Shelli Liebman has a family tradition of giving gifts that last generations.

Photos courtesy of the Liebman family

Not that a macaroni necklace or coupons for a daddy-daughter tea party aren’t coveted, but there’s a different kind of special connected to a gift with a “story for the ages.” It may be something that warrants narrative — or that needs no words; a gift that comes with history — or one that creates its own.

The search for a 90th birthday gift for my dad led to something perfect, memorable, long-standing, personal and one-of-a-kind.

Beyond his role as patriarch of our immediate family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my dad Jerry Liebman is also beloved by and closely tied to a large, extended group of relatives.

Jerry Liebman with his 90th birthday gift.

Through an interactive gift plan, we put out an all-points bulletin to collect birthday greetings from family members far and wide, and printed them on a template, each inside one of various-shaped talk bubbles.

The compilation of 90 funny and touching thoughts and memories of how he inspires, impacts and teaches us is framed in my parents’ house to be read and reread and reread.
On another wall in their home is a wood framed wrapped canvas history of our family, created for their 60th wedding anniversary. A sketch of a tree is centered with the names of my parents, branching out to include every member who was born into or joined our family from their 1954 marriage until the anniversary date. The only downfall is the best of all possible dilemmas: how to add the names of those who have come along since.

Rachel Beneson, now 10, with her cousin, Shira Schon, in 2015 the day Shira received her bracelet.
Shira Schon with her great-grandma, Ceil Liebman.

Our granddaughter, Shira Schon, now 16, regularly dons a decades-old piece of jewelry she received when she turned 12. It was a present from her great-grandma, my mom, Ceil Liebman, who received it when she was 12.

The silver, narrow-cuff bangle bracelet had been a gift from friends in my mom’s Young Judaea youth group before her family moved to a new town.

The bracelet came with a detailed description of how the dented markings amidst the filigree metalwork were the result of my mom’s preteen roller-skating fall. To Shira, the scrape makes the gift even more special. “I’m sure through the years I’ll add my own story to it with new scuffs and scratches,” she said.

The summer prior to my niece Miriam Liebman’s graduation from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York with a rabbinic ordination and a master’s in midrash, her mom came across a newspaper cartoon that turned into the most appropriate gift imaginable. Titled Non Sequitur, and created by Wylie Miller, the cartoon depicts a woman sitting behind a table with a cash box and a sign that reads, “What you’re doing wrong: $10.” The caption reads, “Miriam decides to turn pro.” My niece, who laughingly admits she can be “very judgmental” at times, found it “especially fitting that the character in the cartoon’s name was Miriam.”

After discovering the cartoon, her mom, Judy, contacted Miller about acquiring its original drawing. Not only did she and Miriam’s dad, Marty, purchase the artwork, Miller included a personal note, written to Miriam. The framed gift, with the original cartoon attached to the back, was presented to Miriam at dinner the night of her ordination.

It now hangs above her desk, she says, “to remind me of my graduation, of my family, and that it’s OK to laugh at yourself.”

Gifts like Miriam’s come with a descriptive account of their history. Others may garner a knowing reaction but need no verbal illumination. No expounding is ever necessary when Miriam’s fiancé, Akiva Fishman, wears a special T-shirt she bought for him after they got engaged. The words, “Real Men Marry Rabbis” quite simply tell their own story.

Read more: Customized Gift Ideas