Dedicated to the Memory and Legacy of Philip Eichen, Ephraim Fishel ben Mordechai z”l and Roslyn Eichen, Razel bat Gershon, z”l
I long traced the initial spark for 18Forty to some three or four years prior to its launch. But, the passing of my father on his 99th Hebrew Birthday (Nissan 3, 5780), caused me to realize that the true genesis of 18Forty dated back much further. It could be found in the timeless Jewish value system passed to me by my parents.
Neither of my parents were outwardly observant. Yet, their lives were informed by an internal religiosity, and embodied an ethos passed to them by their more observant European parents, and those who came before. Neither were privileged to have formal higher education. They did not teach by pontification of academic theories or by a deeply developed philosophical approach to life. They both worked hard to provide my brother and me with life’s essentials, and didn’t have time for deep analysis. Instead, they taught by deed, not word; by concrete example, not theory.
I learned about the honor due to parents by the respect and devotion they both showed to my elderly maternal grandparents. I learned about the importance of Shalom Bias by the love, mutual respect and the selflessness they showed to each other. I learned about family and the importance of our children by the time they always made for us at the end of their long and exhausting days of mundane toil. I learned about the importance of asking questions and seeking answers by endless trips to the public library with my mother in my younger years. I learned about the importance of education through my father’s constant lament of not having attended college, and by the sacrifices they each made to ensure both their children attained professional degrees. While not Shomer Shabbat, since my father had to work on Saturdays, I learned about the importance of the regulating rhythm of the Jewish Calendar by regular observance of the Jewish Holidays. And I internalized this importance since ritual observance of the holidays always supplanted everything—work, school, or anything else going on in our lives.
Another lesson I absorbed by osmosis in my parents’ home is humility. Aside from the obvious definition, I learned that humility means not having to have all the answers, or to be the smartest person in the room. It also means that just because we may not understand an answer, even after substantial study, the answer we do not understand is not necessarily wrong. There are just some things that we, as humans with definitionally limited abilities, will never understand. And that’s just fine, so you just move on.
These and many more lessons were subliminal, and merely absorbed as part of daily life. It was only into my middle age, when I had my own child and began my own active exploration of Judaism, that I realized the sources of these lessons lied in ancient teachings that dated back thousands of years. I only then began to internalize the source of my deep-rooted commitment to Jewish continuity.
After a life of striving, I finally realized that the real meaning in my life was found in the lessons absorbed from my parents’ home: love, family, Shalom Bayis, education, questioning, Judaism, and the humility to know and accept what I don’t know. I have been beyond blessed to have discovered some of these elements of a meaningful life, and for the privilege to participate in the founding and creation of 18Forty to help future generations on their lifelong journey in search of meaning. And for this blessing and privilege I can only say, “thank you Mom and Dad, I am eternally grateful…for everything.”
–Mitchell D. Eichen