Her grandkids’ friends refer to her as the “tech grandma.” At 101 years of age, not only is she healthy, engaged, and fit, but she is also an accomplished Facebook, email, iPad, and Mac user. Her friends (most over 90) often cluster around her computer while she searches Google for information they want about a movie or political candidate. She has 70 Facebook friends. She supports political causes and charities and she is a WRJ Individual Member. Despite her age, she is an advocate for social justice – on June 1st, she wore orange to raise gun violence prevention awareness. What is Adele’s secret? She jokingly says it is clean living. When pressed, she says it is family and love.
While continuing to live life fully, Adele is amazed at her longevity. Recognizing her advanced age and that she is already well ahead of the human lifespan curve, Adele often ponders the meaning of her life and her legacy. To her grandchildren she has written, “It is important to make sure we are living in a safe environment. The environmental hazards that face the entire world are very real and we have to be active in seeing that we have a safe world in which to live. Be industrious. Do not be afraid to take risks - sometimes we have to take chances or risks to follow our dreams and reach our goals.” How Adele has lived her life and her message to her grandchildren are her legacy.
But what is the meaning of her life? In fact, how does anyone measure the importance of a life? Is it measured by what one has achieved or accomplished? Is it measured by what one leaves behind – for example, wealth, successful descendants, or a better world? Or is it measured by what is missing when one is gone?
In one line of this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Miriam has died. We are given no details – we are not told where she was buried or how old she was. We learn in later verses that after Miriam dies, the people do not have enough water. It is only through Midrash that we learn more about Miriam and about the well that followed her in the desert. What is Miriam’s gift to our people? It is this enduring story – a story that gives meaning to her life and is of great importance to us even today. Yet this story is rooted not in what she did while living, because that is nowhere described in the text, but rather in what was missing after she died, that the people did not have water.
Is that then what gives meaning to our lives, namely what is missing when we are gone? If so, then it is our descendants and the people we leave behind who define the meaning of our lives, as the Rabbis did with Miriam. Only they can identify what void is left when we are no longer present.
Our job then is this: to make our lives matter, to live large, to make a difference in ways large and small so that, when we are gone, our absences will be felt, and we will be missed. While we are here, we should follow Adele’s example and focus on our legacies. The meaning of our lives is not for us to know but for the future to reveal to others.
Julia Weinstein is WRJ Vice President of Programs and Education and a past president of University Synagogue Sisterhood in Los Angeles, CA. Adele is her mother-in-law and role model.