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Musings and sketches to inspire. Changing the world one pixel at a time.

My Weekly Gratitude: Honoring our Ancestors and Family Traditions

Jess Kirkman

My great-grandmother with some of her children, including my bubby (second from the left). Menorah placed for conceptual purposes only :)

My great-grandmother with some of her children, including my bubby (second from the left). Menorah placed for conceptual purposes only :)

This Hanukkah, I've been pretty good at lighting the candles and making latkes. But the other night, after saying the Hanukkah prayers, I got a little overwhelmed with sadness or this feeling of homesickness. The holiday season used to feel more familial. Latkes and candles are great, but the traditions feel hollow without remembering why Im doing them in the first place and figuring out how to share them with others.

These traditions, by nature, have been carried down from generation to generation and found their way into my ‘now’.  That’s a powerful thing to think about and led me to my weekly gratitude: Ancestors. Family stories. Traditions.

Hanukkah was a good place for me to start thinking about this because it’s not the most significant or religious holiday to the Jewish people. I can’t say Im a very ‘religious’ person, but my Jewish heritage and the traditions and holidays that come with it are extremely important to me. To know that I am participating in the same actions that my own lineage has been doing for thousands of years is a pretty amazing concept. We exist today because of the strength and tenacity of those who came before us. I take this as a great responsibility. I get to decide which of these traditions to hold onto. I get to decide what information to pass on and share with future generations. I get to decide the future path of my family tree. I am a living legacy of the people that came before me. I am what is left of their lives. Instead of blindly following traditions, I can look at the actions I’m taking and remember the history involved and be proud that I am now a part of that history.

My Uncle Eli is a true inspiration for encouraging my family to live this legacy. He is currently putting together not only a massive, organized family tree, but he is tracing back and getting the full life stories of each direct descendant. He has gone to Europe to visit the hometowns of our ancestors and has put together detailed accounts of the people that have allowed us to exist in the first place. They are no longer just names in a family tree, they are people who had stories of their own, and traditions to share.

On the topic of sharing, I want to share an idea with you that my uncle so brilliantly conceived. He suggested that our whole family, every branch of the family, light a candle together on the same night to honor our ancestors. I think this is such a beautiful expression of family pride. Eli remembered hearing from a great aunt of mine, “We are all fingers on the same hand.” and as the saying goes "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." Im interpreting the saying somewhat, but we should try and remember to honor the fact that we didn't appear out of nowhere, and that family history is important. 

So, over this holiday season, I will not only light the Hanukkah candles to follow tradition, I will light them to honor the people that have shared these traditions year to year. I invite you to do the same. Light a candle for the people that came before you. Carry on traditions with a purpose. Teach your children or those that look up to you to live the legacy. And at the end of the day, ask yourself, ‘How will I be remembered?’, ‘What will live on from my life's story?' Do your lineage a favor and be a good ancestor for future generations. Take on that responsibility and bask in it. The future starts right this second, and you get to decide what to do with it.

Happy Hanukkah and Namaste.