11/02/2011 06:34 pm ET Updated Jan 02, 2012

A Legacy of Hope

Without succumbing to trite phrases, political slogans or a naive perspective, I suggest that we spend this month focused on the importance of providing future generations, our children and grandchildren, with a legacy of hope.

At the High Holy Days this year my rabbi, Simeon Glaser, gave a moving and challenging sermon titled "Angels on Their Shoulders." It was inspired in part by his grandmother's "legacy" to her daughter. In 1940 the rabbi's mother, age 12, was leaving Germany alone, bound for the U.S. Frightened, young Agathe looked to her mother, who told her that, "God's angel protects all children and ensures their safety." Further she advised her daughter to take the angel with her to remind her that she would not be alone ... ever. "Let this angel remind you that there is hope and that I have faith in your future."

What an act of courage by this mother, on the brink of WWII, sending her daughter to freedom, knowing she might never see her or be able to protect her again.

No matter what today's cynics say, I agree with my rabbi: "The Jewish people are a people of hope." It's not 1940, but late 2011 has its challenges too. As elders, we have a responsibility to be aware of and act on behalf of our children and grandchildren. I know as an American, no matter the trials of our economy, our still virulent racism, our ugly political divide, people talking and no one listening, that under it all, we Americans too are a people of hope.

My rabbi concluded his sermon with a challenge, a powerful and significant challenge to all of us legacy writers. He asked and answered this question: "Who will be the angels who will speak the words of hope and vision to the children who inherit the future? I believe that you and I are these angels."

I believe we are the angels too. It's time to reevaluate our deepest values, set aside cynicism and fear, have the courage to reclaim our voices, to define the kind of world we want to leave future generations. We must act on those values and state them clearly to pass on our yearning for good, and our hopes and blessings for those who will come after us.

"You are not obligated to complete the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to abandon it." --Ethics of the Fathers

Some Suggestions for Action

1. Reflect on and write about legacies of hope (open to your interpretation as to the meaning and breadth of hope) that you received from the generations who preceded you.

2. Make a list of causes that concern you, that you've planned to or have already taken action to improve, address or solve (e.g. poverty, literacy, the environment, conditions of children, women, refugees, human rights, oppression of any kind).

"In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." --Mother Teresa

3. Choose someone of a younger generation (preferably a child or an adolescent in your life) to whom you want to write.

4. Take 15 minutes to write a legacy letter that addresses your concerns and your caring for the beneficiary of your beacon of hope for their future: Your blessing of an angel for them to carry on their shoulder and a reminder that your love and blessing will be with them as long as they live).

5. Reflective notes: When you've finished with your letter, take a few minutes to refurbish and acknowledge the angel of hope on your own shoulder, and renew any action commitments you've made to utilize the energy of hope to work for a better world.

"May you always be aware that you are not alone, that God's angel of hope is with you
and with those you pass it to."
--Rachael Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at To schedule legacy writing workshops in your community or for your organization, contact