Let’s Talk About the New Year

Between Us
Let’s Talk About the New Year

Here are three ways to Make It Yours this week:

My wife and I recently saw the movie Mr. Turner, an extraordinarily well-acted and beautifully-filmed biopic of the prolific 19th century English landscape painter J M W Turner, often known as the “painter of light.” At the end of the film, as Turner is near death, his physician advises him to “get your affairs in order in this world as you prepare for the next.”

Since we saw the movie, the news has been dominated by the unexplained loss of yet another airliner and the likely deaths of 162 passengers and crew. Clearly, these poor souls did not have the chance the get their affairs in order, nor do victims of terror and too many others whose lives come to an abrupt end.

This being the second day of 2015, I certainly don’t want to dwell on death. With a new year (Jewish or secular) the emphasis should be on living – new opportunities, new plans, new ways – to find fulfillment and betterment. Life, after all, is about improvement — learning from the past so we can be better in the future — better children, siblings, parents and spouses. To do so requires honest reflection and sincere change. To do so requires a willingness to answer the question, “What will my legacy be?”

The Jewish community needs more “painters of light” – volunteers who are committed to working toward the positive, professionals who find joy in engaging with the community on innovative and uplifting issues and donors who are inspired by the possibility of what might be. If we would all ask of ourselves more often and more searchingly, “What will my legacy be?”, we might just help fulfill our charge to become a light unto the nations.

This week’s parasha is entitled, Vayechi, “and Jacob lived.” But this last portion of the Book of Genesis is really about how Jacob died. He does so with dignity, preparation, humility and focus. One commentator notes that Jacob’s approach to death is exactly the opposite of Dylan Thomas’, “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Instead, Jacob accepts his fate and gets his affairs in order by extracting a promise from Joseph that he will be buried in his homeland and then bless his children and grandchildren. It is a natural process, a fitting close to the Genesis story, which was all about creation and the lives of our forefathers and foremothers. When his time comes, the Torah refers to Jacob’s death with the beautiful phrase, “he is gathered to his people”. He dies surrounded by family (in contrast to the lonely death of Moses) and in death, we are told he returns to family as well.

Vayechi, Genesis and Judaism are all indeed life-affirming.

Steven A. Rakitt, Chief Executive Officer  
[email protected]