Our values and those of the people who have gone before us can live on

Vickie Zell, Federation President
Vickie Zell, Federation President

During my tenure as president of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, I have had the honor and privilege of representing Federation at the funerals of our fellow community members. Every time I leave one of those funerals, I find myself very contemplative about the lives lived by these individuals–their personal stories, how they impacted their family and friends, and what they each did for our community.

Having lost my brother, David, when he was only 47 years old, and my mother, Shirley, the following year at 73 (which seems very young the closer I get), I understand the importance of the support of our family, friends, and community at a time of loss. How the rituals gain poignant significance and how ultimately nothing really helps ease the pain of not seeing your loved one again. From the funeral service through the days of shiva, attending minyan through the first year and then annually thereafter, we surround ourselves with their memories, their stories, and the impact of the lives they led. And we remember.

This time of loss always inspires me to do my best to live a life of meaning, to treasure each day, to not get caught up in the “small stuff,” and to make sure I leave a legacy for when my own days are done.

What is it that makes up the legacy we leave behind? The values we hope our loved ones will carry on in our absence and in our memory. Inspiring someone to help another person, to give tzedakah, to stand up for the rights of the “other” in our midst.

I have often talked about how I was inspired by the lives led by my mother and my brother. They were both fast-talking, dynamic, passionate people, who gave of themselves, especially when no one else was watching, and who brought out the best of those around them. But the greatest lesson I learned from both of them was to build bridges with people who have different perspectives and to encourage everyone to work together towards the common good of the community.

Much of my volunteer time in Southern New Jersey has been inspired by that legacy. David’s passion for politics, Israel and justice. My mother’s dedication to synagogue life, letting others be in the spotlight, and giving as much as possible of her time and wealth. And both of them had the amazing talent for bringing people together to achieve common goals.

I recently had the delightful opportunity to speak with the Politz Middle School students about leadership. During our conversation, I stressed my own personal definition of leadership: Have a passion for a cause; inspire others through your passion; be accountable and responsible for your goals; and roll up your sleeves and do the hard work. I reminded these very bright students that one doesn’t need to have a title to be a leader, but that with the four actions I described, they too could be leaders in any field at any time.

Those skills are the legacy of my brother and my mother. After their passing, I did my best to carry on their values as a volunteer in our community.

April 30 marks 20 years since my brother, David, passed away. I often measure my actions against the powerful accomplishments that both he and my mother achieved. I hope that my efforts as a volunteer leader have helped to carry on their values. One such action was to complete my JCF LIFE & LEGACY Letter of Intent to support the organizations to which I am so committed. I hope you, too, will support the Jewish organizations you are passionate about by completing your own Letter of Intent that can be found at www.jcfsnj.org.

Hopefully, when my day comes, my children will remember to help another person in need, give generously and passionately to Jewish causes, and smile when they know they are carrying on that powerful legacy. L’dor v’dor.  jfedpres@jfedsnj.org

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