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JCF Blog

A Wedding and A Funeral

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 7/13/2016

It’s a truism to say that the Jewish people are deeply rooted in history. We are an ancient faith that reveres our ancestral roots (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah); we lament and remember the great tragedies of our people’s past (the Shoah, the Inquisition); we even have holidays and essential rituals rooted in the remembrance of historical events both good and bad (Passover, Chanukah, Purim, Tisha B’Av).

But as it is true that we are a people rooted in history, so it is true that we have always had a deeply abiding commitment to the future.  Not just any future, but a future enveloped in a sense of hope and optimism. I was reminded again recently that this belief in the future appears again and again in our literature and sacred stories. 

A group was gathering to learn about and discuss the renovation of a critically important Jewish historic site – the original Beth Israel Synagogue, our state’s oldest synagogue building – now utilized and cared for by the Charter Oak Cultural Center. As I considered what I might say to the group about the potential this project has for bridging the past, the present and the future I looked (as I sometimes do) to sacred text for inspiration. In this case, a story in the Talmud of two processions – a wedding procession and a funeral procession – that meet at an intersection too narrow to allow both to pass. One of the processions will need to step aside to allow the other to progress; but which one should go first?

The rabbis concluded that the wedding procession should get the right of way. Why? Well, it’s the Talmud so there are more reasons than can be counted(!), but the one that was most meaningful to me had everything to do with our people’s belief in the future. The wedding procession should go first, this argument concluded, because hope and optimism about the future (as represented by the bride and groom) should always take precedence over the past. We are a people who believe in the future – even in the face of sadness.

We all strive for a better future – whether for our children and grandchildren or the Jewish people as a whole. Despite our bitter history as a people we continue to believe that the future will be better. We believe in the bride and groom. It is one of the most beautiful, most powerful aspects of our ancient faith.

As I remembered this Talmudic debate, I was also struck by how much my work and the work of the Jewish Community Foundation is rooted in this faith in the future.  Building an endowment for the future of our community, of our people, is the ultimate indication of our faith in the future. We cannot be certain of what the Jewish community will look like 50, 100 or 200 years from now, but leaving an endowment to sustain and support the community long after we are gone defines what it means to have faith in the future.

It is why I believe there is such beauty in even the smallest of endowment funds.  It is a reaffirmation of all that we believe in. A reaffirmation of our hope. May our hope in the future always burn brightly in the hearts of our people.

   Michael Johnston is the President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford.

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