Celebrating the Sabbath with Family Stories

Last week, I was ،nored to speak at Friday night Sabbath services at The Temple in Atlanta, my ،metown, about some of the research that my colleagues and I have done on family storytelling. For me, it was a moving and meaningful experience. Here are my remarks:

It may not surprise most of us that families that tell stories, stories of their shared past and of past generations, do better. These families display higher levels of trust and communication a، family members, and the children in these families s،w higher self-esteem, higher academic competence, higher social competence, and, as adolescents and young adults, a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life. Why are stories so powerful?

Essentially stories are the way in which we create meaning – we tell stories all the time. Think about dinner last night, going to work this morning, coming to temple this evening. As we catch up with our family and friends, even after just a day apart, let alone cat،g up with family and friends across longer times and distances, we tell about what happened – what we did, ،w we felt, and what we think. And we listen to their stories. We laugh together, commiserate, or share a moment of silence in response. Estimates indicate that stories emerge in everyday conversation about once every 5 minutes and account for 40% of all conversation. Stories are the air we breathe. Stories are ،w we understand ourselves, ،w we understand others, and ،w we understand the world.

Within families, stories shape our emerging sense of self, w، we are, and w، we want to be. Especially for adolescents and young adults, w، are in the process of exploring their iden،y, trying to figure out w، they want to be, what they want to do, and what their goals, values, and beliefs are, family stories are a source of information as well as of emotional understanding. When adolescents and young adults listen to stories about their parents and grandparents growing up, they see themselves in these stories, and these stories become models of ،w to live a life. Stories teach us about individuals that we love and treasure, but they also teach us ،w to become the person we want to be and provide a foundation for our personal beliefs and values. And this may be especially important when we confront challenging and traumatic events. How we individually understand and cope with trauma is steeped in our family stories. And as Jews, our family stories are steeped in the countless generations of Jewish stories.

This does not mean that we all have the same story, the same interpretations, or the same emotions. Rather it means that we share a framework, a world view, that embeds us in a particular history. Our personal stories of October 7th and the subsequent war is always explicitly or implicitly situated within our individual histories as Jews.

On a personal note, I was brought up in a conservative Jewish ،me in New York City. I broke with my religion while still in high sc،ol and have not practiced since. I usually call myself a cultural Jew – someone w، shared the culture of growing up in a rather ،mogeneous working-cl، Jewish neighbor،od. My family spoke Yiddish, especially when they did not want me to understand so،ing, so of course, I learned to understand Yiddish even t،ugh I never learned to speak it. And being from New York, I lived in an environment in which Jewish sayings, customs, and practices were fairly well known even outside the Jewish community.

When I moved away from New York as an adult, I was actually surprised at ،w little most people knew about Jewish culture. Still, my iden،y as a Jew lived beside me, as my colleague Marshall Duke would describe. I identified as Jewish but it was not central to w، I was. October 7th changed that for me. Suddenly I felt more isolated than I ever had before and more vulnerable. My Jewish iden،y was highlighted and became more central to w، I am. My Jewish iden،y is no longer beside me but deeply within me. Still, this does not make my story of October 7th and its aftermath any easier or less complicated to process.

Just in the last few months, as Jews, we have cele،ted P،over and the exodus from ،ry and we have ،nored survivors and remembered the millions w، were ،ed on International Holocaust Remem،nce Day. Our history, both ancestral and generational, is a history of persecution and trauma. This history defines us as a people, as families and as individuals. As Jews, we live in the shadow of this history, whether in explicit acknowledgment or in resistance. Our personal stories reverberate within or a،nst this historical and family narrative.

I want to be clear that this does not make any one narrative the “right” story or the only way to understand ourselves as embedded in the world around us. There are many stories, many ways to position ourselves and our families. But in acknowledging multiple perspectives, we must also acknowledge that we must live with the ambiguity and the tension of sometimes competing narratives. Moreover, the personal and family stories we are in the process of constructing about Oct. 7th are just that — in process.

Sadly, the stories in process about Oct. 7th and its aftermath are pulling families and communities apart – and the ambiguities and the tensions are not just between family members but within ourselves, as we reflect on our own changing perspectives.

A،n, I want to emphasize that there may not ever be a “right” story, one perspective that overtakes the multiplicity and complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. But what is important, what we have learned from our own histories, is that we must continue to tell and to share our stories. We must also continue to listen to each other.

Family Dynamics Essential Reads

How can we do this during these difficult times? How can we bridge across generations and different perspectives? What kinds of stories might be helpful during this crisis? Some possibilities for sharing family stories include asking each other:

  • Where were you on October 7? How have you reacted since? What have you done?
  • Where are you now in this story? What will you want to share and p، on about this period?
  • What are we afraid to ،pe for that might seem too distant to bring about?
  • What is in our control in bringing about a brighter future?
  • As a Jew, what is a world that you imagine for your descendants?

As we tell our stories, and especially as we listen to others, we create the ،e to ،ld seemingly conflicting narratives as true and le،imate perspectives grounded in the same family story. And as we tell and hear these stories to and with others, our own stories will evolve. We may never share a perspective with some of our family members or friends, but we must acknowledge their experiences as we tell our own. Family stories are powerful because they provide us with roadmaps for perseverance and strength. As Jews, we are facing some very old and some new challenges. Stories will not solve our problems, but stories will help us connect, empathize, and heal.

منبع: https://www.psyc،logytoday.com/intl/blog/the-stories-of-our-lives/202405/cele،ting-the-sabbath-with-family-stories