By Stephanie Blumenkranz
When I was listening to Elizabeth (Lizzie) Leiman Kraiem, Director of the Jewish Ethical Wills Project, speak about forever letters at our recent event cosponsored with the Jewish Communal Fund, I couldn’t help but think about the box of letters and cards I keep in my closet. Forever letters, or ethical wills, are resources Jews have used for centuries to articulate and pass on deeply held values and beliefs. The letters in my closet are not these. They are letters I received throughout my lifetime from family, friends, and a few teachers, and the information in them is not sacred or even private. They send me good wishes, tell me about their day, and probably include some remarks about the weather. I covet these letters.
There is something so powerful about the written word that it doesn’t matter so much what it says. It means something because it’s down on paper and they put it there for you to read. But, what if my letters shared the writers’ values, dreams, and wishes? I would covet the letters even more than I do. I would make sure that I read, reread, and understand the intentions behind every word. If the writer passed away before I did, that letter would give me a piece of that person that I could continue to hold dear.
Understanding and articulating one’s own values is not an easy task. I value so many things that they often come into conflict with one another. Amy Holmes, Senior Philanthropic Advisor and Manager at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, led us in an exercise in realizing how our values reflect how we spend our time and philanthropic giving. Through reflecting on our values, we saw how intentional we were as philanthropists and as people.
Lizzie then explained how we can further bring our values to life through the written word. My value of supporting and empowering women and girls, when written in a forever letter, becomes a part of my life story by which those I love will know and remember me for years to come.
I have no doubt that if I sit down and write a forever letter that the recipient will cherish the letter. It will also help me live a meaningful intentional life. Those whom I love have given me the gift of their letters. It’s time I wrote them back, and wrote them letters that they will be sure to keep.
For more information on values-based philanthropic giving and forever letters, view the documents that were utilized at the event:
- Your Philanthropic Roadmap, by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
- Your Jewish Philanthropic Roadmap, by the Jewish Communal Fund and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
- The Jewish Ethical Wills Project at JCC Manhattan, supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation
- Event Worksheet with Additional Resources