Kvelling with Fred Zola and the family, as grandson Kendal became a bar mitzvah, brought back a college memory of a conversation whose conclusion was realized on this special Shabbat.
My friend Sherm, a fellow student at Berkeley, passionate about his Jewishness and his love of Israel (he lives in Rechovot) was in heated conversation with his friend Donna. She insisted that all the ritual and prayer he loved so much was unnecessary given that she already was a devoutly ethical person. Why did she need to identify Jewishly? Sherm responded: While indeed she was devoutly ethical, and her child would likely be ethical, there was no assurance that she would hand on her ethics to her grandchildren. He added: while Jewish ritual, custom and prayer may seem unnecessary and redundant, it is the only way to assure that your grandchildren would likely carry on your values.
I knew my friend was wise before that interchange, yet, some 40 years later, that story and his wisdom continues to resonate with me. And, it all came back on Shabbat Lech Lecha, celebrating the start of a new direction by a fellow named Abram. We are named after the grandchild of Abraham, so relationships between grandparents and grandchildren show the power of the ritual and the teaching, transmitted through the generations.
A post-script to the story: Sherm lives a creative traditional life for many years in Israel. His friend from Berkeley, Donna, lives in Berkeley. She has also lived in Israel. Actually, you can read her bio on the inside cover of her book, the definitive descriptor of life in Israel: The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land. She interviews Israelis of all backgrounds, uncovering the delightful complexity of life in Israel. And, yes, one of the families interviewed is Sherm with particular interest in family dynamics connecting varied cultures in the next generation, Sherm’s children.
How amazing, when you reflect on your life story, insights that connect long ago with something special now. That struck home as Fred kept emphasizing that the best motivation his parents could muster to keep him on task in doing his Bar Mitzvah was that he was doing it for his grandfather.
With my friend Sherm’s college era conversation with Donna in mind, I realized the best blessing I could give to Kendal was to suggest that he was doing his Bar Mitzvah for his grandchildren!
I look forward to Thanksgiving with all of you and our friends from St. Paul’s visiting us, that we enjoy that special pause to count blessings, past and present, and to use them to energize our future…for our generation…and more significantly, our grandchildren’s generation!