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The Subtle Power Of Tradition

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Have you ever heard something that speaks to you so deeply that you’re compelled to stop and think about it over and over? That was how I felt recently after listening to Rabbi Naomi Levy’s sermon at a Nashuva service online.

She spoke of her childhood, how she was the youngest of four siblings and the youngest of nine grandchildren. Her family lived on the ground floor. The family of an aunt and uncle lived above them and another aunt and uncle’s family lived next door. The grandparents lived next door to them. In 2nd grade, she was given a dress to wear for class photos. She went next door and saw a picture laying on the table of one of her cousins wearing the dress. She exclaimed, “Cindy is in my dress!” Her Aunt Leah said, “No, actually Cindy is wearing a dress that came from her sister Mimi and now from Cindy to you.”

Rabbi Naomi said she loved that those clothes were soft and broken in for her. It meant so much to feel like she was part of a tribe. 

Later, I reflected on her sermon and how a tradition is its own precious form of hand-me-down. Of course, we also choose how we view what is given to us. We can feel embarrassed or even ashamed of the hand-me-downs we wear, in the same way we can feel stifled by a tradition. Or we can choose to embrace the warm feeling of a well-worn dress, and feel grateful for traditions handed down through generations.

In the same way Rabbi Naomi felt the positive aspects of being part of a tribe, I too couldn’t help but think that being part of the HOPE community made me part of a tribe in the best sense of the word. Our “tribal” customs begin with the orientation of a new member. Do you remember your orientation? Some of our members tell us they barely remember a single detail, but what they can remember is a feeling — the feeling that people cared for them. Then, in the first meeting or two in Group One, members often feel alone and lost. That’s normal and difficult. Then, what happened?

Even though you were probably not aware that you were being immersed in a variety of traditions, week after week you undoubtedly began to feel more comfortable. You began to get together ahead of the Group meeting for dinner. Then, in Group, HOPE’s therapists handed out reading materials, often poems or essays written by former HOPE members — the thoughts and feelings of people who had grieved just as you were grieving — hand-me-downs more precious than a fine silk cloak.

Then in the full meeting before breaking into Groups, you might have heard members of Group Five talking and laughing — and had one of them give you a smile or a kind word, which in turn gave you hope that one day you too would laugh again easily and naturally. These are the subtle, loving traditions that HOPE’s members bequeath to one another, from one generation of griever to the next. For over 40 years those who came before have given the newly grieving a gift — a sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves that leads to true healing.

“People gain so much hope when they know they are not experiencing something alone.” — Joyce Rupp

By Evelyn Pechter, Psy.D.