A close friend of mine has a box in a chest in her house. It is filled with her grandmother’s Christmas Tree ornaments – delicate, hand-picked, beloved pieces. Golden orbs and shining stars, heavy ceramics and light, painted glass. The ornaments have been passed down through her maternal line for generations. She has no idea what to do with them. Her father is Jewish, and she was raised in an interfaith home, going to Hebrew school, and celebrating Christmas with her grandparents. When she married her husband, a Jewish man, she decided to convert; though she considered herself Jewish, she wanted to be accepted as a Jew throughout the Jewish community. She no longer celebrates Christmas, but remains very close to her mother and her grandparents. Recently, she and her husband adopted a beautiful little girl from China, and they are raising her in a Jewish home. She already has my friend’s twinkle in her eye, and her adopted father’s laugh. My friend and her husband also create opportunities for her to connect to her birth country and culture. But they have no idea what to do with that box of ornaments.

What is the legacy that we pass on to our children? How much do we get to decide? And, despite our intentions, how much of that legacy will bring them fulfillment and joy? How much will they have to work hard to reject, to find their own space in the world?

Another friend of mine was telling me about his Vision Quest – a multi-day journey in the wilderness, during which, after many years, he finally shed himself of the fear of failure that his father passed on to him from his father, and from his father before. He is now beginning a new career path, and shared that finally, after many years, no longer has terrible anxiety.

When we raise our own children, is it possible to do so with a heightened awareness of the undercurrents of the patterns and values and traditions that were passed on to us, and which have shaped our own lives? Is it possible to change what we felt was harmful, and accentuate that which brought us joy? Or do the patterns, like the genes we pass on, shining ornaments we wish we could lovingly pick, inadvertently fall from our own trees to delicately hang on the branches of our children? And will those ornaments, some which we so treasure, shine eternally, or, after an ephemeral glow, be stored in a box, opened each year, tears glistening, to remember that which will be left in the wilderness?

–Maya Bernstein

4 comments on “Ornaments

  1. nechama tamler on

    christmas ornaments, shiny, beautiful globes that once upon a time hung on fragrant branches, can be magically transformed into ornaments for the inside of a sukkah, celebrating all of the blessings we harvest from the past and all of the dearest memories we hold close. I have been known to hang those ornaments, intended for other traditions, in my own sukkah, along with dreidels and other dangly things meant to invoke questions….thanks Maya, for your musings brought on by your friend’s box of inherited ornaments.

  2. Naomi on

    Reconciling our past and the expectations of our parents with our present and our hopes for the future is incredibly difficult – most people never achieve what your friend did on his Vision Quest. I think that it is unfair for us to not have hopes for our children, and dishonest of us not to admit to our children what our hopes are for them. However, we can still remind them that their lives are their own, and that among our many hopes for them is that they will one day forge their own paths.

  3. maya on

    nechama – it is a beautiful suggestion to hang those ornaments in the sukkah – reconciling the “own life” with the “old.” thank you.

  4. Jew Wishes/Lorri on

    Remembering the “old life”, and the cycles, emotions, familial life, and traditions behind them, is also a form of honoring those who came before us. After all, those individuals also had hopes and dreams, and raised us as best they could, with the knowledge instilled in them by their own parents, etc.

    Hanging them in a sukkah is a great idea. Or, setting some out around ancestral photos, during Sukkot, Shavuot, or even the High Holy days, is a way of remembrance.

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