Family, Israel remain at centre of Dvora Waysman’s ethical will. (photo by Ashernet, taken on Jerusalem Day 2015)
Very often wills – including ethical wills – are updated as circumstances change. I wrote my ethical will in the early 1970s, when I was still dewy-eyed about aliya and Israel was somehow more innocent, despite the wars she had endured and her ongoing fight for survival.
It was a less materialistic society back then. If you had one car per family, you were well-off; TVs, videos and microwave ovens were a rarity. In fact, not everyone had a telephone and, thank heavens, the ghastly, intrusive cellphone had not been invented.
Our four children (two sons and two daughters) were still kids. They now have all done their army service, graduated university, married and given us 18 wonderful Sabra grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, all still living in Israel.
While Israeli society has changed over the past four decades, many of the things I loved have endured. I still find it a great privilege to live in the beautiful city of Jerusalem – it still inspires my poems and my dreams. I still feel part of a family – even though it’s often a squabbling, divisive one. I’ve never considered leaving – to do so would be for me an amputation.
So, with these modifications, I present again my ethical will as it was first published by the World Zionist Press Service, who distributed thousands of copies and reprinted it in two anthologies, Ethical Wills and So That Your Values Live On, both edited by Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer. I have not changed it, because I can still become misty-eyed at my love affair with Israel. Perhaps today, like a marriage, the passion has somewhat abated, familiarity may have reduced the miraculous to the humdrum but, nevertheless, I am still in love!
My ethical will
As I write this, I am sitting on my Jerusalem balcony, looking through a tracery of pine trees at the view along Rehov Ruppin. I can see the Knesset, the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book – that architectural marvel that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I am at an age where I should write a will, but the disposition of my material possessions would take just a few lines. They do not amount to much. Had we stayed in Australia, where you – my four children – were born, they would be much more. I hope you won’t blame me for this.
For now, you are Israelis, and I have different things to leave you. I hope you will understand that they are more valuable than money in the bank, stocks and bonds, and plots of land, for no one can ever take them away from you.
I am leaving you the fragrance of a Jerusalem morning – unforgettable perfume of thyme, sage and rosemary that wafts down from the Judean hills. The heartbreaking sunsets that give way to Jerusalem at night – splashes of gold on black velvet darkness. The feel of Jerusalem stone, ancient and mellow, in the buildings that surround you. The piquant taste of hummus, tehina, falafel – foods we never knew about before we came here to live.
I am leaving you an extended family – the whole house of Israel. They are your people. They will celebrate with you in joy, grieve with you in sorrow. You will argue with them, criticize them and sometimes reject them (that’s the way it is with families). But, underneath, you will be proud of them and love them. More important, when you need them, they will be there!
I am leaving you the faith of your forefathers. Here, no one will ever laugh at your beliefs, call you “Jew” as an insult. You, my sons, can wear kippot and tzitzit if you so wish; you, my daughters, can modestly cover your hair after marriage if that is what you decide. No one will ridicule you. You can be as religious or as secular as you wish, knowing it is based on your own convictions, and not because of what [non-Jews] might say. You have your heritage – written with the blood of your people through countless generations. Guard it well and cherish it – it is priceless!
I am leaving you pride. Hold your head high. This is your country, your birthright. Try to do your share to enhance its image. It may call for sacrifice, but it will be worth it. Your children, their children, and all who come after, will thank you for it.
I am leaving you memories. Some are sad – the early struggles to adapt to a new culture, a new language. But, remember, too, the triumphs – the feeling of achievement when you were accepted, when “they” became “us.” That is worth more than silver trophies and gold medals. You did it alone – you “made” it.
And so, my children, I have only one last bequest. I leave you my love and my blessing. I hope you will never again need to say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” You are already here – how rich you are!