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JCF Blog

Year of the Philanthropic Journey Part 1 of 12: Living Our Values

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 9/12/2018
For many years, our ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) – which includes an extensive list of the values Edna and I agreed to practice in our new home together -served as an ethical roadmap for our lives. But as Edna and I celebrated our 25th anniversary a couple of years ago we thought that updating it with an Ethical Will - a non-binding document for the purpose of passing values, wisdom, stories, wishes, feelings, advice or important information to our three children - would be important.

But we never got around to it. And the recent passing of my father rekindled our senses of urgency to get one done.

This past May, as my father lay unaware in his hospital bed, the doctors told us there was nothing more they could do for him, except make him as comfortable as possible. 

The news was not a shock; he had battled Pancreatic cancer for 11 months. But it still took my breath away. My two sisters, brother and stepmother were all in the room together. The cold realization that my father was dying sent us into a surreal altered universe where we were forced to make end of life decisions.  

While my father had signed a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) provision, many nuanced questions remained. How much pain medication should be administered? Should we approve anything that would hasten his ultimate demise and spare him suffering? What happens when medical and Jewish law protocols come into conflict? And what happens if our family disagrees on the answers to these questions?

With no real playbook – my father did leave an Ethical Will to consult -- we shifted the discussion to one about values. What values could we agree upon as guides to help us make decisions and solve disputes? After a wide-ranging conversation, we agreed upon two basic Jewish values that permeated our family and which we all held dear: shalom bayit – keeping peace in the home (family), and; kibud av – honoring your father.

Shalom bayit was a fundamental value espoused by my late grandfather. He preached it at home, in the workplace and out in the community. It is a concept on which we were raised and, now, under stress, it would be put to the test, as principled disagreements about which medications to keep administering to my father to prolong or shorten his life abounded among us. And as we faced these critical decisions we kept on reminding each other to air opinions with openness, respect, and without ego – so we can keep shalom bayit and stay totally focused on doing what’s best for dad.

It worked. And this posture also furthered our ability to practice kibud av. This is a value we all grew into as adults – as we had our own children and started really appreciating the love, sweat and tears of fatherhood – and a value we cleaved to during my father’s bout with cancer. 

In addition to being a good father, my dad, an ordained Orthodox rabbi, was also a hospital chaplain, and the respect and love he garnered from his Miami Beach community for his caring presence was breathtaking. So honoring him was easy; all of us committed to making decisions that we thought would respect his wishes, particularly in context of being sensitive to what halacha has to say about what could and should not be done medically. 

To achieve this we agreed to consult my father’s rabbi before making any elective medical decisions. This, in essence, provided a referee for us on multiple occasions, helping us maintain both shalom bayit and kibud av.  

In hindsight our family was lucky we could agree upon two of our family’s “legacy values” – because while passed on to us verbally, they were never written down in any form of document, like an Ethical Will. 

This experience has really hit home about the value of drafting an Ethical Will now.  Why not join me this High Holiday season in this endeavor by getting in touch with a professional at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, who will be happy to guide you and your family through the process of writing an Ethical Will. I’m sure your family will find that memorializing values, advice and wishes as part of your legacy will prove priceless.

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