On the Anniversary of the Week That Changed My Life: Lessons Learned from My Father's Passing on Changing the World

The below marks the text of an email that I sent out to my personal mailing list marking this week, which began one year ago with my father's passing, and ended one year ago with my first speech on universal inclusion.  Because it was written as a letter, it is perhaps more personal than my customary blog post.  Because I reflect on important lessons, I wanted to share it here:


I have been pondering whether to share anything this week, even as my siblings post moving updates to Facebook, make visits to cemeteries, and other ways mark this occasion.  My week was marked by taking things from my mother's house as she prepares for an eventual sale, indelibly reliving my memories, while hopefully permanently taking some reminders of my father, and of the home that he and my mother created, into my home, and my life.

On Friday, February 6, 2015, for any who don't know or don't remember, my father, Norman David Koch, Rabbi, passed peacefully from this world after a brief illness.  Like all of my family, his sudden death at the young age of 66 rocks me to the core.  While some indicators of the suddenness of his passing, like the puzzle and projects with my nephews that were left uncompleted, present tangible proxies for the disruptive nature of his passing, some unfinished pieces are less visible.  When he died, we were midway through a conversation on my life, about which I have since written that he won posthumously.

Exactly a week later, on February 13, 2015, I gave a speech to NFTY convention in Atlanta.  If there's anyone left on my personal email list who hasn't seen it yet, you can find it here.  Most of you know that, in the wake of that speech, combined with the ongoing argument that I had had with my father, and the new awareness of the time-limited nature of my ability to affect this world, I launched my new initiative, about which you can find out more at www.matankoch.com.

This email, though, is not an update on the Igniting Inclusion Initiative, though if you would like to receive such updates, you can sign up for our mailing list here.  This email also isn't a fundraising request, though I'm certain that my father would be thrilled that a fund has now been established to support bringing my message to those places that cannot afford it, and you should feel free to donate in his memory.

What this email is is a reflection on where I've come and what I've learned since that cataclysmic week a year ago.  I have learned that when you put your mind to the idea that you can change the world and you work at it relentlessly, it is amazing what you can accomplish.  Whatever else, I've been privileged to speak to over 10,000 people about inclusion this year, and the invitations aren't even slowing down.  If 1% of them go on to make a change, at the hundred change agents.  Not bad.

I've learned that while ego remains as risky a thing as I was always taught, one should never underestimate one's unique ability to contribute to a particular cause.  Time and again, including this past weekend, clients and audiences tell me that my combination of experience and delivery give them something that they couldn't find elsewhere to advance inclusion.  I still struggle with the question of what difference one person can make, but, I think that I finally come to accept that my voice does add something unique to the conversation, and I encourage anyone who feels like they have something to say on an issue of import to speak up, because your voice, too, probably has something important to add.

I've learned that God works in very mysterious ways.  I was devastated when last week's snowstorm preempted my speech at Temple Sholom on the Shabbat to the anniversary of my father's death.  It was only yesterday, as we were making arrangements for me to deliver the address by Skype on this Friday, that I realized that now, instead of giving the speech on the anniversary of the day marked by loss, I will be giving it on the anniversary of the day that marks the beginning of the adventure that he inspired.  What an amazing thing, that an act of God allows me to celebrate this beginning in the spiritual home of a man without whom nothing would've ever began.

And, I've learned that even revolutionary changes require reality checks.  Recently, a wise friend reminded me of the importance of continuing to embrace the extensive toolkit I've garnered in my professional life to support me as I build something new, and that I should not presume that I cannot monetize my extensive legal skills in this period of transition.  He also taught me by example that even when you feel like you have lost the key source of guidance in your life, you can find wisdom in other places if you are willing to listen.

And so I have learned much in this year.  While I would have gladly traded these lessons for another year with my father, I share them to honor his memory and so that if anyone else can take any positive inspiration from his death, then it's out there.

Thanks for listening,


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