By Sharon Rosen Leib
Contemplating our mortality doesn’t always have to take us to the darkest of places. We can alleviate our angst about death by planning legacy gifts that transmit loving kindness and compassion to the future. Planned giving focuses our attention on the positive — creating a thoughtful, tangible benefit for future generations.
Talking to our aging or ill parents about what kind of financial gift they want to leave (if they have the means to do so) may be a difficult subject to broach. Yet the benefits far outweigh any discomfort about discussing their mortality. We perform a valuable mitzvah by helping our parents envision how they can transcend death by providing others the opportunity to lead more meaningful lives. During the dark days of terminal illness, planning a legacy gift projects luminous hope into the future.
Both my parents and my husband’s mother wanted to leave the legacy of access to education. They all worked as educators during their careers and believed in the power of education to improve the human condition. My mother-in-law taught English for 23 years at Venice High School, a big public school. When she “retired,” she worked as a substitute teacher until her cancer became terminal. My mother also subbed and co-founded both after school enrichment and adult education programs. My father, a dentist, volunteered as a clinical instructor at UCLA School of Dentistry. They, like many Jewish parents, imprinted the value of education in our DNA.
When each of our parents fell ill, we brought up the possibility of creating scholarships in their names. Sadly, my dad was the first to die. So consumed by cancer he could barely speak, he nodded when I mentioned creating a scholarship in his name. “At UCLA,” he managed to say. So the planning began. Mom contacted the UCLA School of Dentistry to establish the Dr. Sherwin Rosen Scholarship for Community Service. When Dad died, we suggested any memorial donations be made to the scholarship fund. Over the next four years, through these donations and our own contributions, we endowed the fund. Every year, we receive notification of the scholarship’s recipients. My dad’s legacy has funded dental students’ volunteer work in impoverished communities from Los Angeles to India. We feel gratified knowing our father’s ethos and energy have achieved global reach.
My mother was the next to fall terminally ill. After seeing my father’s scholarship come to fruition, she decided she wanted her legacy gift to be a United States history scholarship created at her alma mater, UC Berkeley. Thus the Debora Semenov Rosen Scholarship Fund in History was born. This year’s recipient wrote a thank you note explaining how the scholarship eased his financial worries. He’s been accepted to Teach for America and plans to devote his career to teaching U.S. history. We take comfort knowing that Mom’s passion for history helped a student dedicated to spreading the light.
When my mother-in-law suffered through the end stage of lung cancer a few months ago, she expressed her wish to give a gift each year to a student from an economically disadvantaged background interested in pursuing higher education. My husband and his sister recently established the Joan Leib Scholarship Fund at Venice High School.
These legacy scholarships provide precious intangible benefits to us as donors. The process of creating these scholarships helped us cope with our parents’ terminal illnesses and our grief after their deaths. By naming these scholarships after our parents, we’ve kept their memories alive and beamed their passions forward for generations to come. We share the recipients’ letters of appreciation with our children to demonstrate both the embodiment of their grandparents’ values and the powerful reach of paying education forward. Even a little bit of planning combined with a modest financial gift can enrich the lives of both givers and receivers. So, if you have the means, please make a plan and give.