By Melvin Simon
In the waning days of my presidency of The Emanuel Synagogue, I have often asked myself, what will be my legacy? I think about the gifts left for me and for us. My responsibility to nurture and enrich those gifts is on my mind.
I think about my mother, who left me the most important legacy – a Jewish education. My mother, who passed when I was but a child, bequeathed her love of Judaism to me, imploring my father in her last days to provide a Jewish education for her three sons. It is to her that I have dedicated my volunteer efforts. My father taught me to support and love my family and left me an appreciation for music and humor. I have passed these gifts to my children in his honor.
There have been other gifts; mentors who led me on a path of community service. Gifts from Jewish Hartford from its earliest days to now. To the leaders who came before us I say thank you for what you built and left for us – the wonderful synagogues and agencies and schools we all enjoy. There have been gifts of education, cultural arts and healthy living. The Jewish institutions we are fortunate to have – a kosher supermarket, Jewish theater, Jewish swim clubs and health clubs, camps and sacred spaces for study and prayer.
What will be my impact on the world around me? What gifts will I pass on? Have I fulfilled my mother’s vision and my father’s charge? Have I impacted my community by insuring there will be a Jewish Hartford for those who follow? Will I leave the world a better place? I will leave this for others to judge, but I know that during my days as president of Emanuel I did not shy from the task.
A legacy is a gift and a responsibility. It is a gift to be surrounded by a congregation and community which extols Jewish values; to have been to Jerusalem and prayed on the Temple Mount; to have a JCC where I could learn how to be a community leader; to have a Jewish Federation that inspired me to grow and collaborate; and a JTConnect where our children learned to ask questions about all things Jewish.
My dear wife, Carrie, taught me each day, before passing away three years ago, to see the beauty in our world, to appreciate miracles small and large, to live each day as if it were our last. She gave me the gift of unconditional love and joy, three amazing daughters, and a world view that holds family peace and good will above all other values. I am today inspired by her bravery, her love of life and by the teacher in her. I carry her legacy in my heart and am committed to pursuing her dreams by endowing art education for our youngsters.
It is my responsibility not just to partake in these riches, but also to nurture those treasures, to help them grow and to sustain those gifts into the future. I do that by leading for today and tomorrow, by growing my synagogue, by giving tzedakah and repairing our world. I do that every day. But is this enough? What will I do to sustain this community when I am gone, for that too will be my legacy – to dwell in this house forever?
As further act of my love for my synagogue, I am now chairing The Emanuel’s Life and Legacy initiative – a community-wide initiative to build endowments and secure our vibrant future through after-lifetime legacy gifts. Led by the Jewish Community Foundation, this effort includes 14 synagogues and agencies working together with our members and donors to ensure our children and grandchildren will experience the rich Jewish life we have been so fortunate to enjoy.
I will certainly set aside a portion of my life’s bounty – to ensure that my synagogue and the other organizations I hold dear are sustained – in perpetuity.
You could say I am present and counted for today and for tomorrow. That will be my legacy – as King David wrote 3,000 years ago – to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Melvin Simon is president of The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford. He has also served as Board Chair for the Mandell JCC and President of JTConnect.