My junior year of college I was living not far from Hillel in an apartment on 15th Avenue. I loved living in Seattle. Having grown up in Spokane, Seattle felt like a big city. There was more than one synagogue here – and there was a JCC and Hebrew High. You could see your camp and youth group friends more than two or three times a year. I loved how beautiful this campus was in the spring with the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
It was only fall quarter, though, when the phone rang in my apartment that year. There were no cell phones back then, so my Dad left a message on my answering machine to call home as soon as I could. I could hear in his voice that something was wrong. I was 20 years old and still had all four of my grandparents. My paternal set lived just a few minutes away from us in Spokane. Sunday night dinner at their house was a regular occurrence. My Grandma Marion was a classic balabusta – I wondered when she slept as it seemed she was always up late at night baking something delicious. Passover seder meals were her forte – never one main course, you always had to have both brisket and chicken – and she made her gefilte fish from scratch. I never even knew that it came in jars until I was much older.
I don’t remember the exact conversation I had with my father that night when I called him back, but I do remember that he sounded matter of fact – Grandma was back in the hospital with congestive heart failure and they didn’t expect her to live more than a few more days. He said I needed to come home and I should pack something to wear to her funeral. My father was an estate-planning attorney, and somehow he was able to separate his own emotions from the punch list of items that needed to be taken care of as his mother lay dying in the hospital room. My two brothers were still living in Spokane at the time, and my two sisters were now married and living here in Seattle. I think we must have gone home together, but honestly, I don’t remember. Somehow we all ended up in Spokane, taking over the entire waiting area on her floor. We sat and waited and shared stories, and when she left this world, she was surrounded by her family.
For the entire 20 years that I knew my Grandma, she never aged. She was always the same “old” to me. Many of her clothes from before I was born fit me as a young adult and I have a few dresses and suits of hers that hang in my closet for special occasions. I even wore her wedding dress at my own wedding with almost no alternations. We had a connection, she and I, and the power of her legacy was acutely felt in that moment as I walked down the aisle almost 25 years ago.
I don’t remember my Grandma dressed up that often, as she was usually wearing an apron, but when she did dress up, she smelled of fresh face powder. She would sit at her kitchen table and drink a cup of tea and watch the children playing in the park across the street and the people walking by. I have many sweet memories of sitting with her at that table and telling her all my stories from school about friends and activities.
Her kitchen table is now in my house, and remains the place where my family now gathers to enjoy a meal, share stories of our day, do homework, check our e-mail, and watch the people walking by.
Our house is actually full of furniture and belongings from family members and each one has a story. A legacy that it offers to the next generation. My grandmother left a legacy to us of her recipes, her joy of family, her wedding dress, her kitchen table.
She shared with us what was important to her and she passed on to her children and her grandchildren her values – Family. Judaism. Education. Opportunity.
This year, Hillel UW has joined a cohort of other Jewish agencies and synagogues in town who are part of the Grinspoon Life and Legacy program. It is an opportunity for us all to think about what is most important to us, what organizations are doing the kind of work that we value, and choosing to include them in our wills so that when we are gone, we can still have a valuable impact on the places that are the most important to us. As the famous talmudic story goes, there was once an old man observed planting a fig tree. When asked if he really expected to live long enough to eat the fruits of his labor, he replied: “I was born into a world flourishing with trees bearing sweet fruit. My ancestors planted for me, and I now plant for my children…”
Together, as a community, we trust in the future and trust that others will complete the task that we have begun.
Together, we have an opportunity to strengthen and support our entire Jewish community here in Seattle now and into the future.