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JCF Blog

Ancestors of the Future

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 10/21/2015

By: Michael Johnston, President and CEO

Every once in a while a series of unrelated events conspire to teach me something important. One might say that it is coincidence that this happens, but in general I don’t believe in coincidence. (As Laura Pederson once said, “coincidence is God’s way of being anonymous.”)

Last year while at services, I heard a local Rabbi introduce one of the central prayers of the Jewish liturgy by saying “we are the ancestors of the future." It was an interesting turn of phrase and one which flips time on its head.  We are of the here and now, of course, but we are also of the future (and of the past for those who follow us!).

There is nothing unusual about time travel in the Jewish tradition. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “We are a people in whom the past endures, in whom the present is inconceivable without moments gone by….What happened once upon a time happens all the time.” 

It just so happened later that same weekend, I took a tour of Jewish Hartford led by the Jewish Historical Society and was struck by all of the connections between past and present.  Between our “ancestors” and our current institutions. On this remarkable and expertly guided tour we passed or visited sites of great local historical significance including the original sites of many of our community’s synagogues (including The Emanuel and Congregation Beth Israel), the first home of the oldest day school in our area (now known as the Paul and Bess Sigel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford) and the first two sites of the Jewish Community Center (now known as the Mandell JCC).

As I walked through the hallways of the original Beth Israel synagogue (the first synagogue building allowed in the State of Connecticut now preserved and maintained by the Charter Oak Cultural Center), I came upon a picture of Mel Title as a boy. Those of you who know the Jewish Community Foundation know that Mel was the first Chair of the Endowment Foundation – JCF’s predecessor institution. 

It turned into a revelatory moment for me. Here before me was a picture of a boy who would later go on to be one of the original founders of the institution that I now have the honor to serve. As a boy of 12 or 13, the idea of preserving the community in perpetuity through endowment was not even a glimmer in his eye. In his future would be the historical event that changed our community (and the course of my life). 

That’s when I truly understood the meaning of the Rabbi’s teaching that we are the ancestors of the future. Everything that we benefit from in this community is the product of the foresight and commitment of the generations of Greater Hartford residents that came before us. Similarly, all those that follow us will benefit from the work that we are currently doing. 

For me, that thought gives more meaning to the idea of endowment. The generations to follow may not know exactly who to thank for the community that they inherit, but our work to build the community’s endowment helps assure that they will have a community to inherit. The work we do is truly L’dor V’dor – from generation to generation.

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