Elisa Spungen Bildner is an alumna of Wexner Heritage from MetroWest. She is a member of the Wexner Heritage Alumni Council and she and her husband Rob, also a Wexner Heritage alumnus, are founders of the Foundation for Jewish Camping. Elisa was one of ten women honored by Jewish Women International in Washington, DC last week.
Tucked away in the chaos that is my closet, in a white felt jewelry pouch, is a silver charm bracelet. Or, rather the beginnings of one, since there are spaces for 10 miniscule charms but only three still dangle, each heavily tarnished. One charm is a four leaf clover with the word “mazal,” or “luck” on it. The second is a tablet with the Ten Commandments, and the last, an amulet etched with the priestly blessing, y’varech’cha adonai v’yishm’recha, “may god bless you and keep you.” The bearer of this gift to me, given when I was a baby, is long gone, my mother’s cousin, a Holocaust survivor who killed himself shortly afterwards in Israel.
We never met, but his legacy–that connection to Jewish peoplehood, to Clal Yisroel, does matter–is embodied in his choice of baby gift.
That legacy of values, the desire to leave some non-monetary remnant of ourselves on earth, is so intense, so primeval, that in this past Shabbat’s Torah portion, Tamar cunningly seduces her father-in- law, Judah, so that she could give birth to an heir to her dead husband’s line, which ultimately produced King David.
Today, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, families are willing to shell out $100,000 to consultants to draw up family mission statements so that the kids can learn to answer questions like “what is our purpose as a family?” and “what drives us forward?”
My family didn’t need to go the 100K route.
My mother, perhaps impelled by the values transmuted in her cousin’s discolored Hebrew charms, modeled why Judaism and Jewish continuity are values worth preserving, with her emphasis on Jewish study and scholarship, on family cohesion, on caring for others. She modeled her legacy in the thousands of Shabbat meals she cooked and continues to cook, in the volumes of Jewish books she and my father as well collect, in her graciousness to the severely disabled Israeli soldiers both she and my father lovingly welcomed as guests in their home year after year.
I hope I exemplified my family mission statement, with its own emphasis on the value of Jewish continuity, when 10 years ago my husband Rob and I created the Foundation for Jewish Camping, which supports non-profit Jewish overnight camps of all denominations across North America, because we believe they offer our community one of the best ways to transmit a love of being Jewish and strengthen Clal Yisroel. I hope I exemplify my family mission statement in the time I spend networking with serious and caring Jews across the world to raise money for and reinvigorate Jewish institutions that work to keep our tribe alive and well.
But certainly in one respect, I may fail. If only my challah were as good as my mother’s.