Stories We Tell: A Family's Gift

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

A treasured gift, wrapped in more than just love, is passed down through Yoesel's family, from generation to generation. Listen in as Michelle Shapiro Abraham tells the story of the gift and what happens when it's finally revealed.

Three ways to listen:


[URJ Intro] Welcome back to "Stories We Tell," a podcast from Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling. Passing our stories down orally from one generation to the next. And here, each Thursday, we share a new story with you, to carry on that tradition. This week, Michelle Shapiro Abraham, the Director of Learning and Innovation for URJ Youth, shares the story of "The Family's Gift."

[Michelle Shapiro Abraham] Yassel was ready to leave. His family was poor, and he was the only one that they could afford to send to find a new life in America. He had his papers and his clothing in his pack, and a little bit of money for the trip. His mother was crying. She knew life would be hard for Yassel, and that he probably would never be able to make enough to take both himself and his family to the New World. This might be the last time she saw him, and she knew it. And as she said goodbye, she gave him a small present.

Treasure this, Yassel, she said. It is the gift of my heart to you and your descendants, who I may never see. Yassel hugged his mother, in tears himself, and he took the gift. At a stop on his travels, he picked up very heavy paper to wrap it in, to keep the treasure safe. Eventually, he arrived, got to work, and started to build a new life. The gift in its paper wrapping always had a place of pride in his home.

When he had children, he would tell them that it was the gift of his mother's heart and he would tell stories of his childhood-- about the home his mother had made for him, about the stories she told and the incredible food that she baked. When Yassel's daughter was old enough to move out on her own, he gave her the gift in its paper wrapping. And she promised to treasure it as well.

Yassel's daughter was a woodworker, and she created a wood case for the gift, which-- still wrapped it in its heavy paper-- she carefully placed inside. She showed it to her children, saying it was the gift of her grandmother's heart and sharing the stories that her father had told her about his childhood and the things that his mother had baked for him. Once, her daughter told her that she could even taste the apple cake that her mother had described.

This was the daughter who inherited the wood case, with the wrapped gift inside. Her family did quite well. And the wood case, which sat in their living room, was decorated with silver tracings, which had been added by an artist that she knew. When her grandchildren would ask about the case, she would tell them the story of her grandfather and great-grandmother, and remember how she thought she could see the room where he grew up and taste that apple cake that her mother described.

Yassel's great-great-great-grandchildren looked at the ornate box that their grandmother had said to keep safe. She had not told them who was supposed to keep it or exactly what to do with it. I'm curious of what to do. They decided that they would open it. Beneath the silver, inside the wooden case, they found the gift wrapped in heavy paper. It was heavy as a rock. As they unwrapped the paper, the lump inside started to crumble and a small card fell out.

Those look like raisins and dried up apple slices, cried one of the cousins. Another picked up the card. Grease had soaked through and all they could see was what must have once been writing. Some numbers and a letter to two in what must have been Yassel's mother's handwriting. All they could read were the words that were at the bottom. From my heart to yours, enjoy this cake on your journey and treasure this recipe and share it with my descendants.

[URJ Outro]

After hearing the story of "The Family's Gift," have you ever passed anything down from one generation to the next to the next to the next, thinking you knew exactly what it was only to find out that there was something even better in it? If you want to share that with us, we'd love to hear about it a bit. You can find us at and on Twitter. Our handle is @ReformJudaism. And thanks for listening to "Stories We Tell."

If you enjoyed this week's story, please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can always find new episodes every Thursday, on And don't forget to visit to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals or culture or holidays and more. "Stories We Tell" is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, l'hitroat!