My Father Was . . .

My ancestors were wanderers from Poland. My father was born in Brooklyn to immigrants from Ostraleka, Poland. He became a cabinetmaker and then moved into the plastics packaging industry. The career leap allowed his family to move from an apartment in Brooklyn to a home on Long Island, New York.  Like most American Jews, my ancestry is one of wandering and the resilience to make the best of challenging life experiences.

In a most wonderful exposition of resilience, Torah this week (Ki Tavo) describes when one brings an offering of first fruits to the Temple, it is presented with the phrase “my father was a wandering Aramean.” You might remember this phrase from the Passover Haggadah, which has its roots in an ancient early harvest festival. The phrase is understood to refers to the wanderings of Jacob, who ran for his life from Canaan through the Levant.  What a contrast to the farmer who has grown fruits and grains on his own settled land.

Can you imagine celebrating the accomplishments of your life by beginning with an appreciation of your ancestors who immigrated to save or preserve their lives? Appreciation for the struggles of the past that paved the way for our present, is a great tool for becoming resilient.

As soon as I read this bit of Torah, I thought of the viral internet story about how a Stephen Cohen, a Jewish staffer for Trump, was upbraided by his uncle who said Stephen Cohen had forgotten that his grandparents were immigrants to the United States. Not only had Cohen’s ancestors been immigrants, they had created successful businesses and became quite well off.  The uncle was reminding all of us that we should begin any endeavor or celebration with an appreciation of our wandering ancestors. And those setting immigration policy for our nation would do well to recall the stories of their own wandering fathers and mothers.

As we approach the High Holidays, when we take account of our lives, let’s remember the ancestors who wandered. From a place of remembering, we are more likely to open our hearts and find strength to persevere.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame