I’m really thrilled to take part in this amazing gathering and hear directly from you about LIFE & LEGACY’s enormous impact throughout the country. Thank you, Arlene for asking me to give a short dvar today. A little background: Very few here know me but for good reason legacy is as close to my heart as it is to yours. Years ago when Harold met Gail Littman, of blessed memory, he was taken with her brilliantly simple plan for promoting legacy giving for everyone, no matter what our lifetime capacity. So he asked me to work with Gail to pilot “Create a Jewish Legacy” in Western Mass. Well, within a short time, once we had a dozen or so organizations up and running and even before the numbers were that impressive, Harold declared it a success and authorized Gail, with my assistance, to start up a broader effort in selected communities and Hillel. We called the program Areivim. Then Gail’s untimely death 4 years ago was an enormous blow and we still feel the pain. Yet Harold was determined to continue the program. It took a while but in that role we were able to hire Arlene Schiff, under whose incredibly gifted direction LIFE & LEGACY is having the enormous impact that Gail envisioned.
So what am I to say to you, who are carrying the program beyond our dreams? It wasn’t in this week’s parasha Emor that I found my inspiration but rather in an ad in my alumni magazine for a man’s luxury watch. It wasn’t the product or the price that drew my attention. It was the visual and the words. A father looks down lovingly at his 10-year-old son and the message on the page is: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.” While I know nothing about luxury watches, I thought those words delivered the quintessential legacy message – for us as donors, legacy team members, or program directors. “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.”
I took from those words 3 concepts that are the pillars of a legacy program: treasure, taking care, and next generation.
Treasure – Like the astronomically expensive Patek Philippe but a much greater treasure is every legacy organization. We need to recognize that. Aaron Lansky spoke on Sunday night of Yiddish and the Yiddish Book center as treasures. Our day schools and synagogues, Jewish Family Service, and and social service organizations are treasures. They turn core Jewish values into reality. Whatever their state of health at any moment –whatever their opportunities and challenges -- they are our jewels and they enrich our communities . I believe we participate in LIFE & LEGACY because we’re committed to preserving our treasured values and institutions.
The next piece is about “taking care.” Just as the message in the ad is “you never actually own a Patek Philippe,” none of us, no matter how invested we are, own or should act as if we own an organization or control the decisions it makes. The best we can do is be open to and embrace needed change. The Patek Philippe will have to be polished, its parts tinkered with or even replaced. So too our legacy institutions. Very likely they’ll need polishing, their components and programs tinkered with or replaced, or maybe down the line there will be a new model. Our job is to take care of the organizations we love, allow them to evolve, and support with current and after lifetime gifts.
The 3rd concept is next generation– reinforcing that we are all about passing on something valuable. The ad reminds us that a luxurious piece of jewelry will be a fine inheritance. How much more important to hand on healthy organizations! I’ve seen at this gathering that you are thinking and talking about that. You want to make sure legacy teams are refreshed and reenergized with new members. You are finding ways to cement relationships with donor families. And when I sat in on the session about Books of Life, I saw that these beautiful records allow donors to tell their stories and affirm an enduring commitment to legacy. Book of Life celebrations are a marvelous way to move the next generation. I was impressed by one community that encourages book of life signers to directly address their assembled children and grandchildren as they tell their stories. You have the solutions. Mindful always of the treasure, the responsibility to take care, and the importance of transmitting values to the next generation, may you go from strength to strength.