From Israel to South Africa, a letter to my first grandchild, Orli Rut
‘When one leaves this world, the mark that is left behind is not the accumulation of degrees and material accomplishments. We live on through our family.’
It was 7 P.M. on a Sunday evening about a month ago. My wife, Debbie, was speaking with our daughter, Zoe, in South Africa, who was expecting her first child; our first grandchild. It was a week before due date and Zoe started having contractions. Expecting false labor, we waited to hear back, but the next phone call reported that, along with her husband, Ohad, they were on their way to the hospital. By 9pm, Zoe had dilated to 5cm and the doctor decided to break her water. Debbie was scheduled to fly down on Wednesday. A preliminary call to El Al to check the possibility of getting a flight that evening ended with the conclusion that the flight was full. So, having learned from my children that the answer “no” is the start of negotiations, I made three more calls before finding an agent who was sympathetic to our cause. On prodding, the agent tried three supervisors before finding one that was willing to re-write the frequent flyer ticket. Debbie was off to the airport at 10:45 P.M. with Ohad’s mother Adi, who was in Israel visiting her parents. They arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport just in time for the flight.
Debbie and Adi arrived in Johannesburg to the joyous news that each of them had a new granddaughter: Orli Rut, who was named by her father at synagogue that morning. Our family is truly blessed – my parents and Debbie’s parents are all with us and each of them is still married to the same partner he or she started out with 60 years ago. Additionally, in Ohad’s family, both of his grandmothers and a grandfather are still alive. May they all be well. So, with all of her grandmothers and great grandmothers, Orli is just a beautiful name, meaning my light, and Rut is for Shavuot, which was the original due date.
Two weeks after Orli Rut’s birth, my son from California, and my daughter and I from Israel, arrived in Johannesburg. The last time we were all together was at Zoe and Ohad’s wedding, almost two years ago. With three children on three continents, these family times are to be treasured.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, in his recent autobiographical work “Listening to God” subtitled it “Inspirational Stories for My Grandchildren.” I have heard him say many times, “When one leaves this world, the mark that is left behind is not the accumulation of degrees and material accomplishments. We live on through our family. Yichus (lineage) is your grandchildren.”
To mark her arrival and one month birthday, I’d like to address some thoughts on family and a blessing, to my grandchild.
Dear Orli Rut,
You are our first grandchild, from very special parents. Holding you, in your complete dependency, was a very soothing and peaceful experience for me. I hope it is the beginning of a lifetime of shared moments together.
Being so far away now (we do hope that you’ll be joining us in Israel) presents challenges to staying close. Your family has a history of moving around – your Oma Debbie and I, at last count, have relocated nine times. There is a reason we are called “Wandering Jews.”
But our wanderings, our journeys are not just physical; they are intellectual and spiritual, as well. Three of your great grandparents were teachers before they retired and your Opa Werner is still a social worker - occupations that carried forth to your Oma and me (even though I work mostly on the business side, I love to teach). These professions are about nurturing and caring for other people - values we pass on to you, the beginning of the next generation.
Your Oma and I started a spiritual journey 20 years ago with your Ima, your Uncle Josh and Aunt Elka. Our paths have diverged, but the love and respect we have for each other binds us closely. There are 70 paths to Torah and to G-d.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach taught that real unity doesn’t come about because we are all the same, but from working at recognizing and harmonizing the unique divine sparks that are in all of us. Remember to love the other because of our differences, not in spite of them.
My blessing to you, my sweet Orli Rut, is Shalom. Shalom means peace and it is one of the names of G-d. But, it also relates to shleimut, completeness. It is a lifetime’s work, based on constantly being open to change that promotes growth. And that growth will be one of the most difficult challenges you will encounter. However, in this process you will be realizing your own potential, your own contribution to tikun olam, the repair and ultimate perfection of this world. And only you can play your part.
We so look forward to being a part of your life’s journey.
B’vrachot (with blessings),
Rabbi Yehoshua Looks is Managing Director of HaOhel Institutions. HaOhel’s venture Threshold, fostering Jewish Educational Entrepreneurship, will be hosting Launch Night of the First Fellowship, June 28, 2012.