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JCF Blog

The Unbroken Chain

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 6/8/2017

Judaism is a faith steeped in laws, traditions, and rituals. We are also a people rooted firmly in history. This connection to history has shaped us as a people. We know where we came from and the events of our past play an integral role in defining who we are. 

There is an old Yiddish proverb that says “If a link is broken, the whole chain breaks.” One might say that this chain is our unbroken connection to our history as a people. If we lose the connection to our past, the whole chain that holds the Jewish people together will break. 

Our Jewish community is also part of this chain. A sense of peoplehood is core to the Jewish belief system and communities exist to reinforce our common values and beliefs and provide an infrastructure for our spiritual and physical needs. It is also how we make sure that no one goes hungry, no one mourns alone, and no one who is in need is forgotten.  Despite the advent of social media (or perhaps because of it), communities are needed now more than ever. In our modern world where it is possible to live far distances from our families and birth communities, we all need a network of support that feels like family.

It is why a synagogue is called not only a Beit Midrash (house of study) and Beit Tifilah (house of prayer), but also Beit Knesset (house of assembly). We gather because the idea of community – of being together in joy and in sadness – is part of who we are.

There is, however, another equally valid interpretation forth is idea of the Jewish people as an unbroken chain. Judaism is also a religion of family. We celebrate Shabbat together with family in our homes. We take great joy in the celebration of life cycle events, like weddings, that bring family together to rejoice in the miracle that is life. The chain also represents our parents and grandparents; our children and grandchildren all linked together. What keeps the chain from breaking when we lose one link are the new links created to perpetuate our families and our people. 

More than 25 years ago, my father-in-law Dr. Fred Wolkoff gave me a tallit (a Jewish prayer shawl) as a gift. It was his way of embracing me as part of the family. I have worn it ever since and have felt the presence of family each time I put it on. We lost my father-in-law this past January. It was a heart wrenching sadness for the whole family. Yet, he hadn’t really left – I feel his arms around me each time that I put the tallit on. 

Only a few months after his death, my daughter was to be married. It was a joyful day; a wonderful celebration of two people who had found each other and started a new life together. It not only made me happy, it gave me hope in the future and reminded me that a new link in the chain had been forged. 

At the end of the ceremony, my daughter and her new husband were wrapped in a tallit – a symbolic gesture signifying that from two individuals came one. Of course, it wasn’t just any tallit.  It was the tallit given to me by my father-in-law. He was wrapping them in his loving arms.

The chain remains unbroken.

In sadness and in joy, the chain of a family, a community and of a people remains unbroken. 

Michael Johnston is the President & CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of  Greater Hartford.

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Libby Pearl
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Lovely article, Michael, thanks.
Hal Wolkoff
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Thanks Michael - beautifully written.
David I Brandwein
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Another beautiful message, Michael.
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