By Stacey Block
I have always been fascinated by genealogy and learning about my family’s history. I love sifting through old pictures at my parents’ home or talking with extended family at a holiday dinner and hearing something I had never known before. I can spend hours on Ancestry or My Family Tree tracing a small hint that can lead me back 5 generations to the small town of Lyntupy, Belarus that ultimately connects me with family I never knew existed. I am reminded that I am just one person in a larger connected Jewish family, a piece of the puzzle in a long line of those who came before me. Their customs and traditions, their traits and talents have been passed down through the generations shaping who I am today. It has now become my mission to do the work of creating our robust family tree so that the generations that come after me can know the stories, see the pictures, and learn who and where they came from. It is an investment in time, energy, and determination, but one that is necessary to continue our story.
In this week Torah portion, Ki Tavo, which means “When You Enter In”, Moses tells the Israelites “When you dwell in the promised land, take a selection of the first fruits and bring them to the place God chooses for God’s Name. With a priest you shall make an offering saying, ‘We remember when we were slaves in Egypt. We remember how God brought us to freedom with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with signs and miracles. You, God brought, us to this land flowing with milk and honey. And now I have brought these first fruits that you, God, have given me.” In appreciation of the food and land, the Israelites are not called to give thanks for what they are given, rather to tell the story of the people that came before them, their ancestors. By doing this they acknowledge that they are the present link that stretches back generations.
As a Buffalo Jewish community, we are also responsible for telling the stories of those that came before us and to show gratitude for the legacy they have left. This week we celebrated Jewish Buffalo at our annual Campaign Kick Off event, a special opportunity to gather as a community and to share all we have done together over the last year. We mixed and mingled, and kibbitzed and reminisced, and celebrated the life of our dear friend Leslie Shuman Kramer z”l. Together, we relished in the bounty of our community.
Rabbi Jethro Bekman has said, “The ancient commandment of the first fruits contains a kernel of wisdom for us today. As we rush through our busy lives, we should find time to pause, appreciate the bounty in our lives, and remember where we came from. Sharing the stories of our families and our people reminds us that if we look beyond the edges of our lifespans, we see that we are not just drifting through time, but that each of us is a precious word in a beautiful, ever-unfolding story.”
Stacey Block is the Director of Donor Experience at the Buffalo Jewish Federation.