Knowing where we come from gives us purpose and passion as we find our way forward
One of the women I spoke to as I worked on this supplement put the question best. “Some families seem to have a certain distinct trait that spans generations,” she said. “I sometimes wonder: Is that trait the result of family culture and values, or is it actually handed down in our genetic code?”
We all approach life with inheritances from the people who came before us. Some are obvious to all: coloring, height, physical prowess. Some are evident to those who know us even casually: talents, interests, personality. Some are embedded deep into our family culture: the way a home looks, the way we greet guests, our approach to money, how we demonstrate our feelings. And sometimes there are influences or proclivities deeper beneath the surface — layers concealed under so much here-and-now.
We built this supplement to explore and celebrate those links between our lives today and the generations of the past: the way their values, decisions, and strengths affect our own.
s you page through this project, you’ll see that we approached the concept from several directions. In one section, we asked people to tell us about an ancestor whose life work influences their own, and to unravel the subtle threads that connect the two.
In another section, our writers turned an adult perspective back on an ancestor they’d known only as a child. As much as we think we know where we come from, we’re always limited by the boundaries of our childhood perspectives, our lack of maturity and nuance. What would happen if we could revisit our childhood influences with new eyes?
We called the next section “If I could ask you one question.” Imagine you could turn to a single special ancestor and get their take on your life today. Imagine you could access their insight and hard-won wisdom to shed light on a dilemma you face. What would you ask?
We also decided to explore the issue from the other direction. What do the patriarchs and matriarchs of families think of the younger generation today? Where do they see their mark — and where do they see unique new strengths — in the way we face our challenges?
And sprinkled through the supplement are short pieces called “Life Links,” where various public figures detail which family member inspired them, and how.
’m sure I’m not the only person who looks around her table and wonders how and from where I’m supposed to have the knowledge and maturity to transmit all those precious intangibles I received to my own children. I’m still making my own mistakes, I’m still figuring things out. What makes me equipped for this monumental role?
The material in this project is, in a way, an answer to that question. We all possess within our consciousness a deep sense of how it’s done, what it’s all about, what’s really important. These are principles that weren’t formally taught, but were threaded through the weave of generations of daily life. They’re as much a part of our genetic code as our freckles or eyelashes or tone-deafness.
We can’t always touch that link, give it a name or shape or form, but we feel its tug. It gives us security and meaning and connection — the same cushion we pray to give our own children. Because knowing where we come from gives us purpose and passion as we find our way forward.
Wishing you a joyous Yom Tov,
(Originally featured in Linked, Succos 5780)