Earlier today, I went in search of her ethical will to my sister and me, which, as anticipated, I found safely tucked away in a box of keepsakes in my hall closet. Although it includes no date, I would guess, based on context, my mother wrote it sometime in late 1995 or early 1996, and in its words, I found her richest legacy to me:
My dearest children,
For some time now, I’ve wanted to write an ethical will, one in which I could set down my thoughts and values for you. After all, we try to put our financial estate in good order, so how about our ethical estate? I’ve always told you the only thing of value you can leave behind is your good name, so why not talk about that?
At the Kallah last week, I took a class in writing an ethical will, and it impelled me to start what I had been putting off for a long while. You, Jane and David, Amy, and Daddy are the most precious parts of my life and I include you David, because married to our child, you become our child. At your mother’s house after her funeral, Lilac told me that your mother always said she never had to worry about you because “Jane’s family would always look after you,” and she was right. We do so not out of obligation, but because we care about you, you care about Jane and we all care about each other.
So here are my thoughts to which I’ve given lots of thought. They mean a great deal to me and I hope they will to you, as well.
I am the child of immigrants as you are their grandchildren, so the immigrant experience is very important and meaningful to me. I’ve always admired your grandparents for having the courage to leave behind all that was safe and secure to seek the end of a rainbow here in America. Because of them, we are free to be committed Jews as well as whatever else we chose to be, limited only by our own vision of the horizon.
Ellis Island is not just a museum we visit, but a real part of my history and you know how the Statue of Liberty has always been my special lady. It’s vital to know where you came from because it shapes the paths you take to where you’re going. Our Jewish heritage is a treasure and it’s your task to guard it, preserve it and pass it on to your children so the chain of our past will remain unbroken in the future.
I’ve thought a great deal about blessings – the ones I’ve known and the ones I wish for you. I’ve been truly blessed with:
For you, I wish the blessings of:
- A family that loved me unconditionally;
- A husband I love and treasure, who, after 41 years, remains the centerpiece of my life;
- Wonderful children whom I would choose to know, even if they weren’t my children;
- Friends who enrich my life;
- The opportunity to study and grow, not just grow old;
- The chance to switch careers and do meaningful work;
- The joy of trying to live my life as a serious, committed Jew.
You have grown into beautiful people. As you go through life, you can be sure that I will always be there for you. Know, too, that I will love you until and throughout eternity.
- Sharing your life in harmony with another;
- Loving family relationships;
- Lifelong learning;
- Strength to face what you must face;
- A lifetime partnership with God;
- Clarity of purpose;
- Living a Jewish life within the framework of “Our Obligations”;
- The courage to try;
- Making choices of your free will that enable you to fulfill God’s will;
- A world of peace;
- Good health;
- Good friends;
- Fulfillment in all the times and seasons of your life.