Category Archives: filial responsibility

Conversations for Life and Legacy

I am excited to announce the launch of Conversations for Life and Legacy™.

Conversations for Life and Legacy™ is a whole new approach to sharing our wisdom, making meaning in our lives, and connecting beyond ourselves drawing upon the insights of Jewish tradition and text.

Conversations for Life and Legacy™ goes far beyond an Ethical Will to share our sacred stories in unique new ways. Among the particular innovations are using a rabbi trained in chaplaincy to guide the interview and capturing it all on video.

Please look at our new website: www.ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy.com to explore this new approach; see what it can mean to you and how it can be brought to your community.

Today we also launch a Facebook page: ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy and we will be on Twitter as well @rabbidavidlevincll.

It’s time to have the Conversations of your Life!

Conversations for Life and Legacy™

www.ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy.com

 

How do I tell Dad that Mom has died?

How do you tell Dad that Mom has died? This challenging question confronted old friends this past week.

Compassion is such a difficult practice. It is often so difficult to know what is the right thing to do for another person.oldyoung hands

 A friend’s mother recently passed away after a protracted decline. Sadly her dad is suffering from dementia. My friend and her siblings struggled with whether they should tell him that his wife, their mom, has just passed away. Would he find the loss overwhelming? Would he even comprehend the sad news they would share? He has a right to know and grieve the loss of his wife. But if the news was too much for him to handle, should they wait until there was a better time to inform him?

 Further complicating things, he was physically unable to attend the funeral.

 Both options, to tell him or not, are based on compassion for dad. But which one is right for him? She reached out to me for counsel.

My first suggestion was to consult dad’s doctor, someone who knows him and is skilled in these medical issues. The doctor can help ascertain how aware is dad of his surroundings. The children, all adults, can also shed some light on dad’s cognitive abilities, but they are emotionally very close to the situation and may not clearly assess how well dad will process the news. It is likely that despite all attempts to know, it is all but impossible to appreciate how much dad truly understands.

 We cannot know how people will react to this kind of news even without the complications of these circumstances. Maybe dad will have only a moment of clarity or possibly the news will stay with him. He may work through his grief or become overwhelmed by it. I have learned along my journey that we actually only have moments together. Sometimes these moments last and create enduring memories. Sometimes they fade away. The best we can do is to be fully present in each moment together and hope that it endures. The struggle that this family confronts is a struggle we all face, for each of us will experience loss and then try to reconcile with it in the aftermath. We can try to anticipate how people will respond, but we need to be careful in presuming too much, acting for them instead of allowing them the dignity of exercising his or her own agency.

 The Talmud teaches that we treat parents with honor and respect.   Might the ways we do that include withholding speech or information that would be hurtful? If dad still has some comprehension, won’t he feel the sadness in those surrounding him and wonder why his wife no longer visits? Further, how will he react if he learns of his wife’s passing long after the fact without the chance to mourn her loss? Arguably we honor our parents when we include them in even the most difficult things, rather than attempting to protect them. Each of us will be called upon to grapple with a similar situation. We must take the utmost care to ensure that our motives are true and that we act in the best interests of our parents and not fulfilling our own needs disguised as compassion. My friend’s struggle was because she loved her father and wanted what was best for him.

 Zichronah Livrachah may my friends’ mother be a blessing for the family. May her father be given the opportunity to know that too.

What do we leave behind? Thoughts on Glenn Frey and our Personal Legacies

What do we leave behind?oldhandsholdingyoung

I was saddened to learn of Glenn Frey’s passing. His music and artistry were amazing gifts he shared with us all as a solo artist and through the Eagles. I watched the documentary and thought we will never see him perform again or share new poetry with us. But his legacy of music will endure. I could not help but turn inward and wonder what is my legacy?

This accounting is often referred to as Cheshbon HaNefesh in the Jewish Tradition. But it is more than looking back and making a list; the Cheshbon is more than a list, it is an assessment by us of ourselves. Such a perspective is much more than a posthumous accounting or someone else’s reflection; it means that we can be proactive managing this list and our lives for whatever time we have. We are active, not passive in the process of this accounting. Since it “ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” as the American Philosopher Yogi Berra said, we could change the course of our lives if we are willing to do so.

handsOldYoungOften we leave important conversations unspoken. The discomforts we believe these conversations will cause make us shy away from them. But then we miss an extraordinary opportunity. It is never too late to tell those we love that indeed we do love them, until they are gone. We can talk about our lives, the triumphs and the tribulations, the things in which we had success and the times when we missed the mark. We can give them an understanding of their meaning to us; for too often those thoughts are not expressed. By sharing our aspirations and our vulnerabilities we can elevate our relationships by bringing those we care about close to us.

Not all of us possess the gifts of a Glenn Frey and not all of us will have the ability or opportunity to change the whole world. But we do have the capacity to change our piece of the world. We can decide what kind of relationships we create or nurture with those we care about. We choose to add our voice and our support to the people and causes we care about. Through these we change our piece of the world and our legacy is written by us.

Remembering my Father

Memorial candle copyThis week marks the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing, z”l. I lit a candle and will say Kaddish commemorating his Yarhzeit. Around the same time dad died, another person, Debbie Friedman also passed away. She was indeed a special individual, an iconic figure in the Reform Movement, and her passing is marked by several public acknowledgements this week.

I recall returning to my studies at the seminary after Shiva and hearing the buzz about the ceremonies planned to mark Debbie’s passing and feeling the sense of loss that pervaded the institution. Her contribution to Judaism was great and many of us, including me, will miss her. I could not help but notice the disparity in the treatment of the two. Although my dad touched fewer lives, he did touch lives and many cared about him. And what’s more of course, he was my dad and the loss is profound for me.

 As a Reform Jew I usually stand on behalf of those for whom there is no one left to say Kaddish as a respectful reminder of the victims of persecutions throughout our history. I also stand with those who mourn. This week I will also do it as a son remembering his father. It is acknowledging this personal loss that makes Kaddish Yatom, the orphan’s Kaddish.

 Our losses whether personal or communal can be intimate, closely felt. Many people may figure prominently in our lives, deeply affecting us even if we never met them. My father and Debbie both died that week five years ago. The loss of one does not impact the loss of the other. Each person who touches us can be a blessing and an inspiration for us to remember, their best motivating us to live our lives better and more fully. Zichronam Livrachah, May their memories be a blessing.

Devarim– Moses teaches about him and us

 Devarim is the great repetition that isn’t.  Moses’ speeches in Devarim are a wonderful retelling of a story, but so much of it is not true; at least much of is does not comport with the stories of the previous books of Torah. So what is going on with Moses?

 Viewing Moses as a person and not the mythic Prophet, Teacher and leader, Moses is doing what so many of us do. He is trying to understand his place in history, trying to figure out whether his teachings and leadership from slavery to peoplehood was really worth it. In simple language, Moses asks himself what we ask ourselves in the sunset of our lives: “Did I do good, did I make a difference?” Even the great Moshe Rabbeinu seems to question if he did the right thing and if ultimately he will make a difference in the world. For us, the answer is an unequivocal yes, but for him in that place, he was unsure.

 Moses’ stories are retold with a tweak here and an embellishment there. In these Deuteronomy versions, Moses recalls himself prominently and his actions are above reproach. Here at this place in his life, Moses knows he is at the end of his journey and what he has done is all that he can do. There is a sense of authority in his voice, as he needs to reassure the people who will continue forward without his leadership, and there is a sense of desperation as well as he needs to reassure himself.  It is here that we can relate to Moses the man, as we sometimes find our loved ones doing as he did.

 For those of us with older parents or grandparents we too see similar behavior in their retelling of their exploits during the journey of their lives. And the subtext of their stories echoes the issues and fears of Moses. We are our most compassionate when we lovingly hold them and respect their stories as recounted. It is our way of saying to them yes my dear one, you do matter, you did make a difference to me. I will love you and remember you for these and all the other gifts you have shared.

The Chain of Tradition Continues if we are a Solid Link

 A meaningful connection between our elder generations of age 50+ and our synagogues has profound implications in keeping our tradition vibrant and alive. Active embrace of these cohorts is a key to Jewish continuity and enriching succeeding generations. We can accomplish this provided we are prepared to actively engage them in our tradition.

 We are inheritors of a great tradition. Accumulated wisdom and insight has been passed from one generation to the next, being revised and revived at each step along the way. We view ourselves as links in a sacred chain. As we have received the tradition, we too shall pass it on. This is the Shalshelet HaKabbalah. But transferring our legacy is not automatic. But it is a challenge however to pass on the values successfully since the next generation often speaks a different language and lives within a different culture.

 The synagogue has traditionally been a part of this process. But as choices continue to open up to us in our modern society, expressions of meaning and community do not necessarily happen by joining synagogues. We can seek meaning and community elsewhere. And so we see the Baby Boomer generation leaving synagogues and their children not joining.   We can still connect however through actively embracing those who remain connected and most visibly need us, namely the elder cohort, dubbed “The Longevity Generation” by Rabbi Richard Address. We can offer access to community and meaning-making that clearly demonstrates the value of Jewish community in connection to a synagogue. The Shalshelet HaKabbalah or Chain of Tradition is a model that still works as an expression of continuity and community but only if we fully embrace it.

 The Longevity Generation is in the greatest need of the services and community that we offer. Teaching, pastoral care, community and social engagement, end of life care including hospital visits; hospice and end of life life-cycle events are all important services to this age group. If we give this generation all that they need, providing a rich and meaningful engagement with Judaism, they are not the sole beneficiaries; the value flows to their adult children as well. Further, this is not limited to current synagogue members. It can be an effective outreach to the older unaffiliated as well. It is an investment of time and caring that might yield dividends.

 The significance of our service and community support is understood and appreciated by the Boomers through the meaning we give their parents and the burden we help to share through our caring presence.   As the Boomers live through this experience they hopefully are drawn into it, provided caregivers, the congregation, and we the rabbis purposefully reach out to them while we are reaching out to their parents. Besides the support we provide the elder generation directly, we can help facilitate the often-difficult conversations that need to occur, from ethical wills and end of life decisions, to the shift away from independence to more dependent forms of living and the sharing of personal stories and family history as legacy. We invite the Boomers to be a part of a caring community and continue the conversations with us, others like them and hopefully those who have yet to experience these important transitions.

 Through helping the Longevity Generation we help and embrace the Boomer Generation who experience the value of Jewish Community. This understanding inclines them to share the meaning that they have known. In this context of values and community, the Boomers can be prompted to reframe the congregation experience from one of obsolete Institutional membership to a relational community of belonging.

 Our elders have much to teach us. Beyond learning their wisdom, we can also learn about our own humanity through the sacred service I describe. Our elders are valuable and important parts of who we are. The Longevity Generation deserves our honor and respect. As we engage in these behaviors of lifting them up, the integral and vital values of Judaism are naturally transferred to the next generation.

Hazak Hazak v’nitchazek

We are strong and together we are strengthened.

Pirkei Avot- A new teaching for the Baby Boomers

I am pleased to share our video teaching of Pirkei Avot

We aimed this teaching at the Baby Boomers to help unlock the wisdom of Pirkei Avot as they navigate this very interesting stage of life.  The link is below, or you can find this and other insightful things at www.JewishSacredAging.com.

RabbiDavidLevinPirkeiAvot1-940x400

http://www.jewishsacredaging.com/pirkei-avot-a-short-video-study-series-with-rabbi-david-levin/