March 23, 2018
The sound of the Purim gregger is a wake up call that Passover is around the corner. As soon as the last hamantaschen is eaten, anticipation of this next holiday begins. At Paul Penna DJDS, our students have been preparing for Passover by learning the prayers, blessings and songs from the Haggadah. Over the past two weeks, at any given moment, the familiar tunes of Pesach filled our hallways.
Along with this singing, rich conversations are happening about the meaning of the Haggadah and how we as modern Jews can interpret different aspects of the traditional text. Earlier this week, I joined in a Grade Six conversation about the many interpretations of the Four Sons.
Moreh David presented an idea that each son can represent a generation of Jews in the narrative of assimilation into North American culture. He explained that the wise son represents the generation who came from Europe with a deep knowledge and observance of Jewish practice. The wicked son represents the second generation who rebelled against parents’ traditional ways. The simple son represents their children who felt a distance from the tradition and didn’t engage Jewishly. Finally, the son who doesn’t know how to ask a question is the most recent generation who feels so removed from its ancestors’ Jewish traditions that it is unaware of the opportunity to participate in a rich Jewish life. This is an interesting interpretation of the sons, and warrants its own discussion and analysis; however, for me what was most interesting was the children’s responses.
Some students did the math and understood that this metaphor would make them the simple son or the one who did not know how to ask a question. The children pushed back against this strong idea and adamantly argued that this description of a disengaged Jew, one who knew so little and therefore could not engage in Jewish life or ask a question, did not describe them. They argued that despite being the third or fourth generation in Canada, they were still deeply committed to their Jewish identity and Jewish life.
In a time when we can lose hope that our children are less and less connected to their Jewish selves and when the key findings of the Pew report suggest that far fewer Americans are identifying as Jews, hearing our students push back against this interpretation of the Haggadah is very encouraging. At Paul Penna DJDS, our students are imbued with a strong sense of Jewish identity and pride. They see their Jewishness as an important part of who they are. As our children prepare for Passover and participate in, or even lead seders in your homes this year, ask them questions and engage in discussion about what being Jewish means to them. How do they connect to the Passover story? How can they see themselves in Moses? And how, like the Jews in Egypt, do they maintain their Jewish spirit and continually re-engage with Jewish tradition and life?
I’m proud of our students. I’m proud of those who will sing the Four Questions for the first or tenth time, I’m proud of our students who will teach their seder table something new and I’m proud of our students who will ask a question or share a learning that resonated with them. Enjoy the children around you this Passover season and know it is your commitment to their Jewish education that is helping to create the rich and memorable Passover experience they will have.