A Most Unusual Unveiling – The Value of Telling Your Family Story
Though my grandmother died 29 years ago and my grandfather passed away almost 40 years ago, my family just gathered for their hakamas matzeiva (unveiling) on last Friday morning. It isn’t that it took that long to honor them, rather there was a new unveiling because they were just moved from the cemetery in Staten Island to the new BRS section of the cemetery in Beit Shemesh. (Disinterring for burial in Israel is permissible – Shulchan Aruch y.d. 363)
My grandparents fled Germany in 1939 after their store was destroyed on Kristallnacht and my grandfather was beaten badly which left him with a spinal injury his whole life. They lost almost their entire families. Incredibly, almost all of their descendants now live in Israel and it is truly amazing that they have now come home to be with them.
In last week’s parsha, we read of how Moshe fulfilled his promise to Yosef not to leave his bones in Egypt, but to bring them for final burial in the land of Israel. Our rabbis say Yosef had a special chiba, an affection and love of Israel. My grandparents also loved Israel dearly. In the early 1970’s, on their first visit to our Holy Land, my grandfather wrote in a letter: “As we traveled from Haifa to Jerusalem we passed the graves of our forefathers, to the Masada, to the Dead Sea, and the Wailing Wall…As I stared before all these holy places, I could not help myself and cried for joy in disbelief that I was really here, and all I learned since my childhood about the Holy Land is real, and I could feel and touch everything.”
Moshe taught us that when we experience redemption, we don’t turn our back on the past, but we put our past on our back and take it with us into the future. My father shared with all of his descendants and with my cousins and their children our comprehensive family narrative and story. He reviewed our ancestors names, the places they lived, the stories of those who perished in the Shoah, and the miracles of those who migrated to America and to Israel. We recorded his talk so that our family story is now preserved for future generations. It was very poignant when most of my cousins and I recognized our own names in the stories of those for whom we are named and better understood our role in the chain of our family continuity.
For years researchers have sought to understand, what holds families together? What are the ingredients that make some families united, strong, resilient, and happy, while others are in disarray, fractured, broken, and fragile? Why are some families functional and others utterly dysfunctional?
As it turns out, the single most important thing you can do for your family is to develop a strong family narrative. A few years ago, the New York Times had a fascinating article entitled, “The Stories That Bind Us.” Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University did research which concluded: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your collective ability to bounce back from difficult ones.
Our future is stronger when it is built on our past. It is critical to know where we come from, if we are to identify where we are meant to go. Take the time to research your own background and as importantly, to communicate it to your children and grandchildren. Not only will it preserve your family’s story, it will help create a happier, more resilient and closer family.
I look forward to the day when, with God’s help, all of my grandparents descendants will be together in our homeland joining our forefathers from yesteryear and from yesterday.