Imagine if we could live forever. Ignore the problems with this idea, like serious overcrowding, scarcity of resources, and the technological developments that we can’t even fathom right now. Imagine what it would be like to know that we could live forever.
When our matriarch Sarah dies this week in Chayei Sarah, the portion bearing her name tells us about her life. And, to be more literal, about her lives. Sarah lives to be 127 years old. And while she dies in the first sentence, the rest of the portion is about the influence of her life on those who loved her and who came after her. You could say that Sarah lives on forever in her descendants, even us.
Perhaps that is how we live forever. Our children carry on the values we share with them as our legacy. Their children inherit that legacy along with our names and our history. Chayei Sarah, the lives of Sarah, means that her life influences ours even to this day.
Peter Stark, zichrono livracha, is one such “ancestor” that continues to influence my life and the lives of our children. He was our beloved Tanakh teacher at Schechter in the 80s and 90s. I had the sad honor to officiate at his funeral several years ago.
I am so proud to be part of a community that has come together to remember Peter and to ensure that his values and legacy live on in our Schechter students and in generations to come. Peter’s students and alumni parents, along with his family, are establishing an endowment in his name. This fund will provide professional development for Schechter’s teachers to bring innovative pedagogy to the classroom. It will also give each 8th grader a copy of the text of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes, the megilah that we just read on Sukkot that invites questions of life, death, value, and merit to be explored, that they will study and take with them on their Jewish journeys.
I recently had the privilege to share Kohelet and Peter’s legacy with this year’s 8th grade class. I stood in the library on Wells Ave, a space that should have been his classroom and would have been his creative learning lab, and I felt that my teacher was standing behind me. He would have loved that I taught the 8th graders to recite Kohelet 1:2 out loud in Hebrew (look it up and recite it dramatically, with an extra long haaaaaavel as the last word). Peter would have been so grateful to the Schechter community that his impact has a ripple effect on generations to come.
While we cannot live forever, we know that our teacher was taken from this earth too soon. As I challenged the 8th graders that morning, I’ll challenge you as well: think of someone who has influenced your life in a way that continues to live on in you and in others. Now, strive to be that person who impacts others’ lives. That way, your legacy will endure forever.
Rabbi Ilana C. Garber ’91, Rabbinic Director of Lifelong Learning & Community Engagement, Beth El Temple, West Hartford