I have been lucky to attend a lot of milestone birthday parties recently. It seems that it is moments of round numbers when many of us look back and look forward and ask ourselves the deeper questions of meaning and purpose. Is my life what I hoped that it would be? As I count my years, and start to recognize the urgency of living life in a meaningful way, what gives my life meaning, and a sense of purpose?
One of the reasons that I fell in love with Jewish tradition and culture is the sensibility of “Z’chut Avot”–the memory of our ancestors. Like many ancient traditions, Judaism prizes the remembering and retelling stories of those who came before us, and adding our own stories, insights, and sensibilities to the narrative as we pass it on to the next generation. This treasure trove of remembered and recorded wisdom is open to all of us to mine for learning, and also can serve as framing stories that help us locate ourselves.
Whether or not we are Jewish, we can all find meaning in unpacking, retelling, interpreting, and remembering the wisdom and sensibilities of stories of previous generations.
In my ELI talks, which I will share in honor and memory of my father, Rabbi Norman Koch, z”l, I had a chance to share a few of my stories of meeting people who had deep wisdom to share on what gave them a lasting sense of purpose–and some ideas of how re-enacting and remembering Jewish narrative as a living story is the best kind of Jewish education.
What ancestor stories or traditional wisdom help give your life meaning and help you find your purpose? What do you find meaningful in Jewish narrative or in other traditions that you apply to your own life? As a diverse community, I bet that among us we have many faith and wisdom traditions that help shape our lives and our legacies. I would love to hear your thoughts and responses–don’t hesitate to stop by my office, to comment below, on YouTube, or to send me an email.
Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
14th Street Y