The Passover Seder requires us to do something quite special; rather than simply learning about the Exodus we are instructed to experience the freedom felt by the Israelites as they journeyed out of Egypt all those years ago.
It is this experience – the idea that “in every generation a person is obligated to see himself or herself as though they had actually come out of Egypt” – that elevates the Seder from mere words and lessons into a personal journey.
On the surface the story of the Exodus appears quite simple, but embedded within it are a series of provocative explorations around ideas of belonging and peoplehood and the commemoration and reliving of our shared history. The Seder guides us through its insights by invoking our intellect, but just as importantly, our senses and emotions. Each year we experience the bitterness of slavery with each taste of horseradish, the sense of urgency in which the Israelites had to leave Egypt with each bite of Matzah and the desire for a place to call home as we sing out “לשנה הבאה בירושלים” (Next year in Jerusalem!).
In creating the Seder our Rabbis knew that true understanding comes from igniting all our senses. Each year as I sit round the Pesach table with my family and friends I am reminded that many methods, approaches and activities are necessary in order to inspire people to connect to what it means to be Jewish.
So far this year, NLS’s superb team of educators and assistants have led the children in a range of activities including building a Sukkah, exploring Tefillah (prayer) through meditation, making a Mezuzah, opening up a Torah Scroll, baking bourekas and latkes, making and lighting their own Chanukiot and singing a special Adon Olam in front of the community at Shabbat Shirah. The goal here is simple, rather than telling children a story we want to make them a part of one.
Now that I am over halfway through my first year at NLS – being both more settled in my role as Head of Youth and also having had the pleasure of getting to know many of you a little better – I look forward to working together to find new and dynamic ways of bringing the story of the Jewish people, our story, alive. Pesach is a reminder that this story is already a living, breathing journey. In order for it to remain fresh and relevant we need to ensure our tradition, so grounded in text, springs to life and is able to live outside the pages of a book.
As we move forward as a community I will be reaching out to you so we can look at new and unique ways of igniting both the intellect and imagination of NLS’s children. My wife, Robin, and daughters, Aviva and Ora, join me in wishing you and your family CHAG SAMEACH.
Originally published in New London Synagogue’s Pesach Magazine 2016