This is a letter to my future twin step-daughters, age 9, and my three nephews, ages 8, 5, and 2.
Thank you for being you.
Thank you for making me happier every time you smile, sneeze, laugh, dance, tell me a joke with no punch line, and find magic in the mundane things I take for granted like a train, the produce aisle of the grocery store, or even dirt.
Take a moment each day to appreciate all the blessings in your life. Before you get out of bed every morning, say “Modeh Ani”—I give thanks—thanking God for protection. Give thanks for the sun coming up each and every day. And give thanks for the clouds forming the shape of a unicorn, monkey, a penguin, or anything else you see up there.
Give thanks for being raised by people who love you more than anything and who only want the best things for you in life. And yes, be thankful for your brothers and sisters too, who you’ll appreciate more one day. When your baby brother pesters you by trying to play with you and your friends, he’s really telling you he loves you and how much he wants to be like you. Be thankful you have a sibling to share so many of life’s experiences with, but know that you’re special and different from anyone else in the world, even your siblings.
Try to learn something new each day. Whether it’s memorizing those multiplication tables, learning to tell time, or discovering heroes like Abraham Lincoln and Golda Meir, you will never forget so many of the lessons you learned in your early years.
I hope you’ll always appreciate how lucky you are to be members of the tribe, who know it’s how we treat each other that’s core—and that all the rest is commentary. Members of a tribe who value family, community, Torah, education, and deed. Members of a tribe of funny people, who recognize that with all we’ve been through, we have to laugh. And, of course, members of a tribe who make really good latkes, kugel, and mandelbread that you guys can never get enough of.
There are times when you’ll be sad. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make you never shed a tear of pain, but we know that’s impossible. Just remember when you’re down that, as the saying goes, “this too shall pass,” and the sun will shine again. Even when life isn’t perfect, try to put it in perspective and realize there’s always someone who has it worse than you. And, it’s the hard times that allow us to grow the most and become more compassionate, empathetic, fuller people.
Fear can be a good thing. Don’t let fear stop you from doing the things you want to do. They won’t seem as scary after you do them.
Stick up for other people. If you see another kid being teased, be nice to her. If you were in her shoes, you’d want her to stick up for you too.
Be generous with your time, money, forgiveness, smiles, and hugs.
Make Shabbat special.
Enjoy the simple pleasures of being a kid now. Look up at the sky every day, build sand castles, don’t get out of the pool until your fingers turn to prunes, eat ice cream, sing loud in the car, dance like nobody’s watching, read stories with happy endings about animals that talk, and laugh a lot every day. And, never stop doing any of those things, even when you’re all grown up.
Love with all your heart.
When you go out into the world, make your unique mark in the way only amazing YOU can. You have the freedom to be anything you want to be. Practice tikkun olam in whatever way is meaningful to you, and help piece back together our broken world. There’s a lot of repair left to do.
Don’t forget to say “I love you” often to the people you love most—and please know we love you back.