What's Your Story

A story is one way to tell others about something in your life. It provides you the opportunity to be the author, with your own point of view. But what happens generations later when those stories are forgotten, and we lose the ability to relate those stories to our current lives? 

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend Portland Jewish Academy’s Heirlooms and Artifacts program at the Oregon Jewish Museum. This is an annual program for the 5th grade class. Each student is asked to research a family member, write about those individuals and design artwork interpreting those stories. It is far more than your typical “family tree project.” In fact, when I asked their teacher to describe the project she said, “It is an opportunity for these students to preserve their family stories and present them in their own way through writing and art.” And you should see the beautiful work these students created.

My son is in this class and decided to focus his project on his great, great-grandparents, Lou and Sylvia Harris. I was too young to know my great-grandfather before he passed away, but was blessed to have known my great-grandmother until my teen years. What you learn through these types of projects is that these individuals are more than family members – they each have their own unique history which provides context on who we are today.

We always like to learn more about the “family lore,” and during my son’s research I learned (some of these stories are preserved in the diaries Sylvia wrote in daily from 1903-1982):

  • Lou, from Chicago, and Sylvia, from Cleveland, met when each of their respective families took a vacation to Yellowstone National Park in 1912. They met one another at a lodge (she was 17 and he was 22). Despite the initial chance meeting, once Lou returned to Chicago he wrote Sylvia in Cleveland and their relationship was born.

  • Lou was in the grocery business in Chicago. His motto – The customer always comes first. One Thanksgiving a woman came in at the last moment and shared that she forgot to order her turkey. Lou gave her his own family’s turkey and instead had duck for the holiday meal.

  • Lou and Sylvia once owned a car with a bullet hole on the side – it had been previously owned by Al Capone!

What I realize is that we all have our own special personal/family stories and memories. Too often they get lost when we do not share these stories from generation to generation. Oral history projects, especially with today’s technology, are easier than ever. If you want to see something special, visit the Oregon Jewish Museum to see these wonderful family stories through writing and art, and ask the museum how they can help you preserve your family memories.

Stories are not just our own. We often look to others to hear additional personal stories. On that note, the Jewish Federation is proud to bring Yossi Klein Halevi to speak at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center (free and open to all) on Monday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. Mr. Halevi is an author, thinker and commentator on Jewish and Israeli affairs. His most recent book, Like Dreamers, took the top prize in the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards.

In Like Dreamers (I highly recommend the book), Halevi interweaves the stories of a group of 1967 paratroopers who reunified Jerusalem, tracing the history of Israel and the divergent ideologies shaping it from the Six-Day War to the present.

In his book, Halevi follows the lives of seven young members from the 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade, the unit responsible for restoring Jewish sovereignty to Jerusalem (many of you have seen the iconic photo of the 1967 Six-Day War where a group of Israeli paratroopers are gazing upward with a look of wonder at the Western Wall). He reveals how this “band of brothers” played pivotal roles in shaping Israel’s destiny long after their historic victory. While they worked together to reunite their country in 1967, these men harbored drastically different visions for Israel’s future. 

One of the seven emerges at the forefront of the religious settlement movement, while another is instrumental in the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. One becomes a driving force in the growth of Israel’s capitalist economy, while another ardently defends the socialist kibbutzim. One is a leading peace activist, while another helped create an anti-Zionist terror underground in Damascus. Halevi does a remarkable job linking these men and their families to Israel’s history during the past five decades. 

As one of the children wrote - Efforts like these are about the search for a life -- a soul -- that shines a beaming gaze on the work you have done to preserve not only their life...but their story.

Whether PJA’s 5th grade class projects or Yossi Klein Halevi’s account of members of the 55th Brigade, it is all about people’s stories. So my question to you….What’s your story? And are you sharing it?

Shabbat shalom and have a wonderful Mother’s Day (ask about her stories)!


Two brief updates from your ongoing support of the Jewish Federation and our ability to assist global Jewish efforts:

I want to brief you on the continuing Jewish emergency efforts in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, which are experiencing increasing unrest and violence. Staff from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and Hesed (social service centers) are working tirelessly to ensure the well-being of their clients and Jewish communities where they are, providing stepped-up support with extra food, medicine, homecare, and counseling, just as we have done since this crisis began.

In Odessa —the site of 46 deaths last week —Hesed cares for approximately 7,000 Jews (out of the city’s 40,000 person Jewish population). Services for the elderly and poor have continued uninterrupted during this chaotic time. For other Jewish institutions and programs around the city some activities have been cancelled for security concerns. In Eastern Ukraine — where unrest and fear have grip the local population —more than 6,000 Jews in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, and Sloviansk are providing increased services and support, constantly adjusting to their ever-changing situation.

Six months after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines, the JDC -- working in collaboration with the Jewish Association of the Philippines as well as local Filipino, Israeli, and other global NGO partners -- is rebuilding schools, deploying local disaster risk reduction planning, and enabling fisherman to return to work as part of the organization’s efforts to help rehabilitate the island nation.


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