The Tallit Project
Sharing Family Stories
How can Jewish family stories and heirlooms connect our families?
Storytelling is woven into the tapestry of Jewish life. The Torah is filled with stories of our ancestors, from Abraham and Sarah to Moses and Miriam. We retell the story of the Maccabees on Hanukkah, Esther on Purim, and the Exodus on Passover. We also tell our personal stories — when our family came to America, why great-grandma’s potato kugel is the best, or the funny thing that happened during our marriage ceremony.
Through personal reminiscences and vivid details, stories elevate ordinary moments and experiences. The opportunity for grandparents to transmit their stories — and the objects associated with the stories — allows them to share a part of themselves and to strengthen family bonds.
Sharing family stories is also a way for us to:
- Preserve family history.
- Create a sense of continuity and resilience as we navigate life’s painful events and celebrate its joyful ones.
- Reveal experiences from our own lives that can give children a better understanding of their roots and place in the world.
- Strengthen the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.
The first step in storytelling is to recognize when the time is right — perhaps at family gatherings, during holiday observances, or on long car rides, at meals, bedtime, or any time when there are quiet moments or few distractions. Children learn to tell stories by listening to how their parents, grandparents, and older relatives tell theirs. As they become the next guardians of family lore, children may pass the stories on to subsequent generations.
How can I bring stories to life?
The tallit is a powerful way to bring a family story to life. You can use other objects as well. Make your family storytelling a show-and-tell — bring out a photo; a cherished object like a pair of candlesticks, a Kiddush cup, a ketubah (Jewish wedding contract), or marriage license; or old letters that enrich the narrative. Sharing a story together with a treasured family heirloom illustrate the significance of that moment, celebration, or event and the memories it evokes. Objects make the story real.
Think of an object you treasure. Perhaps it is a photo of your great-grandparents, an embroidered tablecloth you use every year at Passover, an old deck of cards, or a baseball glove. It could be an item you are hoping to pass down or something that has been passed to you. It could be something you use daily, or something you reserve for a special occasion.
These treasures can also remind us of loved ones who are no longer with us. Sentimental items often have little or no monetary value, but they express a feeling, conjure a memory, or recall a particular time or person: the watch grandma wore every day, the dining-room table around which generations have shared holidays, the mortar and pestle from grandpa’s drug store, a ticket from the first basketball game or musical with mom or uncle. These items provide a peek into the everyday life of our family and are especially relevant at times of celebration, like a wedding or B-Mitzvah, when everyone is together and emotions are heightened.