Sitting between my parents at the temple where I grew up, I felt lucky. It seemed odd at a funeral, but that is how I felt. After years of traveling by land and sea, I was home and sharing in an ancient tradition to commemorate the life of our temple's matriarch, Florence Zeldin (August 13, 1919 - May 20, 2012).
My parents joined Stephen S. Wise Temple when at age 9, I said, "I want a Bat Mitzvah," Neither of my parents had been raised with much formal knowledge of the Jewish religion. Ready to share in my zeal, they took a class together and became B'nai Mitzvot, making lifelong friends in the process. To me, my parent's partnership of nearly fifty years of marriage has been a fine role model by example. While Rabbi Zeldin is seen as the creator of the Temple (the largest reform congregation in Los Angeles, this City on the Hill or Mount Shay-anai), he does owe much to his wife and partner, who also led by example during their 68-year marriage and seventy years together. She lived like the Thoreau quote, "Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, and endeavor to live the life you imagine."
During the memorial commemorating her life, I thought about tributes and legacies. Florence Zeldin's first priority was her family and she also created a community, published many books, games and Shabbat service prayer books. As I listened to stories from her children, grandchildren, colleagues and Rabbis, each mentioned her commitment to family, partnership and community, her work as a parent and a teacher and her ability to think the best and hope all would come up to her expectations.
She was warm, funny, academic and full of passion. An average life is 960 months, or 29,000 days.
Florence lived far beyond the averages and used them all well. I remember traveling with her and Rabbi Zeldin for his 85th birthday when he brought 85 people to Israel in 2004. They have been at three of our family B'nai Mitzvot, two weddings, many services and have always been an inspiration with their aspirations for excellence.
While I am traveling in Asia this sabbatical year, I have wandered among great archeological wonders like the temples of Bagan in Myanmar (Burma), the Xi'an Warriors in China, and the temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Many of these were built as memorials for parents or rulers. What do we build for our families and leaders in America?
Florence built a great legacy with her actions, her family, her books, and her creation of a synagogue. It was an honor to know her and remember her. On December 11, 2012, my father turned seventy-one. I know that like Florence, my father has built a life to be remembered and through his actions, has been a role model for all those close to him.
When I asked him if he could imagine being married for 68 years (and together for 70), he said, "I am on track for that." I plan to dance with my parents at their 68th wedding anniversary and I am in awe of my father's commitment to create the best life he can for himself and his family. I know that my father will live every moment of his life to the fullest as a husband, father, acclaimed Periodontist, NASTAR medal-winning skier and contributor to the community. As the comedian George Burns said when he was ninety-nine, "I can't retire now, I'm booked."
I cannot wait to see my father working, skiing and traveling for at least another twenty-nine years like Burns. In Stephen Covey's book, The Third Alternative, he talks about living life to the fullest and rising to a crescendo. I hope to live up to the example set by Florence Zeldin and my father to "always believe that your most important work is ahead of you, never behind you. It's essential to live with that thought... that you are never finished contributing." I want to honor my father and his life as Florence's memorial honored hers, by saying on his seventy-first birthday, "Thank you for being such a great role model and Happy Birthday Dad!"
Read more about Frank Niver, Lisa Niver Rajna and their family celebrations at www.wesaidgotravel.com Lisa and George Rajna are on a career break in Asia and are celebrating Chanukah 2012 and New Year's Eve in Southern India!