are a very important part of the Jewish tradition. The meaning of our names can tell a story. Sometimes names change. What was your family’s original name? Did your grandfather own a pushcart, a butcher shop? Did you travel to Israel? Remember that first time you set foot on the land of our ancestors? What was your first toy? What did you wear to your first formal dance? How did you feel when you held your first child, grandchild, puppy?
If you have a copy of a family tree, add this to the folder. Keep records of marriages, births, siblings, and dates of deaths and burial locations. Keep a record of favorite family journeys, special gifts through the years, family expressions, jokes and pets and heirlooms, bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, anniversary parties and intimate conversations. Going through old mementos is a delightful way to spend time indoors. These often trigger memories to share.
Whenever I interview our JSL residents I am given the gift of the memories they shared of their loved ones and their children and grandchildren and their histories. Memories of favorite holidays and accompanying food, recipes for latkes and kugels, or the time my own mother forgot to turn on the oven during Thanksgiving and supper was served at midnight after playing card games on the perfectly set table.
Let these memories serve as a special time capsule… a link to share information about you and your family with future generations. Based on what you know today, what would be some of the objects, and heirlooms, stories, poetry, and songs, you wish to pass down? Who are the special people you loved and lost? What did you learn from them? How did they change your life?
“Once, Honi was walking along the road when he saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked, “How long before it will bear fruit?” The man answered, “Seventy years.” Honi asked, “Are you sure that you will be alive in seventy years to eat from this fruit?” The man answered, “I found this world filled with carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted for me, so shall I plant for my children.”
Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a