As Pesach approaches, we begin to turn our attention to the telling of the Passover story and how the sharing of a narrative has the power to connect us to our history and to one another. Each year, we pull our Haggadot out of storage and the same story of the Exodus is brought to life again. וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔, “And you shall tell it to your child” (Shmot 13:8) is the primary source for this observance, the annual telling and retelling of the narrative of redemption.
Many scholars have wondered how the same story can be expected to make an impact year after year, and each year we do our best to find something new, something previously unnoticed to inspire and connect us to this same story. But there is also a power to telling the same beloved tale over and over again. It is the old family story of the Jewish people, and hearing it reminds us of where we come from. The familiar phrases and songs bring us back not only to the seders of our past, but also to the past of our people. This story reminds us that we have experienced challenges in our history, and that the faith and resiliency of our ancestors live on in us and will see us through the challenges in our own times.
Last week, Tamarim (fifth grade students) experienced the impact of long-told stories when Ruby’s grandmother, Vera Schwarcz, visited us via Zoom to share her knowledge and insight about ancient China. Vera, the Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University, prepared a wonderful lesson on Chinese characters, which she calls “the key to all the stories,” and shared a beautiful poem with our students before teaching everyone how to form characters for different familiar words. To have a family member join us to share something of such personal meaning was a rich and significant experience for this class. Vera was able to take a subject that many of us did not know much about and bring it to life with her own insights and passion for the subject. It was so experiential and engaging that the class created a slideshow for Vera to show their thanks for her visit. We know that this experience will stay with them for many years to come.
This is what we hope that the Pesach seder will bring to our families, this year and every year. We hope our students discover the “keys” to the Pesach story that ignite their curiosity and questions. We hope we can bring that same passion, the same insight to the retelling of the Exodus story. We hope that our children will begin to recognize and recall the themes that surface, and that the story of the Jewish people will feel like an old family tale, familiar, comforting and inspiring. This year in particular is a wonderful time for some familiarity and comfort and for a reminder that we are resilient and have what it takes to weather challenges with determination and strength.
Shira Deener is head of school at JCDS.
The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.
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