This summer my mom gave me the photo album from my bar mitzvah 38 years ago. Since she moved into an independent living facility, she’s been slowly going through boxes and boxes of stuff that she didn’t have time to go through before she moved. It was really interesting to look through the old pictures, remembering the people who were there. There was one picture that I really love because it shows my dad, who’s been gone for 17 years, dancing with his mom, the only grandparent I ever knew. It’s such a great picture — to me at least.
What I can’t get over is that I look just like him in that picture. When I went home to officiate at my uncle’s funeral, my cousin looked at me in shock — we hadn’t seen each other in years. “You look just like Uncle Bobby!” he said. I didn’t see it then, but I do now, looking at that picture of my dad dancing with my grandma.
Some years ago, I was visiting my sister and I was explaining something to my nephew — I don’t remember what. Afterwards Jeanne said to me: “you sounded just like Dad, the way he used to teach.” Apparently, I don’t just look like him, I also teach like him. I also walk around turning off lights to save electricity, just like him. I reuse the backs of return envelopes from junk mail, just like he did. Every once in a while, I’ll go to the grocery store, see the bottle of pickled herring in cream sauce on the shelf and buy it on impulse. My dad loved pickled herring in cream sauce with slices of onion. And I get it home and I try it and I think to myself: I still hate pickled herring and I have got to stop buying it just because I miss him. There are many ways in which I am like my dad, but I am my own person. Consciously or subconsciously, we carry forward aspects of our elders who, deliberately or inadvertently, taught us when we were young.
One of my favorite musicals of the past year wasn’t actually a live musical. It was Moana, the Disney animated film. If you haven’t seen it, you should. The film takes place in the South Pacific and things are going badly on the island because they’ve denied their past and forgotten their heritage. It’s up to the heroine, the Disney Princess, to set sail across the Pacific and save her people. My favorite song from the musical is “We Know The Way” which is this waking dream sequence that shows Moana the heritage that she has lost, the heritage that she would reclaim. There’s one line that really stands out in my mind: “We tell the story of our elders in a never ending chain.” But we don’t just use words to pass on the story of our People from generation to generation. Simply the way that we live our lives continues our chain of tradition.
The foods that we serve every day, but especially those we prepare for holidays tells the story and adds a link. Teaching a child how to make your grandma’s butter cookies using an orange juice glass as a cookie cutter. The stories we pass down about our own misadventures as children. The stories our grandparents passed down to us. The values we hold most dear, taught as lessons or demonstrated through our own actions. The clothes we wear. The way we talk with the tone we take or the words we use. Who we are, as individuals and as a People. Each of these creates another link to be added as our story is passed from one generation to another in a never ending chain.
We may not be conscious of all that we pass down. But that only makes it more important to be deliberate when we tell the story of our elders in a never ending chain. Thinking of all we’ve received from our families and our People, we should carefully consider what we wish to be carried forward in the generations yet to be.