On July 4, which happened to be our 36th wedding anniversary, Ann and I were blessed to wake up to the news that our granddaughter had been born at 6:30 a.m.
Hinda Blady Borovitz was brought into the covenant of Abraham and Sarah on Thursday, July 12, at her parent’s synagogue in Brooklyn, in the presence of four generations of her family. Hinda and her 2 1/2-year-old cousin, Spencer Isaac Friedman, as all grandparents reading this article will understand, are the great blessings of our lives.
As I have basked in the light of nachus this month, I also have reflected upon the world that my grandchildren are inheriting, and I have compared it to the world into which I was born 70 years ago. If you go back and read the newspaper headlines of July 1948, it is easy to see the fear and despair that my parents’ and grandparents’ generations experienced. The daily newspapers in July 1948 were filled with stories about the Cold War, the fear created by the beginning of the McCarthy era, the impact of the fresh wounds of the Holocaust and the issue of refugees seeking admission to America, and the anxiety over whether the newly born state of Israel would survive. Yet through the lens of 20-20 hindsight, today we can see that 1948 marked the beginning of amazing prosperity for America and the free world. NATO and the Marshall Plan rebuilt a destroyed Europe. Israel not only survived the devastation of the War of Independence but doubled its size in three years by absorbing refugees from both European Displaced Persons camps and Arab countries that had expelled their Jewish citizens, even those whose families had lived there for a millennium or more. American Jews not only came to the aid of the fledgling state of Israel through the support of UJA and Israel Bonds, but also built the Jewish communal structure of suburban synagogues and federation that we continue to enjoy.
My nostalgic look backward to the era of my own birth actually gives me great hope as I look at the faces of my grandchildren today. Similar to my Google search of Jewish and secular newspaper headlines from July 1948, we cannot avoid the gloom and doom of the accounts in our instant and constant 24-hour news cycle. I truly believe, however, that my grandchildren and yours are blessed with unique opportunities to grow and prosper and to create a better world for themselves and for their children and grandchildren.
My hope and optimism comes from a number of sources. First, when we commemorate Tisha B’Av on Sunday, July 22, we will be living proof that the Jews have survived and thrived for 1948 years since the Romans, with certainty and pride, believed that they had written us out of history. Moreover, two of my granddaughter’s three great grandparents who witnessed her brit bat are Holocaust survivors. The positive changes that keep evolving include the fact that Hinda’s mother, my daughter-in-law, Rebecca Blady, will be ordained in 11 months as an Orthodox rabbi at Yeshivat Maharat.
Even the technological revolution that so many of us so often bemoan does have its positive side. Through what remains to me to be a true miracle, we can be in instantaneous communication with loved ones and friends around the world. While Facebook friends are more often acquaintances than actual friends, our continually advancing communications systems do offer my children and grandchildren the opportunity to maintain real relationships, in the sense of what Martin Buber, the great Jewish existentialist, described in his book “I and Thou,” written a century ago.
The birth of my granddaughter not only gives me hope for the future, but it also demands that I hope and work for a better future. Ferdinand Isserman, an early 20th century Reform rabbi, once wrote that as Jews, we must “Pray as if everything depends upon God, and act as if everything depends upon you.” In the Misheberach blessing for naming a child we proclaim that just as a child has been brought into the covenant of Abraham and Sarah, may this child one day be brought to a chuppah and enter into a life filled with goodness.
All of us can remember many sayings in Jewish and American culture and literature that point us in the direction of hope for a better world and give us guideposts to lead us toward the goal of a better world for our children and grandchildren.
As I celebrate the birth of a new grandchild, I am reminded of a wonderful Jewish folktale about a first century rabbi, known to us as Honi the Circle Maker, who one day sees a man of 70 years old planting a carob tree. Honi asked the old man: “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” Honi then asked him: “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I have enjoyed the fruit of carob trees in the world, which my forefathers planted for me, so I, too, plant these for my children.”
Honi sat down to have a meal, and sleep overcame him. As he slept, a rocky formation enclosed upon him. It hid him from sight, and he slept for 70 years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree. Honi asked him, “Are you the man who planted the tree?” The man replied: “I am his grandson.”
Like the unnamed man whom Honi encountered, I believe it is my responsibility to continue to plant seeds of hope and peace so that my grandchildren can enjoy the fruits of our generation’s efforts. I have hope and faith that if, in the spirit of Pirke Avot’s Rabbi Tarfon, we continue to do our part to repair and redeem the world, then my grandchildren, 70 years from now, one day will plant metaphoric carob trees for their grandchildren.