I have always thought "The Lion King," Disney's landmark animated feature of 1994, to be a very Jewish story. Though I know the plot largely mirrors "Hamlet," it also seems to reflect the Jewish experience of the 20th Century.
Think about it. A culture that honors tradition and celebrates the Circle of Life is cruelly cut down by betrayal, murder, deprivation and loss. After the war years-complete with goose-stepping hyenas-the survivors return to their homeland, battered but unbroken. They surmount personal devastation and loss, resume their celebration of life in all its cycles, and their tribe rises again like a phoenix from its ashes.
Now that I have entered a new life cycle of my own, I see another very Jewish dimension to the saga of "The Lion King," how the evolving relationship between Simba and his father so eloquently highlights the key roles of remembrance and legacy in Jewish tradition and continuity.
In the 17 years I have worked for JUF, I have used the phrase "L'Dvor V'Dor" hundreds of times in our marketing messaging, but I don't think I fully understood its power until my father, Bill, died of a brain tumor on Aug. 11. At his funeral, the officiating rabbi spoke movingly of Dad's accomplishments, his impact on others, his example, and how he lived his beliefs. She addressed her final words to me, my brother and our families, saying simply, "Now it is your turn."
"You see, he lives in you."
It scarcely seems possible that Dad died just two weeks ago. The last days of his life were a blur, and the week of Shiva seemed like a surreal dream. I felt numb saying the Mourner's Kaddish. How was I going to make it through Shloshim, and the entire cycle of holidays in the month to come? I sat in our backyard and looked up at the sky, waiting for answers.
"The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars. Whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I."
It's ironic; whenever my daughter watched "The Lion King" as a child, I had to leave the room during the scene when Mufasa dies. It was just too sad for me, and too devastating to see mortality overtake such a singular spirit. Yet when my own father was dying, I could not turn away. I used every ounce of my Bill-cultivated assertiveness to try to make his last days as dignified and pain-free as possible. He had kept me safe when he could, and now I had to do the same for him.
"You must take your place in the Circle of Life."
At times the weight of Bill's legacy feels overwhelming. How can I attempt to fill the shoes of a man who had a 40-year career in public accounting and finance? I am a writer, for heaven's sake. How can I emulate a teacher who could give hour-long history lectures without notes when I consider it a personal triumph if I remember where I parked my car? He loved opera, but left behind a daughter who is a head-banger. How is this supposed to work?
Then I remind myself that what mattered was not what Dad did, but how and why he did it.
"That's not my father. That's just my reflection."
Last week, one gentleman told my mother: "I will never forget your husband. He gave my son his first job, and was a wonderful boss." At the Shiva, a friend said that he had looked to my dad as a father figure and been grateful for his counsel. A former supplier told us "if Bill said the check was in the mail, I knew it actually was in the mail." On the Chicago Tribune's online guest book, someone wrote: "I am most appreciative of Bill for taking time out to give me advice when I was unemployed."
I guess that's what it really means when we say: "May his memory be for a blessing." In the end, Dad's legacy is not his accomplishments as an accountant or financial leader, but as a mentor and a man of his word; not remembered for his passion for opera and music, but for his love for his family; not missed for his advice as much as the thoughtfulness with which he offered it.
"Remember who you are."
In the sanctuary before Dad's funeral, I looked out at the crowd of people, making out the dear faces of classmates and friends and colleagues from the varied facets of my own life, as well as his. I hoped that someday they would be able to say about me what was said about him that day.
There were many people who came to pay their respects that I had never met or knew only by name. Quite a few of them greeted me by saying, "You must be Bill's daughter."
Why yes, I replied. Yes, I am.