The picture above captures one of my favorite moments from the first time that my grandfather met my daughter Siona (the first of his and my grandmother Harriet's EIGHT great-grandchildren, in case you're counting). It was taken nine and a half years ago.
In the last few days of grieving, and celebrating, and storytelling - I've been trying to wrap my head around the arc of my grandfather's life...the world that he came from...the world he helped to build...and the world he ultimately handed down to his "great-grands".
[For more on my grandparents and the Bronx they grew up in - see this blog posting of mine from August 2012.]
Like so many others, my grandfather's parents came from the nether world of the Russian Pale of Settlement early in the 20th century...in search of a better life....in search of a life of freedom and equality. And thanks to an extraordinary work ethic on the part of my grandparents (and their parents) - with a big extra boost from the education my grandfather received from the New York City public school system of that day - they were able to overcome the challenges of life as a post-immigrant family and ultimately prospered in America. Along the way, my grandfather gave back....through his service to our country during World War II...through the successful clothing business he owned and operated in Jersey City, NJ in the early 1970s...and through a lifetime of quiet philanthropy.
My grandfather did his part to provide for his family, and to make this world a better place.
And yet I find myself asking at the end of this period of mourning: to what degree is the world that my grandfather passes on to his great-grandchildren a world that is better, more whole than the one he inherited from his parents?
On this day in which we lift up the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr - we can't help but think of the persistent crisis of race in our country. Why, after all of these years, does the color of a person's skin still matter in the United States of America? (Let me know if you've read Between the World and Me - I'd love to reflect on it with you.)
I prepare to board a plane in a few minutes to the Dominican Republic (the DR), aware of the other kinds of brokenness that are part and parcel of other societies around the world.
My grandfather and the rest of the "greatest generation" never accepted the world as it was. Always they dreamed of what it could be. And then they got to work and started to build it.
The dreaming lives on. Not just in my grandfather's legacy...but in the fine leadership of organizations like American Jewish World Service...time and again, AJWS has led the way in bringing our Jewish values to bear in the building of a better world. That's true in terms of AJWS's advocacy on behalf of women and all those who identify as LGBTQ in the DR.
And it's also true in terms of AJWS's advocacy on behalf of Dominican families whose ancestry is traced back to Haiti, and who are regularly robbed of their human rights as a result.
I wonder what my grandfather would say about my going straight from his funeral to a country that has a horrifically poor track record of treating immigrants with compassion. Would he be angry that I was spending time, energy, and money in a place whose values were anathema to his own, and so at odds with the narrative of his family?
I'd like to believe, instead, that he would be incredibly proud of me (he was always proud of me!) for going to this country that seems to be hurting and broken, so that I can bear witness, and then bring stories back...to organize and mobilize hope...so that I might follow in his footsteps, by doing my part to build and re-build again this vulnerable world we call home.